Gov. Hochul Mum On Next Steps in State’s Top Judge Fight

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals nominee, Hector D. LaSalle, gives testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

ALBANY, N.Y. (New York Daily News/TNS) — Gov. Kathy Hochul has yet to say whether she will sue her fellow Democrats over their rejection of her pick to head the state’s judicial system.

The impasse over the nomination of Hector LaSalle to be the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, lingers on as the governor unveils her budget blueprint this week and battles over bail, housing, taxes and spending are brewing.

Hochul and legislative leaders maintain there’s no bad blood despite the prospect of legal action over Senate Democrats’ refusal to grant LaSalle a floor vote.

Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that voted down LaSalle, said he believes the relationship between Hochul and the Legislature will rebound — even if the governor should sue.

“I think it’s a passing storm cloud,” Hoylman-Sigal said, noting that a Republican-backed amendment to force a floor vote on the nomination failed last week.

Political observers say that while the budget process could be a political minefield for Hochul, the outsized power of the governor’s office presents a chance for her to assert herself going forward.

“She could be, for all we know, behind the scenes today trying to cut a deal with everybody to put it to sleep,” longtime political strategist Hank Scheinkopf said of the LaSalle issue. “The alternative is, if she can’t get them to agree, she’s going to have to show power.

“A governor without power gets eaten alive,” he added.

Hochul remains steadfast in her belief that Senate Democrats shirked their constitutional duty by shooting down LaSalle in committee instead of holding a full floor vote.

What she chooses to do next remains unclear.

“As the governor, it is my prerogative to do what’s best for the people of the state of New York after a thoughtful analysis and in consultation and I assure you, that is my guiding star,” Hochul said at an Albany event last week.

LaSalle backers clearly feel there are grounds for a lawsuit, accusing Senate Dems of not fulfilling their obligations.

Complicating matters, the Court of Appeals has not indicated that it has accepted the Senate’s rejection. Hochul could still rescind LaSalle’s bid and choose another nominee from the shortlist provided to her by the Commission on Judicial Nomination.

That would appease union leaders, progressive lawmakers and rights groups who opposed LaSalle over past rulings and his work as a prosecutor.

Supporters, however, are incensed over the issue as LaSalle, currently the presiding justice of the Appellate Division in Brooklyn, would have been the first Latino chief judge in New York if confirmed.

The still-simmering confirmation fight looms large as Hochul turns her attention toward the state’s fiscal plan for the next year with her fellow Democrats holding a veto-proof supermajority in the Legislature.

Hochul, who narrowly won a full term in office last November, has already made clear that housing, public safety and mental health will be priorities — and her budget outline will provide more details on Wednesday.

The governor said recently that she does not believe the judicial fight will have a lasting influence on the legislative session.

“I put forth an ambitious plan for the people of New York, and I believe that there’s a lot of common interest between the executive and the legislative branch,” Hochul said at a Harlem event last week. “So, we have a lot of shared priorities, and so nothing like this could detract from that.”

Still, some of the top items on Hochul’s fiscal and policy wish list could create new tensions as budget negotiations get underway.

The governor last week said she wants more funding for prosecutors as part of her plan to combat crime and she will once again push to amend the state’s controversial cashless bail system in the budget.

Republicans and Mayor Eric Adams have praised Hochul’s renewed interest in revisiting the issue and her plan to grant judges more leeway when setting bail for serious crimes. Hochul wants to make it so judges won’t have to use the “least restrictive means” to ensure someone’s return to court when dealing with serious crimes and repeat offenders.

Those changes, however, will undoubtedly face opposition from progressives and Dems who have championed the state’s bail reforms.

Lawmakers will hold a hearing Monday on improving data collection and reporting regarding criminal justice statistics, something many Dems in the Legislature say is necessary before revisiting bail.

“This is going to serve as our due diligence as far as considering any changes,” Hoylman-Sigal said. “They have to be backed up by data. If the governor is proposing changes, similarly, I think she would need to have an analysis of data to try to convince both houses.”

Hochul’s pledge to not raise taxes has also met resistance from progressives who want to increase levies on the state’s wealthiest residents to help more social services.

Details of Hochul’s plan to boost housing in the suburbs surrounding the city is also rankling some Republican lawmakers who say the state is trying to override local zoning rules.

“What the state should be doing is incentivizing transit-oriented development,” Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau) said. “But this one-size-fits-all approach that somehow the state knows better than the local communities as to where construction should take place and what kind of density is appropriate, is just wrong.”

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!