On Monday, July 11th, Janet DiFiore, the Chief Judge of New York’s Court of Appeals announced she will be stepping down from her position at the end of August. Initially, DiFiore said she was stepping down because, “I’ve made my contribution,” and she felt it was a “comfortable moment” for her to move on. However, it was quickly reported that DiFiore is currently under investigation for potential judicial ethics violations.
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has been investigating whether DiFiore interfered in a disciplinary hearing of New York State Court Officers Association President Dennis Quirk when she sent an ex parte letter to Phyllis Orlikoff Flug, who was presiding over the hearing. Upon learning of this letter, Quirk filed a complaint, claiming the Chief Judge of using the “enormous weight and prestige” of her position to get him fired after he sent an email in 2020 where he allegedly threatened DiFiore. Under New York’s rules of judicial conduct, state judges cannot use their office or status for personal interests. DiFiore’s attorney has said her decision to step down was unrelated to Quirk’s complaint or the investigation.
After DiFiore announced she will be leaving, Governor Hochul said, “from the Westchester District Attorney’s Office to the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has dedicated her career to the people of New York. Chief Judge DiFiore’s leadership of our state court system – especially during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic – has been a critical asset. I thank Judge DiFiore for her years of service and look forward to reviewing the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Nomination as we work to appoint new leadership to the Court.”
DiFiore’s departure means Governor Hochul will have to make a crucial decision on where to possibly take the state’s highest court, with many Democratic state and federal lawmakers calling for her to bring it in a more progressive direction given the United States Supreme Court’s conservative majority. “It’s a real changing of the guard,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s a pivotal moment for Governor Hochul to build her own legacy with a court that hopefully is both independent but respectful of the Legislature’s prerogative.” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, on twitter, said, “in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and now news of the New York Chief Judge stepping down, it is more important than ever that Governor Hochul nominates and the Senate confirms a progressive Chief Judge.”
On Wednesday, July 13th, the Governor said she has already begun the process for selecting a new Chief Judge, and has vowed to nominate a “thoughtful individual” to lead the state’s judicial branch. “I want to get the best jurist I can find in the state of New York regardless of any predispositions,” the Governor said. “A Judge is expected to look at every case that comes before them with a balanced eye.”