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Cuomo is handpicking his own impeachment jurors

After an unusually tense confirmation process, the New York State Senate confirmed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest picks to the New York State Court of Appeals. Both Marilyn Singas and Anthony Cannataro will serve at least 14 years on the state’s highest court.

Singas, the Nassau County district attorney, had the more difficult confirmation of the two nominees. Several progressive state senators, including Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera, said they couldn’t vote for her because of her opposition to the Legislature’s bail reform law. Other senators were concerned about adding another prosecutor to a bench already dominated by former prosecutors.  

Judge Anthony Cannataro, the citywide administrative judge of the Civil Court of New York City and a state Supreme Court justice, was also confirmed.

Now, all seven justices on the state’s highest court have been nominated by Gov. Cuomo, which leads us to a trio of bills sponsored by Republican State Sen. Sue Serino of Hyde Park.

In the event of an impeachment trial of Cuomo, members of the New York State Court of Appeals would act as jurors.

“Nobody gets to handpick their own jurors, and our scandal-scarred governor should certainly not be one of them,” said Serino on Capital Tonight.

Serino’s bills, S7216; S7217; and S7218, respectively, would do the following:  

  • Prohibit a governor from making appointments to the court of appeals when he or she is subject to an impeachment investigation
  • Prohibit any judge on the court of appeals appointed by the sitting governor from acting as a member of the court for the trial of impeachments against the governor
  • Require court of appeals judges who were appointed by a governor under impeachment to recuse themselves.

“These very judges who the governor is appointing could be the very judges that preside over his trial,” Serino said. “This is nothing about the judges’ qualifications; it’s everything about a governor who is under investigation picking the people who might preside over his own trial.”

But Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s director of communications and senior advisor, told Capital Tonight that the senator’s argument is flawed and steeped in partisan politics.

“It’s cheap, it’s partisan and it’s unserious,” Azzopardi said.  “We got the stuffing kicked out of us for not acting sooner (on nominations). Allegedly, the court couldn’t function – so what does she want exactly, other than a cheap partisan hit?”

Azzopardi went on to explain that the process involves multiple levels of vetting, including an independent judicial screening committee.

“They put out a list of people who are qualified for the job,” he said. “A selection is made by one branch of government. A second branch of government then vets the nomination, and weighs the qualifications, and then they take a vote.” 

Sen. Serino’s legislation would amend the state’s constitution, which means it would need to be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures and then the public would be asked to vote on the measure.

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