Law \ Legal

Opposition To Hochul’s Choice For NY Chief Judge Ramps Up


Opposition to Governor Kathy Hochul’s choice for Chief Judge, Hector LaSalle, culminated at a press conference at the state capital on Monday, with Senators, union leaders and reproductive rights organizations among those calling for the governor to withdraw her pick, largely due to his judicial record. 

With 14 senators now having publicly come out in opposition to the governor’s pick, LaSalle will need more votes than just the Governor’s own party to be confirmed. 

LaSalle’s judicial record has been under heightened scrutiny as labor advocates anticipate a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that could gut a federal precedent that largely prohibits state-level lawsuits targeting union leaders.

If it does, some fear that the Court of Appeals will become the last line of defense for workers in New York.

At Monday’s press conference, a staff attorney at A Better Balance, Dana Bolger, argued that “the Court of Appeals is simply too important to be led by someone who is not wholly committed to defending the rights of women and workers.”

Multiple Senators echoed the same sentiment in their remarks including Senator Julia Salazar.

“If this nomination is brought to the floor for a vote, I will vote no. I urge my colleagues to join me in rejecting this nomination,” Salazar said.

“We know that if Justice LaSalle were confirmed to this position, it would solidify a conservative majority with serious material impact on women, workers, and all New Yorkers.”

A press release from the Center for Community Alternatives points to one issue some have been having with LaSalle’s reputation: he out-of-step positions against his Appellate Division colleagues.

In a 2021 case, Matter of Tyler L., Justice LaSalle joined a 3-2 majority opinion finding that a 15-year-old child with an IQ of 74 could waive his Miranda rights by answering a few yes-or-no questions. 

The Center for Community Alternatives criticized LaSalle’s ruling, stating that “despite a juvenile psychology expert’s conclusion that the child could not have made an intelligent, knowing, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights during police questioning’ being undisputed at trial,” LaSalle refused to accept the finding.

The Center for Community Alternatives argues rulings like this are an example of LaSalle effectively disregarding New Yorkers’ due process rights by affirming convictions even when injustice has clearly occurred.

LaSalle does still have supporters throughout the state, with Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez coming out in Hector’s defense:

“I am intimately familiar with Judge LaSalle’s extensive judicial record fighting for those who have been failed by our criminal legal system,” Gonzalez told the New York Post.

“He has repeatedly fought for defendants who have been deprived of a fair trial due to misconduct or error by prosecutors, ineffective assistance of defense counsel, or flawed decisions by trial judges.” 

If approved, LaSalle would become the first Puerto Rican chief judge in New York State’s history, and if denied it would be the first time a governor nominated a Court of Appeals candidate that was rejected by the New York State Senate. 

“New York’s Court of Appeals has a long history as a beacon of justice, and Judge LaSalle is an outstanding jurist in that tradition. He has the skills, experience, and intellect to ensure that our highest court is seen as a leader across the country,” Governor Hochul said when she originally announced her nomination in December.

“Judge LaSalle has a sterling reputation as a consensus-builder, and I know he can unite the court in service of justice.” 

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