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NYS Senate Poised To Confirm First Openly Gay Judge To Highest Court

The Statue Of Justice
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

The State Senate is likely to confirm New York Governor Cuomo’s nomination to fill the latest vacancy on the state’s highest court.

Judge Paul Feinman will be the first openly gay judge on the Court of Appeals. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Feinman, a Long Island native, was generally praised by members of the committee. He talked of his nearly two decades of experience as a judge, including as a State Supreme Court and then an appellate court judge.  Feinman says he will try to live up to the reputation and legacy of the judge he is replacing, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, who died in April in what police said was a suicide.

“If confirmed, I pledge to you that I will work hard every day and with integrity,” said Feinman. “To  carry out the tremendous responsibility that comes with serving on the Court of Appeals.”

Feinman, a cancer survivor, says he has recovered from having leukemia in 2015 and his doctors say he’s fully fit to serve on the court.  

Feinman was asked by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and friend of the judge, about defense of the indigent, something critics say the state has underfunded in the past. Feinman once worked as legal aid attorney. The judge answered that he would remain impartial when deciding cases.

“Once you put on the robe, you are not an advocate, either for the defendant or the prosecutor,” Feinman said.

Feinman was asked by Senator Thomas Croce , a Republican from Long Island, for his views on the Second Amendment, and whether Feinman believes it “confers an individual right “ to bear arms. Feinman cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions affirming that right.

“That’s the settled law,” he said.

A question from Senate Judiciary Chair John Bonacic, a Republican from the Hudson Valley, highlighted ongoing tensions between the legislature and the governor, as the legislative session winds down.  Bonacic asked Judge Feinman, if the governor and lawmakers went to court, whose side would he take?

“We want to make sure that you have that independence,” Bonacic said.  “And not beholden to a governor who has put your name forward to serve on the Court of Appeals.”

Feinman says he “cherishes” his independence.

“I will uphold the separation of powers,” Feinman said. “And that includes, if necessary, saying no to the governor.”

Governor Cuomo has now appointed all seven of the judges on the state’s highest court in the past few years.

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