Saturday, May 25, 2024

Part 4, Update and More on Criminal Appeals--NYCOA: The Wilson Uptick

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first 4 months of Rowan Wilson's tenure as New York's Chief Judge and saw a 45% increase in total appeals calendared over the corresponding period the previous year. In Part 2, we saw that the number of criminal appeals calendared had actually doubled. In Part 3, we saw that the number of criminal cases calendared continued to increase dramatically through the next 3 months--nearly double the number for the same 7 months the previous year.

        (click to enlarge for a better view) 
Former Chief Judge Lippman with Chief Judge Wilson
at the 2024 Lawrence Cooke Symposium,
Albany Law School, April 25
(Several graphs in those previous posts depicted the comparisons of the early-Wilson era with that of the pre-Wilson months and with the corresponding months of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's final year. In short, criminal appeals rose sharply under Wilson, but not nearly at the level when Lippman was Chief Judge. 
The graphs also depicted Wilson's record of granting CLAs [Criminal Leave Applications] as the highest on the Court, both before and after he became Chief Judge. But, again, Wilson's record is still far below that of several members of the Court when Lippman was Chief Judge--including that of Lippman himself.) 

Let's now look at the caseload for the first full year of calendars with Wilson as Chief Judge. This would include the cases calendared for the Court's sessions from September 2023 until the Court's coming summer break this year.  And let's compare that to the caseloads of the corresponding previous full year of calendars--all set prior to Wilson becoming Chief Judge--and the corresponding full year of calendars during Lippman's final year before mandatory retirement. Here's what that looks like:

(click to enlarge for a better view)
As shown in the graph, total criminal appeals calendared in the first full Wilson year increased significantly over the previous year--76% increase. Despite this increase, however, the number is still far smaller than during the corresponding fall-to-spring term while Lippman was Chief Judge. To be clear, the point is not the more the better or that there is some ideal number. What is clear, however, is that the Court's criminal caseload did drop rather drastically from what it was in the Lippman era, and that the caseload is now increasing--if not as dramatically, certainly significantly.

As for the total number of cases calendared, civil as well as criminal, the roller coaster is similar. Take a look:
(click to enlarge for a better view)
As depicted in the graph, the total number of appeals calendared at the Court had dropped to less than one half--only 39% --of what it was under Lippman. In the first full fall-to-spring year under Wilson, the caseload has increased 47%. Still, it is a long way from the Lippman caseload, but unmistakenly a considerable rise.

This increase under Wilson is not surprising. He has made clear his belief that New York's highest court should be hearing more cases as part of "returning the court to its former glory. 'I would like to get back to that,' he said." [State Bar News/Annual Meeting 2024.]
He expressed similar sentiments at the Chief Judge Lawrence Cooke Symposium at Albany Law School last month. [The Eminence and Experience--and Exhaustion--of Being New York's Chief Judge, April 25, 2024. (See photo above.)]

Beyond that, regarding the criminal cases, Wilson's record for granting CLAs [Criminal Leave Applications] has rather consistently been the highest on the Court. It was so, for example, in the last two years of the Court under his predecessor, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. Take a look:

(click to enlarge for a better view)
As shown on the graph, Wilson's average of granting 8.5 CLAs each year was the highest in the final years of DiFiore's tenure.
(Notably, among the five Judges who were on the Court for the entirety of those last two years, the contrast was stark: from Wilson's 8.5 to DiFiore's and Garcia's 1.5. Obviously, those parties whose CLAs were assigned to Wilson were far more fortunate than those assigned to DiFiore or Garcia.)

Wilson's record for granting the most CLAs--and the stark contrast among the Judges--continued after DiFiore left the Court. Here is what the first post-DiFiore year looked like:

(click to enlarge for a better view)
Once again, Wilson's record for granting CLAs was the highest among the Judges.
(Notably also, both his record and the Court's average jumped quite a bit in that immediate post-DiFiore year. Judges Rivera's, Cannataro's, and Troutman's records all contributed to the doubling of the Court's average. And as was the case while DiFiore was Chief Judge, the contrast among the Judges' records remained quite extraordinary. From Wilson's high of 17 CLA grants to Garcia's 1. Again, parties whose CLAs were assigned to Wilson--or to Rivera, Cannataro, or Troutman--had a much better chance for the opportunity to have their cases reviewed by the Court than if their CLAs were assigned to Garcia. This imbalance, the result of the single-Judge CLA decision-making process, has been the subject of much criticism. See, e.g., Eugene F. Pigott Jr., Criminal Leave in the Court of Appeals a Case of Implicit Bias?, 85 Albany Law Review 169 [2021-2022])

To continue the aside about the imbalance resulting in CLA-granting records, it should be made clear that this is not a recent phenomenon--not a result of Janet DiFiore being Chief Judge or of her departure. This has been a long-term feature of the single-Judge CLA decision-making process. For example, the contrast was just as great while Judith Kaye was Chief Judge. Take a look:

(click to enlarge for a better view)
As depicted in this graph [from (Part 3) NY Court of Appeals: Criminal Leaves Still Up & Still Uneven.], among the Judges who were on the Court for the entire last two years of Kaye's tenure as Chief Judge, the CLA-granting records ranged from Pigott's annual average of 11 to Read's average of 1.5.  As for the Court as a whole, CLA grants then doubled in the following years under Chief Judge Lippman from what it had been under Kaye. Here's a look at Court averages for total CLA grants over the years:

(click to enlarge for a better view)
As depicted in this graph [from NY Court of Appeals: Steep Cut in Criminal Cases (part 2).],the CLA grants during both the Wachtler and Lippman eras at the Court were double that of the latter 10 years of the Kaye era.

This is a long way of saying that, regarding CLA grants, there has been a contrast among the Chief Judge tenures just as there has been among the individual Judges themselves. With the criminal caseloads now increasing under Wilson, and his consistent record of granting the highest--or one of the highest--numbers of CLAs among the Judges, there is good reason to believe that parties seeking appeals in criminal cases will have an increased opportunity to have their cases heard by New York's highest court with Wilson as Chief Judge.


In the next post, we'll look at a significant change--actually a turnaround--in who's now dissenting at the Court of Appeals.

Being Chief Judge with Rowan Wilson and Jonathan Lippman

The Eminence and Experience
--and Exhaustion--
of Being New York's Chief Judge
The 14th Annual Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke Symposium
Albany Law School, April 25, 2024

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Part 3, More on Criminal Appeals--NYCOA: The Wilson Uptick

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that the number of cases calendared for a hearing at the Court of Appeals in the first 4 months since Rowan Wilson became New York's Chief Judge increased significantly. A 45% increase over the same 4 months the previous year. In Part 2, we saw that the number of criminal cases calendared for oral arguments for the same 4 months had actually doubled. 

Let's now look more broadly at the changing criminal caseload at New York's highest court under Rowan Wilson.

Source: Office of Governor of New York/
Darren McGee via AP
First, has the increase continued? Since we looked at the calendared criminal appeals in Part 2, three additional full months have been calendared under Chief Judge Wilson. February, March and April of 2024 have been added to the four previous months since Wilson has been responsible for the Court's calendar. So, now, let's compare the seven months of calendars under Wilson--i.e., the seven calendars from September 2023 through April 2024. [N.B., as usual, no oral arguments were calendared for Decenber.]

Under Wilson, the number of criminal cases calendared has continued to increase dramatically. It has nearly doubled as compared to the number for the same months the previous year before Wilson became Chief. For Wilson's first seven calendars, 47 criminal appeals were scheduled for argument. For the previous year, the number for the corresponding seven months was 25. That's an 89% increase.

Lest the Wilson increase be deemed excessive, it should be noted that for the corresponding final seven months of calendars under Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman--i.e., September 2014 - April 2015--the number was 68. Here's how those numbers look:
(click to enlarge for a better view) 

Similarly, the total number of appeals--civil and criminal--has also increased significantly, albeit not as dramatically, under Wilson. For those same seven months of calendars, the total number of appeals calendared for oral arguments increased from 64 prior to Wilson's elevation to 93 thereafter--a 45% increase. Again, lest that increase be deemed excessive, the corresponding number under Chief Judge Lippman was 152! Here's how those numbers look:
(click to enlarge for a better view) 

Returning to criminal appeals, the increase is no doubt largely attributable to Chief Judge Wilson's own view that the Court should be hearing more criminal appeals than it had been in the recent past. This is clearly evinced in his record in granting Criminal Leave Applications.
[For those unfamiliar with Court of Appeals procedures: These CLA's are distributed equally among the Judges. And whether to grant or deny an appeal--i.e., whether to allow the criminal case to be reviewed by the Court--is the sole decision of the one Judge to whom the CLA happened to be distributed. No other Judge participates in that decision.]

Since Rowan Wilson has been a member of the Court, he has consistently been granting a much higher number of CLA's than most of his collegues. For example, in the final three years under his predecessor, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Wilson averaged granting 10 criminal cases a review each year. At the other end of the spectrum, Judge Michael Garcia averaged less than 1 grant a year.

Here's how the numbers look for the four Judges who were on the Court for the entire final three year period under DiFiore--September 2019 through August 2022:
(click to enlarge for a better view)

As the graph shows, Wilson had been granting 5 times as many CLA's as Chief Judge DiFiore, and 10 times as many as Judge Garcia. Moreover, Wilson's record has remained the same in the post-DiFiore era. Indeed, for the the last 12 months for which CLA numbers are available, March 2023 through February 2024, he has remained the most generous among his colleagues in granting review. Take a look at the records of the six Judges who have been on the Court for all of these these recent 12 months:
(click to enlarge for a better view)

As the graph shows, Wilson again granted 10 times more CLA's than Judge Garcia. He also granted 5 times more than Judges Madeline Singas and Anthony Cannataro.

Finally, for one more time, lest it be thought that Wilson's record of granting CLA's has been excessive, let's compare his record during the DiFiore era with that of the Judges on the Court under Chief Judge Lippman. Here are the individual CLA records for the final three years of both eras. Take a look:
(click to enlarge for a better view)

Credit: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
The graph displays the records of the Judges who were members of the Court for all three of the final years of the Lippman Court and the corresponding Judges of the DiFiore Court. As the graph makes clear, Wilson's record of granting 10 CLA's a year, although considerably higher than that of his colleagues on the DiFiore Court, would have been quite modest on the Court under Lippman. While his record of granting review was 5 times higher than that of Chief Judge DiFiore (2 average grants), it was less than one half that of Chief Judge Lippman (21 average grants).

Whether Chief Judge Wilson's record of granting CLA's is ideal, too high, or too low is not the point.
(I acknowledge my own view that some of his colleagues have been far too stingy, and that it is better for the Court and far fairer for the litigants and their clients to be allowed a hearing before the state's highest tribunal.)

But whatever is wiser or fairer, the facts are that Wilson has been considerably more generous than most of his colleagues in granting the right to have criminal appeals heard by the Court, and the Court under his leadership has been hearing significantly more criminal appeals than it had in recent past years. No, not as many as were being heard under Chief Judge Lippman. But many more than under Wilson's immediate predecessor, Chief Judge DiFiore.

Next, we'll look at changes in who's been dissenting at the Court, and how the Court has been deciding those divided cases.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

NYCOA: Takeaways from the New Redistricting Decision

This past week, New York's highest court, in a 4-3 decision in Matter of Hoffman v. NYS Independent Redistricting Commission, ordered the state's bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to reconvene and to redraw the state's congressional districts. There's much to be said about that decision, both legally and politically.
(click to enlarge for a better view)
Presumably, only a few Court junkies (myself included), the participating lawyers, legal reporters covering the case, the Court's Judges and their clerks, and some diverse others have actually read the 60 pages of judicial opinions. So it might be worthwhile to highlight some of the important--and interesting--takeaways from this case. Here is my own subjective and (out of mercy for my readers) incomplete list.

First, the decision itself and the context:
Last year, the Court, in Matter of Harkenrider v Hochul, declared that the Democratic-controlled state legislature had engaged in partisan gerrymandering, which is explicitly prohibited by the state constitution's 2014 amendment. As a remedy, the Court's 4-3 majority in that case returned the matter to the trial court where the case had commenced, and ordered the trial judge to redistrict the state in time for the upcoming 2022 elections. That upstate Republican judge did so, with the help of a "special master" (a statistician), drawing a purportedly partisan-neutral map for the state's 26 congressional districts.
(click to enlarge for a better view)
The legislature's map that the Court of Appeals had invalidated might well have favored the Democrats to gain as many as six congressional seats. But the trial judge's map resulted in the Republicans flipping four seats from the Democrats, creating a slimmer Democratic majority of 15 to 11.

The Democrats then brought this lawsuit. They argued that the trial judge's map was only a temporary emergency remedy for the fast-approaching 2022 elections; that it was not a more permanent map to last for the remainder of the ten years until the next federal census. As the case proceeded through the state's court system, the intermediate appellate court (the Appellate Division, Third Department) agreed with the Democrats in a 3-2 decision, and the 4-3 Court of Appeals has now agreed as well. In contrast to last year's Harkenrider decision, New York's high court in this year's Hoffman decision ordered the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to do its state constitutional duty and create a redistricting map.

Takeaways from the Decision:
  • The Democrats Win.     The Democratic senators got what they wanted. They will now get a new redistricting which, almost certainly, will be an improvement for them compared to the trial judge's map last year. Recall that, earlier this year, the Democratically-controlled state senate had (shamefully) rejected Governor Hochul's first nominee for Chief Judge, Appellate Division Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle. Subsequently, after the Judicial Nominating Commission sent the Governor a new--and very different--list of candidates, the Democratic majority approved her second nominee, their much-favored then-Judge of the Court of Appeals, Rowan Wilson (who--even more shamefully--was left out of the Commission's first list to the Governor). Wilson had forcefully dissented from the Court's redistricting decision in Harkenrider last year and, now as Chief Judge, he has authored the Court's majority Hoffman decision, holding that the previous redistricting by the trial judge was only a temporary measure. The Democrats' political maneuvering has little to do with the legal and constitutional merits of this new decision. But it certainly has major political implications.
  • The IRC, Not A Trial Judge     Wilson's opinion for the majority in this past week's Hoffman decision emphasized the limited role that the judiciary is supposed to play in congressional redistricting. Under the state constitution, it is the IRC--with some legislative modification allowed--that has the authority and duty for redistricting. With that in mind, especially considering the context of last year's Harkenrider decision with elections fast approaching, the redistricting performed by the trial judge, as directed by that decision's majority, could only be viewed as a temporary emergency measure, according to Chief Judge Wilson. It was not a more permanent decade-long redistricting. The IRC must now draw that more permanent map.
  • Stare Decisis?     According to the dissenting opinion this past week in Hoffman--authored by a clearly angry Judge Anthony Cannataro, who was part of the 4-3 majority in last year's Harkenrider decision--"stare decisis does not permit the majority to overturn our precedent merely because they would decide the case differently now than we did then." [My emphasis.] With all due respect to the dissenters, last year's Harkenrider decision was not a precedent for deciding this year's case. The substantive constitutional issue in this year's Hoffman case was very different. It was not about whether the Democrat's previous redistricting map amounted to invalid partisan gerrymandering. Nor was it about the validity of the Court of Appeals' remedy at that time--i.e., sending the case back to the trial judge to do a quick redistricting that would be ready for the fast-approaching elections. Rather, the case just decided in Hoffman was about whether the remedy ordered last year was a temporary emergency one, or a more permanent decade-long one--i.e., one that entirely superseded the constitutionally assigned duty of the IRC until the next 10-year redistricting. Whether the Wilson majority or the Cannataro dissenters got that question right, it was a very different issue than the ones that were decided in last year's case. 
  • The Change in Composition Did It?     Also, according to the dissenting opinion, "the majority is able to reach this result for one reason only: because the composition of the Court has changed." [My emphasis.] Well, the composition of the Court has indeed changed. Former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore resigned and Rowan Wilson--who was on the opposite side of last year's redistricting decision--has replaced her. Also, Presiding Appellate Division Justice Dianne Renwick was vouched onto the Court to fill in for Judge Caitlin Halligan, who had recused herself from the case. So yes, the composition was different. But, as with the previously discussed complaint of the dissenters, this one misses the mark. It has partisan political appeal, but it has nothing to do with the actual legal and constitutional merits of this past week's Hoffman decision--which, again, involved a very different constitutional issue.
  • The Exigencies in 2022     Related to the previous three items, both the majority and the dissenters in this past week's Hoffman decision recognized that last year's redistricting, created by a trial judge, had been ordered by the Court of Appeals in Harkenrider because of the urgent circumstances of the fast-approaching elections. As Chief Judge Wilson's majority opinion in Hoffman explained, the Court last year had
    concluded that 'judicial oversight [wa]s required to facilitate the expeditious creation of constitutionally conforming maps for use in the 2022 election'...[The Court] then remitted the matter to Supreme Court [i.e., the state trial judge] to adopt, with the assistance of a special master, constitutional maps 'with all due haste'...Less than a month later, Supreme Court [i.e., again, the state trial judge] certified the maps prepared by a special master as 'the official approved 2022 Congressional map.' [My emphasis.]
    Similarly, in Judge Cannataro's opinion this past week, the dissenters themselves actually explained that, "[i]n [last year's decision in] Harkenrider, this Court determined that it was required to order the adoption of maps as a constitutional remedy for a variety of reasons, including...the exigencies created by the impending 2022 elections." [My emphasis.] Attempting to minimize the "exigencies" as underlying the Court's decision last year, the dissenters actually reinforced that very factor. In the dissenting opinion's own words: "This Court’s opinion necessarily referenced the impending 2022 election at various intervals. However, such references served only to clarify that the remedy would not be postponed until after the 2022 elections." [My emphasis.] None of the foregoing necessarily demonstrates that the majority or the dissenters were right about the substantive merits of this year's Hoffman decision. But it does show unequivocally that the Court's Harkenrider decision last year, to return the case to a trial judge to perform the redistricting, was, indeed, an emergency measure.
  • The Constitutionally Limited Judicial Role (A)    Underlying the Wilson majority's conclusion in Hoffman, that the trial judge's redistricting last year must have been a temporary measure dictated by the urgency of the upcoming elections--and not a more permanent substitution for the IRC's role--are several relevant state and federal constitutional prescriptions. As for the New York state constitution, the 2014 Amendment states quite plainly that "an independent redistricting commission shall be established to determine the district lines for congressional and state legislative offices” (NY Const, art III, § 5-b [a]). [My emphasis.] Additionally, addressing a potential role for the courts, that same amendment also provides that "The [IRC] process for redistricting congressional and state legislative districts...shall govern redistricting in this state except to the extent that a court is required to order the adoption of, or changes to, a redistricting plan as a remedy for a violation of law. (NY Const, art III, § 4 [e]. [My emphasis.] The trial judge's redistricting, ordered last year in Harkenrider, might have been the "extent" "required" to remedy partisan gerrymandering in time for the approaching 2022 elections. The majority's argument this past week in Hoffman is that such an "extent" is hardly required any longer, because there is plenty of time for the IRC to perform its constitutional duty before the 2024 congressional elections.
  •  Constitutionally Limited Judicial Role (B)    Regarding the federal constitution, it too prescribes a limited role for state courts in the redistricting process. The "Elections Clause" (Article I, Section 4) places the authority for determining congressional districts in the state legislatures: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof." [My emphasis.] In its 2015 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm'n, the Supreme Court ruled that an independent commission, established in a state constitutional amendment approved by the voters, can validly do the redistricting work as well. So, a state's legislature or a state's redistricting commission may do the work. The dissenters in this week's Hoffman decision relied on another Supreme Court decision, Moore v. Harper, decided earlier this year, for the proposition that--as the dissenters paraphrased it--"while redistricting may traditionally be a legislative function, state courts are the appropriate tribunals to hold state legislatures to compliance with state constitution redistricting requirements." Yes, but in the Supreme Court's own words, the holding was simply that "whatever authority was responsible for redistricting [i.e., state legislature or commission], that entity remained subject to constraints set forth in the State Constitution." [My emphasis.] And more to the precise point here, making clear that state courts were not the ones to do the redistricting themselves, the Supreme Court emphasized that, 
     Although we conclude that the [federal constitution's] Elections Clause does not exempt state legislatures from the ordinary constraints imposed by state law, state courts do not have free rein...We hold only that state courts may not transgress the ordinary bounds of judicial review such that they arrogate to themselves the power vested in state legislatures to regulate federal elections. [My emphasis.]
Again, a limited role for the state courts, and one that surely does not seem to include "arrogat[ing] to themselves the power" of performing the redistricting themselves--like the trial court was ordered to do in the Court of Appeals' Harkenrider decision last year.

I'll spare my readers and stop here. Those were the essential highlights I took away from the Court of Appeals' redistricting decision this week in Hoffman. Other commentators might well select their own different highlights and take issue with mine.

One additional takeaway which we'll consider in the next post, continuing the NYCOA: The Wilson Uptick series, has to do with who is suddenly been dissenting since Rowan Wilson became Chief Judge.