Saturday, April 15, 2023

NY Chief Judge Nominee Rowan Wilson (Part 1)

It's been a long and winding road for Rowan Wilson to first be selected to sit on New York's highest court and, ultimately, to be selected for the center seat as Chief Judge of the court and the state.

It was ten years ago that Rowan Wilson's name first appeared as a potential nominee for the Court of Appeals. His name was among those on the list of seven that the Commission on Judicial Nomination submitted to then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to fill a vacancy on New York's high court. Cuomo chose to nominate someone else.

The following year, Wilson's name appeared on two more lists that the Commission submitted to Cuomo to fill two more vacancies on the Court of Appeals that had arisen in the interim. Cuomo again selected others for those slots.

In 2015, the Commission included Wilson on a list to fill the vacancy in the position of Chief Judge when Jonathan Lippman reached the mandatory retirement age, 70, for Judges on the Court. Cuomo again chose someone else.

That same year, the Commission produced another list for a seat on the Court. Cuomo chose someone else.

Finally, in 2017, the 6th time the Commission included Wilson among its recommended possible nominees, Cuomo did select him.

Five years later, the story would continue.

In 2022, when the sitting Chief Judge, Janet DiFiore, resigned, the Commission produced a list to fill that vacancy. To the utter puzzlement of many who follow the Court and New York government generally, several names that would be expected to be included were not. To be sure, it was a strong list. But it somehow did not include three sitting members of the Court of Appeals who had applied, including Judge Wilson. Nor did it include the state's former Solicitor General, Caitlin Halligan, who had been included on five previous lists and who many believed should have already been sitting on the Court.

As required under state law, Governor Kathy Hochul, who had succeeded Andrew Cuomo when he resigned, chose a nominee from the list that the Commission did give her. But then, when Hochul's choice from that list, Presiding Justice Hector LaSalle of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, was rejected, the Commission went back to work to produce a second list, also as the law required.

A few weeks later, the Commission produced a second Chief Judge list. In another surprise, this list didn't simply replace Justice LaSalle. Rather, five of the seven names on this new Chief Judge list were different. Most notably, Wilson and Halligan were among the replacements.

Now, Governor Hochul has nominated Judge Wilson to be Chief Judge, and Caitlin Halligan to fill the vacancy resulting from Wilson's very likely confirmation by the state Senate. Governor Hochul has made it plain that she wants to restore the prestige of New York's highest court--a nice way of acknowledging that most Court observers believe that its stature has fallen considerably in recent years.
It would certainly seem that with these two picks, Wilson and Halligan--together with her first appointee last year, Judge Shirley Troutman--Hochul is going a long way towards doing exactly that.

But for now, let me just go back to 2013, when Rowan Wilson's name first appeared on a Commission list for the Court of Appeals. Here's what I wrote then. Other than the number of years he would get to serve and the fact that he has now been a Judge on the Court for the past 6 years, my thoughts today are much the same. 

This is from New York Court Watcher, NYCOA: Who's on the List for the Jones' Vacancy? (Part 2: Rowan Wilson), Wednesday, March 27, 2013:
I'd like to discuss Rowan Wilson first. That's what we'll do in this post.
Rowan D. Wilson
Perhaps the most interesting name on the list. More important than that, it's hard to beat his vita.

Sure, no judicial experience. Not and never a government official. Nor a political party official. Nor advisor to a governor or senator. Nor a legal academic.

No, he's not the typical nominee for the Court of Appeals. Not a judge on a New York State appellate or trial court, as were 6 of the 7 members of the high court when Andrew Cuomo became Governor. No, not Rowan Wilson.
Oh, and he was born in California.

But, again, hard to beat.
Harvard undergraduate and law school.
Clerkship with the chief judge of a federal circuit court of appeals.
A partner at Cravath--one of the, or THE, most prestigious law firm in New York and the nation.
Litigator for clients such as Time Warner, Royal Dutch Shell, IBM, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. [They don't hire no slacks!]
Complex antitrust, copyright, trade secret, and securities fraud litigation. [Slacks can't handle those!]
And, he also [Perhaps for penance--just kidding!] has handled civil rights litigation, worked in support of affirmative action, and serves as the chair of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

And, he's only 52.

Soooo, at the end of 2015, when Chief Judge Lippman must retire [because of New York's moronic mandatory age-70 retirement], Rowan Wilson will only be 55 or 56. If selected by Governor Cuomo to fill the current vacancy, he will have served 2 1/2 years on the Court of Appeals by that time, and he'll have a full 14 years till his 70th birthday.

He might just be the ideal choice--and politically ideal choice--to succeed Lippman as Chief.

Governor Cuomo's father made history with several firsts. When he was Governor, Mario Cuomo appointed the first woman, the first African-American, and the first Hispanic members to New York's highest court. He also appointed the first female Chief Judge.

With Rowan Wilson, Governor Andrew Cuomo could make his own historic appointment. The first African-American Chief Judge.

And come on, at least based on Wilson's extraordinary credentials and career to date, who could question his qualifications?

Yes, he's a most interesting name on the list. Not surprisingly, Court of Appeals watchers are abuzz about him.

Based upon Judge Wilson's record on the Court of Appeals over the last several years, I'm only more persuaded of my original assessment. Let's hope I'm right, for our Court, for the law, and for the people of New York.

Next, we'll look at a few highlights of his record thus far on the Court of Appeals. Specifically, we'll look at some of the most revealing opinions he's authored these past six years.