Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Chief Administrative Judge Is Praised By All Judges In The NYS Unified System

And the public is supposed to be happy about this unanimous support?

Just asking, Editor Betsy Combier
Gail Prudenti
Judges Say Prudenti Will Bring Political Savvy to Her New Post
New York Law Journal
October 24, 2011
The appointment of A. Gail Prudenti as the state's chief administrative judge was warmly received by current and former judges around the state. They credit Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman with promoting a woman well-known and well-liked by the judiciary, who has the temperament, personality and political acumen to succeed in a challenging position in difficult times.
While observers are quick to credit Ann T. Pfau, who will remain chief administrative judge until Dec. 1, with the quiet, calm and capable leadership necessary at a time when the judiciary was frequently at odds with the executive and legislative branches, they portray Justice Prudenti as more of a networker and coalition-builder.
"She is more of a 'political' person, in the small 'p' sense," said Robert A. Spolzino, who served with Justice Prudenti on the Appellate Division, Second Department, bench for five years before recently returning to private practice with Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker.
"I don't mean partisan and I don't mean to detract at all from Judge Pfau, but [Justice Prudenti] is very much a person who understands what people want to accomplish and makes situations a win-win for everyone," Mr. Spolzino said. "She understands people and how the process works and she doesn't let nonsense get in the way of getting from here to there."
Last week, Judge Pfau announced she will step down after about four years in the position to become coordinating judge of the New York State Medical Malpractice Program and to hear medical malpractice cases in Brooklyn as an acting Supreme Court justice (NYLJ, Oct. 20). Justice Prudenti, the presiding justice of the Second Department, was named the 10th chief court administrator, the second woman to hold the job (NYLJ, Oct. 21).
While Judge Pfau has no political experience, Justice Prudenti grew up around politics—her father, Anthony Prudenti, was the Suffolk County Republican chairman in the early 1980s—and waged three campaigns for judicial office. She ran twice for Supreme Court positions and once for a Surrogate's Court post, and won all three times. She faces re-election in 2014.
"She is really not that safe as a Republican in Suffolk County and is not assured of winning and I think she needs a safe place to be if she loses," said one judge, who requested anonymity. "She doesn't have to be a judge to be chief administrator."
The chief court administrator is not required to be a judge, although all but one, Matthew T. Crosson, were judges. Others, however, were appointed to the Court of Claims so they could have the title of chief administrative "judge," but never worked in that court.
"She brings a certain skill-set as far as dealing with the Legislature," the judge said. "Gail is a different kind of person than Ann and I think Lippman feels she is equipped to handle the legislative buzz saw upstate. It is a very rough job, and you get knocked around a lot. It is hard to walk into a room full of politicians and feel comfortable, but she does."
Presiding Justice Henry J. Scudder of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, said Justice Prudenti is "more of a relationship-type person" than Judge Pfau.
"That is not a knock at all on Judge Pfau," Justice Scudder said. "It's just a different style. Judge Pfau has been excellent and I can truly understand why, after going through the budget process and the pay raise process, she wants to get back to the courtroom."
Acting Presiding Justice Thomas E. Mercure of the Appellate Division, Third Department, said Judge Pfau did a "tremendous job in very difficult times." He said Justice Prudenti, whom he worked closely with this year on the administrative board of the courts is "loaded with energy and will do a wonderful job."
"I just think she is terrific, a dynamic worker who knows the court system well," Justice Mercure said. "I call her all the time to ask her questions."
Former Second Department Justice Joseph Covello, now of Lynn, Gartner, Dunne & Covello on Long Island, predicted the appointment of Justice Prudenti will boost morale in the court system.
"Everybody loves her and she is incredibly competent, hard-working and has a personality that everyone loves and admires," Justice Covello said. "She keeps the Appellate Division running like a well-oiled machine. Morale is high there and it is largely because of her at the helm. She is just an upbeat person. Judge Lippman couldn't have done better."
Justice George B. Ceresia Jr., administrative judge for the Third Judicial District in Albany, said that while the "loss of Judge Pfau is a big loss," Justice Prudenti is an appropriate successor.
"Judge Pfau was always very open and very accessible and had a very positive attitude," Justice Ceresia said. "I would expect Justice Prudenti will have a similar approach, perhaps with a different style. She is not only very nice, but very approachable and smart and obviously capable. I think it is a good choice."
Justice Michael Coccoma, the chief administrative judge for the courts outside New York City, said he welcomed Justice Prudenti and expects to find her as accessible as he has Judge Pfau.
Justice Coccoma said he and Justice Prudenti have at times worked closely, in particular, as state court administrators this spring were devising a plan to lay off more than 300 employees to deal with state budget cuts.
"In my dealings with her on matters from policy to personnel issues, I found her very accessible," he said. "You have her attention when you speak with her about issues. She offers good insights on proposed decision and how we should proceed on matters. I look forward to having that continued relationship with her."
Justice Coccoma said both Judge Pfau and Justice Prudenti are "good listeners" whose professional lives have been spent in the court.
Justice Prudenti "is a good judge of personalities," Justice Coccoma said. "Also, she recognizes the hard work that people do to keep our courts open. She is supportive of our people."
Justice William E. McCarthy of the Appellate Division, Third Department, who sat with Justice Prudenti on the Second Department bench for about two years, called her an "incredible administrator."
"Everyone has great respect for her as a leader, a judge and, more importantly, as a person, a human being," Justice McCarthy said. "She is just very kind and compassionate and caring and it shows collegially on the court and in terms of her interaction with the staff, judges, lawyers and litigants. Her personal skills and ability to work with people are second to none."
'Symbiotic Relationship'
Justice McCarthy noted that even though Justice Prudenti does not come out of the Office of Court Administration, she has worked closely for many years with Judge Lippman, who was previously chief administrative judge and a deputy administrator.
"They developed a very close working relationship and friendship, and I think he is very comfortable with her and she is very comfortable with him," Justice McCarthy said. "It is a symbiotic relationship that will serve the people of the state well, and the judiciary very well."
Victor A. Kovner of Davis, Wright, Tremaine, a past chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, said Justice Prudenti's dual experience as an administrator and as a sitting trial and Appellate Division justice make her "extremely well-qualified" to become the state's top administrative judge.
"It's an asset for anyone who comes into that job to know the challenges facing the trial and the Appellate Division judges, particularly the trial judges, having sat in their seats, and having a broad and deep understanding of the structure and the workings of the judiciary," Mr. Kovner said.
Mr. Kovner actually appeared before Justice Prudenti last month when she sat in at the request of the state Court of Appeals to hear a case on liability for the 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in Matter of World Trade Center Bombing Litigation v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 217 (NYLJ, Sept. 23). Justices Prudenti and Mercure were "vouched in" to guarantee that an under-manned court would have enough votes for a four-judge majority.
An open question is how Justice Prudenti will deal with the unions, and whether she will make top staff changes.
Dennis Quirk, head of the New York City Court Officers Association, said he did not expect any "skipping of a beat" after the good relationship he said his 1,600-member union has enjoyed with Judge Pfau and looks forward to working with Justice Prudenti when the baton is passed on Dec. 1.
"She started out as a court employee in 1978 in Suffolk County, and she was instrumental in the first union that was formed in the Unified Court System," Mr. Quirk said. "She is very pro-employee. I don't expect anything major to change."
Mr. Quirk said the arrival of a new chief administrative judge should have no effect on the ongoing budget negotiations between the Office of Court Administration and the 11 other unions representing non-judicial court employees.
The court employees have been working without a new contract since April 1.
"The tone of the contract is not set by the Office of Court Administration or the chief administrator," he said. "The tone of the contract is set by the CSEA [Civil Service Employees Association] and PEF [Public Employees Federation] and the executive branch. CSEA has set a pattern, which the PEF people has rejected. If PEF accepts it, then the contract will be set. …OCA doesn't have the ability to set a separate contract. They are not going to approve something for us that is different than what the administration reached with CSEA and PEF."
After rejecting a first contract with the state, PEF members in the executive branch will have until Nov. 3 to vote on a slightly revised pact or face up to 3,500 layoffs.

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