New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivers final address

Judge DiFiore
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore speaks during Law Day at the Court of Appeals on Monday, May 2, 2016, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Janet DiFiore delivered her 99th and final Monday message on Aug. 29, as the chief judge of the Court of Appeals in the state of New York. 

DiFiore was sworn into office on Feb. 8, 2016, and during her final message on Monday, she thanked those who helped improve the court system during her tenure. DiFiore focused on the Excellence Initiative, a campaign to achieve operational excellence by handling cases more efficiently, expanding court access and advancing equal justice. 

“From the outset, our judges and our court staff were all in on the Excellence Initiative because [they] understood better than anyone that [this] initiative was all about access to justice and public trust and confidence in the courts,” DiFiore said. 

DiFiore mentioned she was able to ease the issue of backlogging in the courts after cases are filed “only to languish for years.”

“People feel like they can’t get their day in court because it takes too long and costs too much,” DiFiore said. “Our judges and court staff, with the support and cooperation of our partners in the bar, accepted the challenge of the Excellence Initiative, pursuing their responsibilities with a renewed sense of purpose and passion as we implement systemic reforms to support their efforts.”

The program enhanced training to improve case management skills, overhauled case management systems and expanded access to civil legal services for individuals of modest needs.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is tasked with appointing new leadership to the state’s court system, said that DiFiore dedicated her career to the people of New York and thanked her for her service. 

“From the Westchester District Attorney’s Office to the Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has dedicated her career to the people of New York. Chief Judge DiFiore’s leadership of our state court system — especially during the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been a critical asset,” Hochul said. “I thank Judge DiFiore for her years of service and look forward to reviewing the recommendations of the Commission on Judicial Nomination as we work to appoint new leadership to the court.”

Acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro will be taking over the role until a new chief judge is confirmed by the state Senate.

DiFiore announced her resignation back in July amidst an ethics investigation after she allegedly interfered in a disciplinary hearing of the president of the state’s court officers association. According to Law360, which reported the story, judges are prohibited from using their power to influence ongoing proceedings. 

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris welcomed DiFiore’s resignation, saying it’s time for new leadership at the state’s highest court system.

“DiFiore’s resignation allows for a necessary recalibration of our state’s highest court after a series of wrong-headed decisions by her four-judge majority bloc has skewed the playing field in favor of employers who run unsafe workplaces, out-of-state corporations, and law enforcement personnel who abuse their power,” Gianaris said. 

“I encourage Hochul to choose a nominee who better reflects the values of our state and look forward to a more robust confirmation process to ensure that happens.”

DiFiore said that she takes pride in what she was able to achieve during her six years leading the court system. 

“We have set our court system on a strong foundation for the future, and we have implemented many permanent improvements in service of our mission of delivering fair timely and accessible justice services to the people of our state,” DiFiore said. “And not just for today or tomorrow, but for many years to come.”

DiFiore said that the state is fortunate enough to now have Cannataro as acting chief judge.