ALBANY — New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is hanging up her robe.
DiFiore announced Monday that she will retire from the bench at the end of August after serving as the state’s top jurist for the past six years.
In a letter to colleagues, the 66-year-old touted structural changes made within the judiciary during her tenure and the reduction of backlogged cases and said she’s ready to move on to “the next chapter in life deeply proud of what we have been able to accomplish together.”
“Excellence is a mindset, one that is now fully integrated into the fabric of the New York courts, leaving us well prepared to meet the future justice needs of every lawyer, litigant and court user who comes to our courthouses seeking fair, timely and justice services,” she added.
The New York Times first reported DiFiore’s plan to step down.
A former district attorney in Westchester County, DiFiore was appointed as chief justice of the Court of Appeals by former governor Andrew Cuomo late in 2015. She assumed the position early in 2016.
DiFiore, who previously served for a time as chairwoman of the now-defunct New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, does not have a new job lined up but told The Times that there would be “another chapter in my professional career.”
Gov. Hochul now has the opportunity to appoint DiFiore’s replacement at a time when progressives have criticized the state’s top court of being too conservative.
Most recently, the Court of Appeals overturned congressional and state Senate lines drawn up by the Democrat-led Legislature in a decision that upended the primary and election calendar.
The make-up of the court has also come under scrutiny in the wake of the conservative majority on U.S. Supreme Court and recent rulings abolishing federal abortion rights and upending New York’s gun laws.
“In light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and now news of the New York Chief Judge stepping down, it is more important than ever that Governor Hochul nominates and the Senate confirms a progressive chief judge,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) tweeted shortly after DiFiore’s plans became public.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said while DiFiore is responsible for “administrative reforms” within the court system it is time for a change.
“It’s time for a new direction in our judicial branch,” he said. “As the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m resolute that the Chief Judge’s replacement must be a jurist who will lead our Court of Appeals in a much-needed course correction that uplifts the vulnerable and ensures equity and justice for all.”
The most recent justice to join the seven-member Court of Appeals was Shirley Troutman, nominated by Hochul last year. Justices, who must be approved by the state Senate, serve 14 year terms or until they reach mandatory retirement at age 70.
DiFiore would have been eligible to serve until 2025.