Let us start by offering our collective gratitude to U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara for his decades of service as he moves into senior status in January 2015.
Moreover, let us offer our gratitude that he, like his colleague William M. Skretny, is willing to continue working with the much-too-heavy caseloads that have become endemic to the court.
And finally, let us urge the U.S. Senate to move swiftly in confirmation of two new judges desperately needed, one of whom has already been recommended.
It is unfortunate that these judicial appointments get caught in the switches of politics, but that is exactly the concern as Arcara, 74, attempts to transition to what he hopes might be a slightly lighter workload. In fact, because of the snail’s pace at which the process moves – six to nine months through the White House and then through the Senate – Arcara’s transition to senior status could be in name only.
The veteran judge and his peer, Skretny, who is also moving to senior status next year, have pledged to continue to carry a full caseload if their replacements are not confirmed by the Senate in time. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has recommended that President Obama nominate Denise O’Donnell, a former U.S. attorney, to replace Skretny. But even Schumer’s clout may not be enough as the Senate’s tight schedule may mean neither O’Donnell nor any replacement for Arcara will be confirmed in time for Arcara’s planned move to senior status on Jan. 3, 2015.
And to make matters worse, if the Senate drags its collective feet too long, say until 2015, there is a chance that the entire landscape could have changed if Republicans regain control of the Senate in the November election. There’s a good chance Republicans will reject all of Obama’s judicial nominees. Time is of the essence.
But the dockets are choked with cases. For the year ending March 31, 2013, the local U.S. Attorney’s Office filed more criminal cases than its counterparts in places including Washington and Boston. Other factors also feed the caseload, including our proximity to the border, which produces many immigration cases.
There is an opportunity here, as Arcara has noted. With two new judges, along with his and Skretny’s willingness to continue hearing cases, it is possible to significantly reduce the backlog of cases. Judge John T. Curtin still does some court work although he’s been in senior status for years. Here’s the catch. The White House and Senate must do something they’re not accustomed to doing in such situations: Get the process rolling.
Meantime, Arcara deserves all the praise he has received for his 26 years on the bench. A former U.S. attorney in the 17-county Western District, he was nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Arcara is a man of strong opinions, and he has never been afraid to voice them. He is hard working, with a total commitment to public service. He presided over several prominent cases, including the trial that ended in the 2003 conviction of James C. Kopp for the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an Amherst doctor who performed abortions. Arcara also presided over the case of Parks Commissioner Bob Delano, who was convicted in 1992 on charges of racketeering and extortion, the land dispute in Grand Island involving the Seneca Nation and racketeering in Laborers Local 210 and Local 91.
Moreover, Skretny and Arcara worked side by side for 15 years to make into reality the new $137 million federal courthouse on Niagara Square.
This is a judge who could retire into a much quieter life and on a full salary but who, instead, chooses to reduce his workload only slightly because, “I love what I do. I can’t imagine not being a judge.”
And being a very good one, at that.