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Manhattan lawyer OK'd for state's highest court, replacing Erie County judge

ALBANY – A Manhattan lawyer was confirmed Monday as an associate judge of the state’s highest court, replacing a judge from Erie County who retired.

Rowan Wilson, nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was overwhelmingly backed by the Senate across political party lines. It is believed to be the first time in state history that two African-American judges are serving at the same time on the seven-member high court.

The Court of Appeals post will be the first time on the bench for the 56-year-old lawyer, who has spent most of his career at the Manhattan firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

Asking and then answering how a lawyer can go to the top court without judicial experience, Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, told his colleagues: “One word. Litigator. He’s a litigator. If you can play the game, you can referee the game.’’

Wilson, a Long Island resident and Harvard Law School graduate, replaces former Court of Appeals Judge Eugene Pigott Jr., an Erie County resident who retired last year.

With a high court now packed by Cuomo nominees, one senator during a morning Judiciary Committee hearing asked Wilson about his commitment to being impartial in disputes between the legislative and executive branches.

“I tremendously value the system we have … The Executive can’t become too strong. The Legislature can’t be too strong,’’ Wilson said.

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