The resignation of Presiding Justice Dolores Denman will create a domino series of judicial appointments for Gov. George E. Pataki in the coming months, with the possibility that Buffalo could lose some of its representation on the Appellate Division as well as the top appellate post.
Sources in the court system indicated Wednesday that Denman's resignation because of illness combined with other impending personnel moves will prompt the governor to:
Appoint a replacement for Appellate Justice John J. Callahan, who is scheduled to retire Jan. 1. The sources say that move is expected early in the new year.
Appoint a successor to Denman's post in the Rochester-based Appellate Division.
Appoint a successor to Denman as presiding judge of the Appellate Division's 4th Department, which encompasses 22 counties in the western part of the state.
Appoint a successor to Denman's trial
judge slot in the 8th Judicial District of State Supreme Court.
Denman announced Wednesday that she will resign her seat on the bench for health reasons. She has been fighting cancer for several months, and this week informed her fellow Appellate Division jurists that she would no longer continue.
"It's best for the court and best for me," she said in a statement. "I'm just not up to par."
She also said she was especially grateful to former Gov. Hugh L. Carey for appointing her as one of the first women to serve in the Appellate Division, and to former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo for naming her to the presiding-justice post.
Denman and her husband, Buffalo attorney James B. Denman, left Wednesday for Florida.
Her departure means that if Pataki sticks to his long-held practice of naming Republicans to virtually all of his judicial appointments, Buffalo could lose some of its judicial slots on the Appellate Division to courts based in Rochester and Syracuse.
Buffalo has held the prestigious presiding-justice post for about 20 years through the administrations of Denman and the late Michael F. Dillon. But the post has traditionally rotated among representatives from the Rochester and Syracuse courts.
Because there are few local Republicans now serving on the Supreme Court bench expressing interest in the appellate posts, the sources explain that Pataki could elevate incoming jurists such as Amy Fricano or Salvatore R. Martoche, or go with someone from outside the area.
Such a move could result in as few as two of the appellate panel's 11 justices hailing from the Buffalo area, down from a high of five.
The sources say screening panels have interviewed two sitting Supreme Court justices -- Jerome C. Gorski and Kevin M. Dillon -- but both are Democrats, and few of them have found their way to judicial posts via Pataki appointments.
Only current and elected Supreme Court justices -- not acting justices appointed to serve in Supreme Court from the Court of Claims or county courts -- are eligible.
But some sources say the governor will be hard-pressed to ignore the presence of Democrat Samuel L. Green, the senior associate appellate justice who will succeed Denman as presiding justice on an interim basis. Green has been considered in the past for even more prestigious appointments such as the state Court of Appeals and the 2nd Circuit federal appeals court based in Manhattan, and would be the first African-American to ever hold a presiding appellate justice post in New York State.
If Pataki sticks with the GOP, however, many speculate he would tap Paul Kehoe, the administrative judge in Rochester who served with Pataki in the State Senate. Vincent E. Doyle, presiding judge of the 8th Judicial District, said he hopes the governor will move quickly.
"We're going to miss Judge Denman, especially her leadership and the role she played here," he said. "She is irreplaceable, but we have to act to fill the void. We're hopeful the governor will act with dispatch."