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Paterson critical of judicial finalists

Gov. David A. Paterson, in a unusual rebuke of a judicial screening panel, said he was "disturbed" by a list of seven names submitted to him Monday that he must select from as a possible replacement for retiring Court of Appeals Judge Judith Kaye.

While Paterson declined to elaborate on the list of finalists, which includes Court of Appeals Associate Justice Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of Grand Island, aides later said he was angered by its lack of minority and female candidates.

The Commission on Judicial Nomination, for instance, tapped two current Court of Appeals members -- Pigott and Judge Theodore T. Jones, who is black -- but left off Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, a Hispanic who has been on the court since 1993 and is the second most-senior member of the high court.

Racial politics have been mounting in recent weeks at the Capitol, so the panel's choices may complicate matters for Paterson. The list of names comes as senior Hispanic state legislators have been voicing complaints about a lack of Latino presence in key state government posts.

"He's disturbed because of the lack of diversity," Errol Cockfield, a Paterson spokesman, said of the governor's concerns. He did not elaborate.

Paterson has no choice: he must choose from one of the seven names between Jan. 1 and Jan. 15. The choice is subject to Senate confirmation.

"Ultimately, Paterson is going to pick someone from the list," said Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor and longtime court watcher. He said no governor has ever refused to select from the commission's list.

Besides Pigott and Jones, the panel's choices to replace Kaye, who must step down Dec. 31 because of mandatory retirement laws, are: Jonathan Lippman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division in the First Department; Justice Steven W. Fisher, an appellate court judge in the Second Department; Peter L. Zimroth of Arnold & Porter in Manhattan; George F. Carpinello of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Albany; and Evan A. Davis of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in Manhattan. Pigott was appointed to the bench by former Gov. George E. Pataki.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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