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Paterson will fill State Supreme Court vacancy soon Candidates are vying for Makowski's seat

Gov. David A. Paterson will soon appoint a new State Supreme Court justice to replace Joseph G. Makowski, who announced Friday he will resign next week after recanting a written statement he made attempting to clear a friend of drunken-driving charges.

Makowski's resignation has jump-started the 2009 Supreme Court race, creating a third seat to appear on the ballot in November. With a slew of Democrats already expressing interest in the appointment, Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said the governor is committed to filling the vacancy as soon as possible -- probably this spring.

"Obviously, we will want some time to review applications and give the governor time to appoint the most-qualified applicant for the position," Hook said.

As a result, aspiring jurists are contacting Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan and other top Democrats such as Mayor Byron W. Brown for their recommendation to Paterson.

Some of the early names surfacing include Buffalo City Judges Henry J. Nowak, James A.W. McLeod and Robert E. Russell; Erie County Judge Shirley Troutman; Tonawanda Town Justice John J. Flynn; Amherst Council Member Daniel E. Ward; and Russell T. Ippolito Jr., in charge of the Buffalo office of the state attorney general.

"We certainly will be making a recommendation," Lenihan said Monday. "A number of people have expressed interest, and I expect we will hear from more."

Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said several potential applicants have also contacted the mayor for his recommendation, though Casey said he does not know if Brown will get involved.

Republicans are also surfacing to express interest to Erie County Republican Party Chairman James P. Domagalski about running for the post in November, when the appointed judge must run for a full, 14-year term.

GOP names surfacing include Williamsville Village Justice Jeffrey F. Voelkl, former Erie County prosecutor Molly J. Musarra, Undersheriff Brian D. Doyle and Orchard Park Town Justice Deborah A. Chimes.

While Paterson is expected to name a Democrat to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Democrat Makowski, he is free to name anyone from any party. But aides to the governor say he must pick from a list of "highly qualified candidates" submitted to him by a 13-member judicial screening panel that interviews all applicants.

That committee is composed of five appointments made by the governor, two from the Legislature, two from the state's chief judge, one from the New York State Bar Association, one from the presiding justice of the Fourth Department of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court and two from the attorney general.

That person must then run in November along with incumbent Justices John F. O'Donnell -- a Democrat -- and Christopher J. Burns -- a Republican. Both are expected to run for re-election.

Political observers are already discussing the possibility of cross-endorsements for the incumbents, though that development is far from finalized. The inclusion of a third spot on the November ballot also changes the election dynamic as party leaders pick from those seeking endorsements by judicial nominating conventions that will meet in September.

Those same observers say many potential judicial contestants may also wait until 2010, when five Supreme Court positions will be on the ballot and a wide open race is expected to develop.

Makowski, 55, submitted his resignation after the district attorney and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated his actions of Sept. 2.

Friday, he partially recanted an affidavit he submitted that day indicating attorney Anne E. Adams, a friend and former prosecutor, was not drunk after she had been arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated earlier in the evening in the Town of Hamburg.

District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said Friday Makowski recanted the affidavit to avoid criminal prosecution. Adams pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors in connection with the incident.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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