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Vilardo has Schumer’s backing for federal judgeship

Richard T. Sullivan doesn’t often use the word “perfect,” but that’s the lofty characterization he chose Wednesday when asked about his old friend and new candidate for federal judge.

To hear Sullivan talk, Lawrence J. Vilardo has everything – temperament, intellect, experience – that one could expect from a top-notch jurist.

“He’s got it all,” said Sullivan, a Buffalo attorney and longtime friend. “He’s an absolutely perfect choice.”

Vilardo, one of Western New York’s top litigators, is the choice of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to fill the seat of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, who is moving to senior status in January. Schumer will forward Vilardo’s name to President Obama, who has the final decision on submitting the nomination for Senate approval.

Schumer said that his staff interviewed 10 candidates for the vacancy and that he personally spoke with three of them. Vilardo stood out, he said.

“Larry Vilardo is deeply committed to Buffalo – a city where he was born, raised, educated, and has decided to raise his own family,” the senator said. “He is erudite, experienced and deeply respected by every facet of the Western New York legal community. He has a tremendous résumé and the expertise needed to fill the seat.”

A graduate of Canisius High School and Canisius College, Vilardo earned a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor at the Law Review.

Best known, perhaps, as half of the law firm of Connors & Vilardo, he was a founding partner with Terrence M. Connors, one of the area’s most prominent trial attorneys.

“It is a rare occasion for someone to realize his dream,” Connors said Wednesday. “Larry’s dream has always been to be a judge, and no one deserves it more. His judicial star will shine brightly.”

While Vilardo’s public profile is not as high as that of his partner, friends and colleagues say he has the background to make an excellent federal judge.

“He’s kind of a lawyer’s lawyer, which means other lawyers come to him for legal advice and consultation,” said Robert M. Greene, a Buffalo attorney and friend for more than 30 years. “He’s a superb practitioner and an incredible intellect.”

A lawyer for more than three decades, Vilardo, 59, of the Town of Tonawanda, made his name specializing in business litigation, personal-injury cases and appeals.

He heads the appellate division at his firm and has written briefs and petitions to state and federal courts at all levels, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He also served as a senior editor for the American Bar Association’s Litigation Journal.

“He’s superbly qualified,” said U.S. District Judge Michael A. Telesca of Rochester. “He has the temperament, experience, education and training to be a federal judge. He’s also not afraid to work, and he’ll see this as an opportunity to serve.”

Schumer said he wanted to move quickly to nominate a successor to Arcara, especially given the fact that the Buffalo area’s other longtime federal judge, William M. Skretny, is also moving to senior status early next year.

Arcara and Skretny are expected to continue to remain active in senior status, meaning that the nominations of Vilardo and former U.S. Attorney Denise E. O’Donnell to succeed them would likely relieve a backlog of cases and delays in the local federal court, Schumer said.

First, though, both O’Donnell and Vilardo need to win Senate confirmation, and the prospects for that happening quickly are unclear at best.

The Senate is in the midst of a five-week summer recess and then will return to Washington for only a few weeks of work before an October break for the fall campaign season. Then there’s the possibility of a Republican takeover of the Senate, which could bring with it a wave of delays for Obama administration nominees.

Both of Schumer’s choices for the two judgeships have Democratic ties. O’Donnell is a former Democratic candidate for state attorney general, and Vilardo was one of the first local lawyers to back Obama’s 2008 race for president, donating $2,300 to the candidate’s campaign in May 2007.

Federal Election Commission records show that Vilardo has contributed $11,400 to Democratic campaigns since 2007. Local recipients of that money include Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., but not Schumer.

“I expect he’ll get broad bipartisan support,” Schumer said of the Senate confirmation process that awaits Vilardo. “He’s thoughtful and moderate.”

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