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Diversity evident among 5 finalists for federal judgeship in Buffalo

It’s no secret that Buffalo’s federal bench is all male and largely white.

A panel of lawyers and community leaders opened the door to changing that trend last week when it recommended five finalists – three of them women, one of them also African-American – for an opening as U.S. magistrate judge.

A final decision on who will fill the vacancy, one of three on the local bench, is expected within weeks.

“It’s an outstanding pool of candidates,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr., of Rochester. “It will be a tough decision.”

Geraci said that the names are being kept confidential but several lawyers close to the selection process confirmed who’s on the judicial shortlist.

Two federal prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Trini E. Ross and Kathleen A. Lynch, are on it, as is federal Public Defender Marianne Mariano.

The list also includes Michael J. Roemer, clerk of the district court, and Michael A. Brady, a private attorney and former prosecutor known for his mediation skills.

None of the five candidates would comment.

Geraci said he expects a final decision in two to three weeks and noted the tremendous need for another judge in Buffalo, a court system now without a single fully active district judge. All three of Buffalo’s district judges – William M. Skretny, Richard J. Arcara and John T. Curtin – are semiretired and carrying smaller caseloads.

The vacancy, created by the semiretirement of Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott last month, is one of three on the Buffalo bench.

The openings are significant because Buffalo’s federal courts are among the busiest in the nation and there’s a tremendous backlog of cases. One of the consequences is that the median civil case here now takes five years to reach trial.

Scott, the only African-American on the court, referred to the heavy caseload and its burden on his fellow judges in explaining why he chose to stay on the bench, even in retirement. Ross, one of the five finalists, also is African-American.

When Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., recommended two people for the district judge openings created by the retirements of Arcara and Skretny, he nominated a woman, former U.S. Attorney Denise E. O’Donnell, but his recommendation has not yet made its way out of the White House.

In contrast, President Obama did nominate Lawrence J. Vilardo, Schumer’s choice to succeed Arcara, and his nomination is currently awaiting approval by the full Senate.

Geraci said that all of the district’s judges, active and semiretired, will have a voice in who succeeds Scott. The five finalists were picked by a Merit Selection Panel appointed by Geraci and the other district judges.