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Vilardo’s confirmation to federal court still leaves a critical vacancy to be filled

The overburdened federal courts in Western New York have finally gained some measure of relief with the 88-0 Senate vote confirming Buffalo attorney Lawrence J. Vilardo to the U.S. District Court. But there is still work to be done.

The Senate’s long-delayed approval of Vilardo, 60, a Harvard Law School graduate, will help ease the overwhelming amount of work facing a court that was without a single active federal judge. All three of Buffalo’s judges – William M. Skretny, Richard J. Arcara and John T. Curtin – are senior judges who, fortunately for the legal process, have chosen to remain on the bench.

Vilardo’s confirmation still leaves one vacancy, which had been expected to go to former U.S. Attorney Denise O’Donnell. She has now withdrawn her candidacy, meaning the selection process must start over.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., recommended Vilardo in August 2014, two months after recommending O’Donnell. O’Donnell was never nominated by President Obama. Speculation on the reason ranged from her age – at 68 she is older than most judicial nominees – to her politics. The political fund left from her campaign for state attorney general in 2006 is estimated at $300,000.

O’Donnell has the qualifications to be judge. She attributed her decision to withdraw as a candidate to the importance of her current post at the Justice Department. Now Schumer must act swiftly to recommend another candidate and Obama must act just as quickly in nominating that person. Once properly vetted, Senate confirmation is crucial to filling the gap on the Western New York bench.

The federal caseload here is crushing. News staff writer Phil Fairbanks reported that the backlog of civil and criminal cases here ranks among the worst in the nation.

It takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo. Courts here received more new filings last year – 744 new cases per judge – than all but nine of the 94 court systems across the country. That statistic speaks volumes to the ongoing problem, summed up by David P. Miranda, head of the New York State Bar Association: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

With a presidential election year approaching, there is cause for concern about the remaining vacancy in Buffalo.

The Senate has dragged its feet on Obama’s judicial nominees. That may be good politics, but it’s bad for the legal system. All parties should move expeditiously to fill the opening.