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Serious backlog of cases should prompt quick Senate action on judicial nominee

The Senate should act swiftly to confirm Kathleen M. Sweet as U.S. District Court judge, following the president’s recent nomination.

Besides making her the first female federal judge based in Buffalo, Sweet’s confirmation would put an end to the long and arduous task of filling this key judicial vacancy.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., whose job as the state’s senior senator is to recommend judicial candidates to the White House, has been working diligently to fill court seats.

U.S. District Court vacancies have been a major issue for the past few years. All three of Buffalo’s district judges, William M. Skretny, Richard J. Arcara and John T. Curtin, are senior judges who could have retired. Instead they have chosen to continue handling cases during the struggle to find replacements. Schumer has been trying to fill Skretny’s seat for nearly two years.

He originally chose former U.S. attorney Denise O’Donnell to replace Skretny. O’Donnell finally withdrew her candidacy 16 months later after it became painfully obvious that President Obama would not officially nominate her. Speculation centered on her age – at 68 she was older than most judicial nominees – and the $300,000 campaign fund remaining from her unsuccessful run for state attorney general in 2006.

Sweet, 50, is a partner in Gibson, McAskill & Crosby, where she specializes in medical malpractice cases. She is a graduate of Boston College, where she was a star basketball player. She graduated from Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law and she is a past president of the Erie County Bar Association.

Buffalo attorney Lawrence J. Vilardo was nominated to the U.S. District Court to replace Arcara. The Senate finally voted 88-0 last October to confirm.

It seems likely that election-year politics will delay consideration of Sweet’s nomination, but such delay will have serious consequences for the delivery of justice.

The federal caseload here is enormous, with a backlog of civil and criminal cases that makes this area among the worst in the nation. It takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo.

Were it not for the dedication of the area’s senior justices, the backlog would be even worse.

The federal bench in Buffalo is in dire need of help. The Senate needs to move diligently on this nomination.