For four years, Western New York has had a vacancy for federal judge. It appears the finish line is near.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-5 last week to confirm Buffalo lawyer John L. Sinatra Jr. as a U.S. district court judge for the Western District of New York. Next up is the final hurdle: a vote by the full Senate.
Sinatra, a partner in the Hodgson Russ law firm, is widely respected in Buffalo’s legal community and praised by both Democrats and Republicans. He is considered a top commercial litigator, and before Hodgson Russ, he served as a senior counsel in the U.S. Department of Commerce during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Sinatra’s ties to beleaguered Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence have been a cause of concern. Since 2014, Collins has invested between $3.5 million and $13 million with Sinatra’s brother, the Buffalo developer Nick Sinatra. Collins also loaned the developer’s company at least $1 million.
When asked during confirmation hearings whether he would recuse himself from matters that might involve the congressman, Sinatra equivocated: “I certainly would look seriously at that and think hard about it under the recusal statutes as they apply to a situation like that.”
Bad answer. Every public official should avoid even the appearance of conflict.
Neverthless, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York’s senior senator, supports the nomination. So does New York Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also a Democrat. Collins wanted Sinatra for the judgeship and Schumer and Gillibrand, putting partisan politics aside, agreed.
U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny, who has chosen to move to senior status, has admirably and graciously worked as hard as ever during the years it has taken to fill the seat. It is unfair to both Skretny and the public to drag it out any longer. Here’s hoping the full Senate votes before it adjourns for the campaign season in October.