Acting Chief Judge Addresses Impartiality of the Judiciary, the Need for Civility

By Susan DeSantis and David Alexander

Acting Chief Judge Addresses Impartiality of the Judiciary, the Need for Civility

11.26.2022

By Susan DeSantis and David Alexander

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Acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro said that while judges “are not at liberty to engage” with critics who question the impartiality of the judiciary, “the best thing we can do is model the values that are accorded to us.”

“We have spent years honing our craft, deciding cases based on time-honored principles. I am absolutely certain everyone I know that is on the bench has the ability and the desire to decide cases based on their merits, through careful application of the principles that have been with us for very many years,” he said.

The conversation, which took place Nov. 21 at a New York State Bar Association event in New York City, touched on many aspects of legal practice including alternative dispute resolution, the civil courts, the use of virtual courtrooms, Commercial Division practice, and Judge Cannataro’s appointment to the Court of Appeals.

The event, which was sponsored by the association’s Commercial & Federal Litigation Section and held at Foley & Lardner on Park Avenue, was designed as an informal exchange between Judge Cannataro and the association’s members. Dan Wiig, immediate past chair of the section and podcast host of  Amicus Curiae, moderated the event.

The judge was asked, “In a time where political and legal discourse have often resulted in violent words or acts, what can the bench and the bar do to elevate the conversation to responsibility?”

While the bench is limited in its ability to confront such criticism, the judge said that bar associations could speak freely.

Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the New York State Bar Association, who attended the event, said that bar associations must demand that judges be protected and civility maintained.

“We as a legal community must do everything in our power to put civility and the protection of the judiciary ahead of partisan ideology.” she said. “We believe that all views must be heard and shared in a respectful manner and in an appropriate setting.”

On virtual courtrooms, Cannataro said he recognized the limitations. He said that he worried about the impact of a lack of participation of jurors on the wrong side of the digital divide but that he can’t see the court system “putting the genie back in the bottle.”

“We certainly don’t want to create skewed jury pools,” he said. “But I have faith we can figure it out.”

In response to a question about his return to the Court of Appeals, Judge Cannataro reminisced about his early days as a clerk to Court of Appeals Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick. “I felt so honored to be among these legal giants” who were “so generous with their time and intellect,” he said.

Then he turned to what his life has been like since being named acting chief judge on Aug. 25.

”It’s an all-consuming job,” he said. “Obviously, I have my 13 or 14 months as an associate judge in the Court of Appeals before I became acting chief. I have my five or six years as an administrative judge before that. I had each of those jobs separately for the past few years, now I’m doing both at the same time, so my life has become consumed by the court. But I love it; it’s exciting.”

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