Meet the New Presiding Justice: Hector LaSalle
The young boy who idolized Atticus Finch, read voraciously and loved to watch Ironside is now the presiding justice of New York’s busiest appellate court. Hector LaSalle was appointed presiding justice of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department on May 25/
Having previously served as associate justice of the 2nd Department since 2014, LaSalle came to this position well-prepared, building upon his diverse experience in the judiciary, in the district attorney’s office and private practice.
We recently interviewed Justice LaSalle to learn more about the new presiding justice and the experiences that have shaped him.
What excites you the most about your new role as presiding justice of the 2nd Department?
The opportunity to work with, in my opinion, some of the best legal minds in the judiciary. The opportunity to serve with them in this role is one that excites me. I have so much respect for the people I work with day to day. I look forward to advocating for the 2nd Department judiciary to get the resources they need to help them be the best judges they can be, which in turn will benefit both the bar and the public.
What is one thing you wish people understood about your job?
The breadth and scope of the job is incredibly large and expansive. Not only is the presiding justice required to oversee and help administer the operations of the appellate court at 45 Monroe Place, he or she is also required to oversee for administrative purposes, two appellate terms, mental health/mental hygiene legal services, three grievance committees, several character and fitness committees and the 18B committees. I think those are aspects and responsibilities of the position that are incredibly important and many people don’t know about.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Let your work do the talking. At the end of the day, people react more to what you do more so than what you say. As my dad always said, don’t talk about it; be about it. It’s about demonstrating your intention through action, not through words.
What book has had the most influence on you?
My favorite novel of all time is Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” only because of all the things Edmond Dantes goes through and his very human reactions to them, both good and bad. At my age now, [a book] which I didn’t fully appreciate as a young man and has had a growing effect on me, is Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” I think about Santiago all the time and, as I get older, I relate to this character more and more. Hemingway’s description of Santiago and his efforts to complete that final trip reminds me of the importance of resilience and fulfillment a person has in living a life “well-lived.”
What led you to the law as a career?
As a kid, it was books and contemporary commercial art. Whether it was watching lawyers on TV like on “Ironside” or reading about the character Atticus Finch, I thought, what better job could there be than to be in the arena of advocating for people? My family didn’t know anyone who went to college, let alone became a lawyer, so more than anything else, it was literature and contemporary commercial entertainment. As imperfect an image as it may have been, that gave me my exposure to the law and drove my interest.
What’s the best part about your career?
The people I work with and the people I get to come across. I have met with people all over the city and state; people I never would have interacted with in my daily personal life but for my work in the Appellate Division. I have been exposed to so many different things and so many different experiences through not only this position but as an associate justice on the bench, to being in the trial courts. The experiences I’ve had as an attorney have given me the opportunity to see things beyond where I grew up; it’s been wonderful.
Who have been the biggest influences in the legal profession?
Although I have never met her, one of my biggest influences has been Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She has been an incredible source of pride and inspiration for so many of us in New York’s Puerto Rican community. While I certainly lack Justice Sotomayor’s intellectual brilliance, I recognize many aspects of her life story that are similar to those of my family. Her professional success reminds me what is possible for anyone in our state.
The two biggest influences that I actually do know are former presiding justice and current dean at Hofstra Law School Gail Prudenti and former administrative judge for the 10th Judicial District Randy Hinrichs. Both Judge Prudenti and Judge Hinrichs have been mentors to me since I was a young lawyer. They have both been readily available to share their experiences with me and offer sage advice when appropriate. I was drawn to both judges because I viewed them as incredibly bright problem solvers who were fair, industrious and served with an incredible sense of integrity. They were kind to me when I was a young lawyer and I didn’t know a soul in the professional world; I never forgot that. I am grateful to call them friends and fortunate that they are still willing to take my phone calls after all these years.
What do you like to do outside the law?
I love to read for pleasure . . . particularly fiction. I am also an avid sports fan. I really enjoy following and rooting for the Knicks, Yankees, Jets and University of Michigan athletics.