judges

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In January, the state’s highest court will have two fewer judges. Only five of the seven slots will be filled, due to a mandatory retirement and delays by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate over confirmation hearings.

Judge Robert Smith, a well-respected jurist appointed by former Gov. George Pataki, will leave the Court of Appeals at the end of 2014 because he’s reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Gov. Cuomo has until mid-January to announce his choice for a replacement. Smith’s departure means that in the first month of 2015, the seven-member court will have just five judges on the panel. The state Senate has not yet confirmed a replacement for the previous vacancy, which occurred earlier this fall.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has until the end of this week to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court. His choices include the reappointment of a Republican woman judge who currently holds the seat, and several Democratic alternatives.

Judge Victoria Graffeo’s term on the New York State Court of Appeals ends later this year. Under the rules Cuomo could reappoint her, but she would only be able to serve out part of the fourteen year term. Graffeo is now 62 years old, and the mandatory retirement age for state judges is 70. Graffeo is also a Republican, and Cuomo is a Democrat.

The success of Proposition 1, the ballot amendment to expand casino gambling, and the failure of the last amendment, to allow judges to serve until age 80, are both wins for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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There are six amendments on Tuesday’s ballot, ranging from whether New York should allow seven resort-style gambling casinos, to whether judges should be allowed to serve on the bench until the age of 80. Here’s a rundown:

Proposition 1 has received the most attention. It would amend the state’s constitution to change the prohibition on gambling casinos, allowing up to seven resort style gambling centers to be built. A coalition of business and labor groups has been mailing brochures out to voters, and running ads.

A proposal on the November ballot to allow some state judges to serve until they are 80 years old is not drawing a lot of support, and one court expert says that’s a shame.

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In the next couple of years, Governor Andrew Cuomo may have the chance to shape the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, as several judges reach the end of their terms or the mandatory retirement age. It’s an opportunity no New York governor has had in a generation.