Pataki's Quiet Court-Packing

Long after he's gone, the governor's GOP judges will still be ruling

Pataki's office didn't respond to a Voice request to discuss the governor's appointments. Had Thompson heard back after his letter? "Response? The only thing I heard back was that they thought I was mad because they objected to my fees," said Thompson, who served as a court-appointed special master to evaluate the Campaign for Equality lawsuit.

He had written the letter, he said, "because I just got tired of them ignoring minorities. We are losing ground. It's an outright disgrace in the First Department to have just one African American. When I was there, there were three minorities on the Second Department, now there's just two. This guy has just used it for politics. It's favors, that's all."

By most accounts, Pataki's next move on the First Department will be to name his former counsel James McGuire, who was elected last year to Supreme Court in Queens, to the appellate bench. The smart money says he will quickly be bumped up to presiding justice once Buckley steps down.

Pataki tried in 2003 to place McGuire on the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, a move widely considered a slam dunk. But McGuire, a former prosecutor, never made it past his qualifying interview with the Commission on Judicial Conduct. As is customary, no explanation was offered, but there's little doubt that McGuire made enemies while serving the governor. Among his tasks was to oversee the administration's defense to Pataki's most threatening scandal, the parole-for-sale cases in Brooklyn federal court that resulted in the conviction of two parole officials and a major Pataki contributor. Billing records submitted by state-paid defense attorneys who represented at least 11 Pataki administration officials before the grand jury show that McGuire kept in constant contact with the attorneys. He attended several joint defense meetings that included the attorney for top Pataki campaign aide Patrick Donohue, who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, and whose courtroom testimony was slammed as "lies" by prosecutors.

McGuire's close ties to the administration mean that he would become Pataki's eyes and ears on the appellate bench, say critics. That's nonsense, according to one supporter. "He is a very good lawyer and a good judge," said Alfred Lerner, a Queens Republican who stepped down from the appellate panel last year. "He'll be an asset." Lerner, however, has good reason to be a Pataki fan. When he retired, the governor appointed him to a part-time $109,000-a-year spot on the state's Commission on Investigations. Because he's 76, Lerner is also allowed to collect his $139,000-a-year pension.

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