During the first fifteen years of Housing Court's existence, all of its judges were reappointed. Only in more recent years have serious questions been raised about judges who are seen to be unsuitable for reappointment. Housing Court Judges can be denied reappointment if they are shown to lack judicial temperament, display racial or ethnic insensitivity or prejudice, fail to make timely decisions, or show bias towards either side in landlord-tenant disputes. To this end, advocates and tenants must consider filing complaints with the appropriate individuals, councils and committees. We share here our understanding of how judges are appointed and reappointed and hope that you are encouraged to take an active role in the process.
The Housing Court Act mandates that housing court judges be appointed by the Administrative Judge from a list of candidates whom the Housing Court Advisory Council deems qualified by their training, interest, experience, judicial temperament and knowledge of federal, state and local housing laws and programs. Judges shall be reappointed at the discretion of the administrative judge on the basis of performance, competency and results achieved. A more elaborate customary practice, however, has evolved. Since housing court judges are not true judges, they are not subject to review by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Notice of open positions for housing court judges is circulated publicly. Applications are returned to the Advisory Council ("Council"). All applicants are then interviewed by panels of Council members. Candidates worthy of further consideration are brought before the full Council for a second interview. The names of these candidates are made public. The Council completes its participation in the selection process by recommending three candidates for each open position. These names are then passed to the Committee on the Judiciary of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York ("City Bar").
A subcommittee of the City Bar Committee on the Judiciary is formed, comprised of one member from the Committee on the Judiciary, one member of the Housing Court Committee of the City Bar and a representative of the County Bar Association of the county involved. The subcommittee does a thorough report on the candidate. The process for gathering information by subcommittee includes a face to face interview with the candidate, a review of written work, references, telephone interviews with those who have had cases before the candidate or have other basis for knowing the candidate's qualification for judicial office. It is customary to check with disciplinary committees for lawyers. Whether the information that the subcommittee gathers comes from a written complaint or is first learned through a telephone conversation, it will not be considered and will have no place in the report if it is anonymous. Subcommittee members must speak with someone who was present at the event. The subcommittee, however, does not reveal its sources. Information that is submitted directly to the committee remains confidential.
The subcommittee submits a written report to the Committee on the Judiciary of the City Bar. The report will be discussed and the candidate will be asked to appear for an interview before the full committee. The decisions of the Committee on the Judiciary are communicated directly to the Administrative Judge. It is unclear what weight the City Bar Association's recommendations are given.
Candidates approved by both the Advisory Council and the Bar are then interviewed by Jacqueline Silbermann, the Administrative Judge of the Civil Court, Hon. Barry A. Cozier, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of the City Courts, and Jonathan Lippman, the Deputy Administrator of the Courts for Management and Support. Althought the Civil Court Act provides that "Housing Judges shall be appointed by the Administrative Judge", recent practice of the Office of Court Administration has been that final approval of candidates is granted by E. Leo Milonas, the Chief Administrator of the Courts. This issue, among others, has been litigated in Crosson v. Met Council.
Six months prior to the expiration of a judge's term, the Advisory Council solicits comments about the judges up for reappointment by announcement in the New York Law Journal. As in the appointment process, both the Housing Court Advisory Council and the Committee on the Judiciary of the City Bar review the judges' conduct and performance, including any information on file with the Administrative Judge. The judges are interviewed by the same panel of administrators and administrative judges as in the appointment process. Decisions have been made to reappoint sitting judges for an interim period of time. It was in response to this practice that Metropolitan Council v. Crosson was filed by South Brooklyn Legal Services, Legal Serices for New York City and MFY Legal Services.
Those interested in making submissions, either supportive or critical, are advised to send letters to Judge Silbermann, the Administrative Judge of the Civil Court, the Housing Court Advisory Council, the Committee on the Judiciary of the City Bar Association of the City of New York. Judge Silbermann regularly shows complaints to the judges in question. The Advisory Council maintains standing files and is said to keep comments sent directly to them confidential. The Committee on the Judiciary, however, does not keep such files.
Letters will be effective if they point to a pattern of bias, a lack of judicial temperament, favoritism or a reluctance to render decisions. Letters should include index numbers and details of what transpired, and if possible the tape number (these are available in the clerks office at no charge).
David Rosenberg, Esq.
The Housing Court Advisory Council
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Honorable Jacqueline Silbermann
NYC Civil Court
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
The Judiciary Committee
The Bar Association of the City of New York
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036-6690
Honorable E. Leo Milanos
Chief Administrator of the Courts
New York, NY 10007
Honorable Barry A. Cozier
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts
New York, NY 10007