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From Judge Paul G. Feinman to the Nomination of Justice Anthony Cannataro:  Two Openly LGBTQ+ Judges And The New York Court of Appeals

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Jun 03, 2021

Loss of Legal Scholar
In Memoriam
Judge Paul G. Feinman 

Originally I was planning on writing a tribute article to Judge Feinman in recognition of his service and ignited by his unexpectedly and sudden retirement from the Court of Appeals.  Needless to say, it was a tragic shock to hear of his unexpected passing on March 31, 2021, only eight (8) days after the sudden announcement of his retirement for health reasons.  This tribute, intended to be about his early retirement, is now an article in memoriam.

This is an incredible loss for the entire legal community and especially for the LGBTQ community who has lost an avid advocate and voice, not only to the public but from the bench.  As many know, Judge Feinman was an incredible legal scholar and jurist and LGBTQ voice from the Court of Appeals bench.  

We mourn the untimely passing of Judge Paul G. Feinman (only 61), one of the Associate Judges of the Court of Appeals, who ascended to the Court of Appeals in June, 2017, as a result of Governor Cuomo’s nomination.  Judge Paul G. Feinman, was the first openly gay Associate Justice of the N.Y.S. Court of Appeals.

Born and raised on Long Island, we were proud and fortunate to not only have had another Long Islander reach high levels in the judiciary, but for him to ascend to our Court of Appeals, not only as an esteemed Jurist, but as the first openly gay and LGBTQ representative and voice.  

Chief Judge, DiFiore, said that “Judge Feinman is an exceptional Judge and a magnificent human being, who has made extraordinary contributions to the Court of Appeals during his tenure and that he will be greatly missed”.  We echo that sentiment and are sorry that his voice and a voice for the LGBTQ community will no longer be on the bench. 

Justice Chris Ann Kelley, of the Suffolk County Supreme Court shared “I recall watching the  N.Y.S. Senate confirmation hearing when Judge Feinman was officially confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals.  His humility, warmth, wit and keen intellect are apparent in that presentation before the Senate.” She further commented that at his confirmation hearing before the N.Y.S. Senate Justice Feinman was questioned about the appropriateness of his filling the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.  Judge Feinman responded: “Certainly my entire career has been about promoting equal access and equal justice for all, and I hope to add to the diversity of perspectives that the Court considers.” Judge Feinman underscored the importance of adding LGBTQ+ voices to the Bench. 

As a member of the SCBA LGBTQ Committee in Suffolk County, I recall Judge Kelley recounting how she reached out to Judge Feinman on a whim, to invite him to the Suffolk County Court Pride Event, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall.  She was surprised that he answered his own phone in chambers.  She related that he was so personable and humble and approachable and that he did not hesitate in accepting an offer to come speak at the Suffolk County event.  Judge Feinman graced us with his presence, and we were able to hear his insightful review of the history of LGBT cases decided by the Court of Appeals. He was so friendly and approachable to the members of our committee.  He has served as a role model and mentor to many lawyers and judges.

Judge Kelley also shared with our committee that she was brought into an association, known as the International Association of LGBTQ + Judges, which Judge Feinman was actually a member and a past president.  It is a unique association that supports LGBTQ + Jurists on the bench.  

Judge Feinman was so dedicated.  I was told of an instance where he literally left his hospital bed to appear and give testimony, with respect to Judge’s salaries.  

He was so dedicated to our profession, to his fellow attorneys and fellow jurists.  His voice and presence will be sorely missed!

Last Week Governor Cuomo Nominated Justice Anthony Cannataro
To Serve As The Second Openly LGBTQ+ Judge
Of The New York Court Of Appeals
In Its 170-Year History

Per the LGBT Bar Association of New York:  While the LGBTQ+ legal community has been deeply affected by the loss of their dear friend, Judge Paul Feinman, with the appointment of Justice Cannataro, the Court will once again have a member who has a deep commitment to, strong relationship with, and empathic understanding of the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

As the Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court, Justice Cannataro brings a unique perspective on the challenges of administering a vast and often burdened court system. Justice Cannataro is one of the original Commissioners of the Richard C. Failla LGBTQ Commission of the New York Courts. In this capacity, Justice Cannataro has presided over an education program to ensure that transgender litigants, among others, are treated with respect and dignity in their interactions with the courts.

We applaud the Governor for this nomination and urge the Senate to move swiftly with confirmation.