First Department's Newest Appointee Hailed as 'Quick Study'

, Commercial Litigation Insider

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Just six years after being assigned to the Commercial Division, Justice Barbara Kapnick became the newest member of the Appellate Division, First Department Friday when the governor announced new appointments to the mid-level appellate courts.

For those who know her well, Kapnick’s appointment, which is effective immediately, comes as no surprise. Practitioners praised her as someone who exercises “good judgment” on the bench and possesses “great skill” and fairness as a judge.

“While Justice Kapnick’s elevation to the Appellate Division is a great and well-deserved honor, the Commercial Division has lost one of its most pragmatic and sensible jurists,” said Michael Carlinsky, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan who has known the judge the last 10 years.

"She is level, considerate, hears out lawyers and gives attorneys the opportunity to present arguments. She’s thorough: She’ll read the papers before she takes the bench," said Matthew Dontzin, founding partner of Dontzin Nagy & Fleissig.

Early in her career, Kapnick served as principal law clerk to Dontzin's father, the late Michael J. Dontzin, who served as a judge in Manhattan State Supreme Court.

Kapnick, 60, was elected to the New York County Supreme Court in 2001 and assigned to the Commercial Division in 2008. She is a 1975 graduate of Barnard College and received her J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 1980.

She also serves as president of the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the City of New York and is a member of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics.

In addition to Kapnick, current First Department justices who have been appointed from the New York County Commercial Division bench include Karla Moskowitz and Helen Freedman.

“The members of the governor’s judicial screening committee invest a lot of time and effort in looking at the credentials and history of judges on the Supreme Court who apply for the Appellate Division,” said Mark Zauderer of Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer and a member of the First Department Judicial Screening Committee.

“Obviously there are many applicants, and we do our best to advise the governor as to those whom we judge to be the most highly qualified for the position,” he added.

As for Kapnick, the practitioner added: “In my own professional experience and not as a committee member, I found Justice Kapnick to be a superb trial judge who is extremely bright, extremely smart and a very quick study.”

In one of her more recent high-profile decisions, Kapnick last March dismissed a lawsuit brought by Bank of America and Societe Generale challenging the 2009 restructuring of bond insurer MBIA in which its municipal bond business was split from a structured finance unit.

Kapnick’s elevation to the appellate court means her docket, for now, will be distributed among the other Commercial Division judges in Manhattan – now eight total in all.

According to David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the New York state court system, Kapnick’s appointment technically doesn’t leave a vacancy in the Commercial Division because, “Appellate Division judges are in fact Supreme Court judges.”

“So it remains to be seen,” Bookstaver told CLI regarding a replacement. “Obviously, we’ll assess the need to put a judge in the Commercial Division.”

In addition to Kapnick’s appointment to the First Department, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday named three judges to the Second Department – Colleen Duffy of Westchester, Hector D. LaSalle of Suffolk County and Joseph J. Maltese of Staten Island.

According to CLI affiliate The New York Law Journal, the appointments come at a time when the appellate divisions have a 23 percent vacancy rate; Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to fill 11 other vacancies.

In a statement, the governor said the appointed judges “bring to the courts wide-ranging and distinguished careers exhibiting years of legal experience and sound judgment.”

“I have no doubt these individuals will demonstrate exceptional intellect and integrity in their new roles,” he said.

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