Singas Takes Judicial Flight, Names Successor

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Joyce Smith is sworn in as acting district attorney by former District Attorney Madeline Singas. Her father, Peyton Smith, a retired U.S. Army veteran, held the Bible. (Nassau County District Attorney)

Despite opposition by Republicans and progressive Democrats, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas was comfortably confirmed to the state’s highest court on June 8. Governor Andrew Cuomo had nominated the veteran prosecutor as an associate justice to the Court of Appeals on May 25 to replace a fellow Democrat, Leslie Stein, who reached retirement age.

Confirmed with Singas was former New York City administrative judge Anthony Cannataro.

He replaced the late Judge Paul Feinman, who died earlier this year. Justices serve 14-year terms on the seven-member court.

The Republican opposition centered on the ongoing investigation of Governor Cuomo by the Assembly Judiciary Committee led by Charles Lavine (D–Glen Cove). Should the committee recommend impeachment, Republicans charge, the Court of Appeals will have to sit in judgment and Cuomo’s nominess will have a conflict of interest. Five Democratic senators, in a letter to the Judiciary Committee which conducted a 90-minute hearing on Singas’ nomination, wrote: “For far too long, the New York State Court of Appeals has been dominated by former prosecutors, with little representation from public defenders and civil rights lawyers. As Senators committed to dismantling systemic racism within our criminal justice system, we believe District Attorney Singas’ past support for maintaining draconian criminal justice policies renders her unfit to serve in our highest court. We plan to vote against her nomination, and we urge our colleagues to do the same.”

During the hearing, Singas said she was her own person and that “my prosecutor’s hat comes off and stays off” as soon as she is confirmed.

State and Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, asked if he had any input into Singas’ nomination, replied, “I am always making recommendations, but I’m sure the governor made his own decision based on his own views on what would be good for the Court of Appeals.”

He added, “Was I asked for my thoughts when [Singas] was under consideration? I was asked. I’m very fond of Madeline Singas and I’m happy to say she’ll be an excellent justice.”

In a statement, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “Madeline Singas has been a superb district attorney who has been instrumental in making our county the safest community in America. I wish Madeline the best in her new role serving the people of our state, and I know she will make an outstanding jurist.”

Singas, the daughter of Greek immigrants, succeeded Kathleen Rice when Rice won a congressional seat and earned election victories in 2015 and 2019. A press release from the governor’s office noted that she “dedicated unprecedented resources to restorative justice work through the creation of the Community Partnership Program to match those in need of services with the tools they need to better integrate back to the community post-incarceration.” She was the head of the then new Special Victims Bureau in the office. From 1991-2006, she also was an Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. Singas obtained a J.D. from Fordham Law School and a B.A. in Political Science from Barnard College at Columbia University.

Smith Makes History

Singas tabbed 51-year-old Joyce A. Smith of Hempstead as acting district attorney on June 8, the day of her confirmation. The next day, now Associate Justice Singas swore Smith in as the first African American to head the office.

Prior to her elevation, Smith served as the executive assistant district attorney for the Community Relations Division since 2018. According to a press release, she oversaw “five program offices, including recruitment, immigrant affairs, victim services, school-based programming, and community affairs, as well as the NCDA’s Community Partnership Program (CPP) Office in Hempstead, which works to combat gang and gun violence and promote efforts to reduce recidivism and build safer communities. In her role, she spearheaded the creation of several advisory councils comprised of leaders from a wide-range of communities in Nassau County, aimed at further developing engagement efforts and fostering collaboration between police, prosecutors and the communities they serve.”
Further, “Acting DA Smith has broadened the office’s participation in Nassau County’s many diverse communities, working closely with the County Executive’s team responsible for the development of the Nassau County Family Justice Center, which will provide important resources and support for families in crisis and survivors of intimate partner violence, and as a member of the Hempstead Prevention Coalition, which addresses substance abuse and addiction in Hempstead Village.”

Smith spent four years as a staff attorney in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ Office of the General Counsel, three years as executive director for the Bronx Family Justice Center in New York City, as well as the assistant commissioner/deputy chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. For 15 years, she specialized in prosecuting domestic violence cases, as an assistant district attorney in Queens.

Raised in Hollis, Queens, Smith is a graduate of Adelphi University and Howard University School of Law. A member of the Independence Party, she does not plan to run in November, when a special election will be held to choose Singas’ replacement.

Jacobs told Anton Media Group that on June 15, the Democratic Committee held a screening and attracted what he called “A very diverse, broad based group of people. They did have a unanimous recommendation. We’ll have an executive committee meeting on Monday night. The committee will hear my recommendation and then vote on a nominee.”

The meeting was held June 21, too late for inclusion in this edition.

After her swearing in, Smith said, “A few weeks ago, we learned that DA Singas was being considered for nomination to the New York Court of Appeals. You can’t imagine our pride. You can’t imagine our sense of honor that welled up in all of us who have been proud to work with her and for her over the years. And it was at the time that she again put her trust in me to become her successor, if she were to be confirmed to the Court of Appeals.”
After asking attendees in joining her to thanks Singas, Smith stated, “We will continue to follow your lead and the follow the good work and foundation that you put in this office.”

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