Updated 09/12/2009 10:12 AM
State's Top Court Hears Case Over Lt. Gov. Appointment
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Attorneys for Governor David Paterson and State Senate Republicans made their arguments before the Court of Appeals in Albany Friday, in the case of whether or not Richard Ravitch was rightfully appointed lieutenant governor by Governor David Paterson.
Paterson named Ravitch to fill the vacant post in the midst of the leadership struggle in the State Senate earlier this year.
While lower courts have sided against the governor, Friday’s hearing suggested that the state’s highest court could side with him.
There was intense questioning from the panel of seven Court of Appeals judges, but the focus though was on the merit of Paterson's argument -- that while not plainly stated, the Public Officers Law implies the governor has the right to appoint a lieutenant governor.
"How come nobody discovered it before you, before the governor?" asked Court of Appeals Justice Robert Smith.
Kathleen Sullivan, the governor's lead counsel, argued several other governors of other states were found within their rights to do so.
"We're very confident that this court will not want to be the first in the nation ever to stop a governor from filling a lieutenant governor appointment," said Sullivan.
Republicans are quite confident as well, that like the two courts before, this court will rule in their favor a third time, and find their arguments are based on direct interpretation of the state constitution.
"The state constitution clearly provides a succession when there is a vacancy of lieutenant governor. This has never happened before," said one Republican counsel.
Yet there could be a crack in the Republicans' case. Judges honed in on whether Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has the legal standing to bring on the lawsuit, questioning whether any single individual can sue over an institutional question.
"The state constitution clearly provides a succession when there is a vacancy of lieutenant governor. This has never happened before," said Skelos.
However, while prior courts have been openly critical of the governor's case, judges this time seemed more sympathetic to it.
"There's no question, this was the best day he's had in court so far, this is the best reception he's had to the arguments," said attorney Paul DerOhannesian.
The governor's counsel said if they lose in the Court of Appeals, they will not appeal to federal court.
A decision is expected within the next couple of weeks, and the governor is currently working on legislation to settle this constitutional dispute.