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New York’s highest court welcomes first openly gay judge

Lauded as a “trailblazer,” Justice Paul G. Feinman became the first openly gay judge confirmed to the New York Court of Appeals.

Senator Brad Hoylman, one of five openly gay members of New York’s State Legislature who urged the governor to appoint an LGBT person to the Court of Appeals, called the confirmation “an important perspective that has been missing on the court.”

“It is a watershed moment for the LGBT rights in the state of New York,” said Hoylman. “It comes at a time when gay rights are under assault from Washington, DC and LGBT people and their families feel under siege.”

Two of the seven candidates recommended to take the open seat were openly gay. But it was 57-year-old Feinman whose seat was confirmed amid Pride Month celebrations of the progress the LGBT community has made. He is the first openly LGBT justice to be confirmed in the Court of Appeal’s 170-year history.

“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,” he said.

Feinman, the newest justice on the Court of Appeals, is a Long Island native and the third of five children. He first took interest in matters of law while navigating the “maze that is the social services network” as an intern in Columbia University’s legal internship program.

“I learned being a lawyer is a helping profession,” he said before the Senate at his confirmation hearing.

His robust legal career began as an attorney at Legal Aid Society, where he provided legal aid to low-income New Yorkers as a public defender. He served the law in a host of positions, including civil court judge, acting New York State Supreme Court justice and, most recently, associate justice for New York’s Supreme Court.

After working for 31 years in state courts and 20 years as a judge, Feinman finds himself confirmed to serve a 14-year term on New York’s highest court.

The seat was left vacant by another trailblazer: the late Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was the first African-American woman to serve on New York’s highest court. Abdus-Salaam was found dead in April when police pulled her body from the Hudson River. In May investigators concluded her death was likely a suicide, but family members challenged the idea she would take her own life.

Feinman joins six other judges on the diverse Court of Appeals, three of whom are women.

“Justice Feinman will be an exceptional addition to New York’s highest court,” New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “He is a talented jurist who has dedicated his career to public service and standing up for a fairer and more just New York.”

Feinman was the former president of the International Association of LGBT judges. He is a member of the Richard C. Failla LGBT Commission, which promotes fair treatment of LGBT issues and LGBT members of the court community.