New York state’s top judge announced her resignation while the state’s judicial commission was considering a complaint that she improperly attempted to influence a disciplinary hearing, reports the Wall Street Journal., according to people familiar with the matter. New York State Court of Appeals Judge Janet DiFiore, 66, will step down on Aug. 31. In addition to leading the state’s highest court since 2016, DiFiore was responsible for overseeing one of the nation's largest state court systems. The Commission on Judicial Conduct had been investigating DiFiore for several months in connection with a complaint filed by Dennis Quirk, head of the court officers union. The commission served DiFiore with a formal written complaint alleging that she improperly used her official position to influence a disciplinary hearing involving Quirk.
The commission can remove judges from office, but it has no jurisdiction over jurists once they leave office, meaning her resignation effectively ends the investigation. Quirk had been subject to a disciplinary hearing after court officials accused him of threatening to retaliate against DiFiore in 2020. Quirk emailed the judge threatening to share information about her private life after a news report said she ordered an investigation into the union leader’s alleged racism. Quirk denies racist behavior. Last year, DiFiore wrote to the presiding official in the Quirk hearing that Quirk had a “childish temper tantrum” and that “absent significant sanction, he will be emboldened to engage in similar misconduct in the future.” New York’s rules of judicial conduct state that judges may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance their private interests and cannot voluntarily testify as a character witness. Deborah Scalise, DiFiore's attorney, said the judge was planning her resignation for months and that it was “completely unrelated to Mr. Quirk’s complaint or any other external factors.” Gov. Kathy Hochul will name DiFiore’s successor from a list of names provided by a screening commission.