On July 13, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced four new judicial appointments to the First Department of the Appellate Division. Elevated judges include Justice Manuel Mendez, current Coordinating Judge of the New York City Asbestos Litigation; Justice Martin Shulman, a long-time NYCAL judge who has presided over many of the asbestos cases that have gone to verdict in New York County; and Justice Salliann Scarpulla, a previous NYCAL trial judge who issued a decision concerning consolidation that was relied upon to consolidate several NYCAL matters in the early 2010s. With the addition of Justices Mendez, Shulman, and Scarpulla, the First Department now includes five former NYCAL judges, as former NYCAL Coordinating Judge Peter Moulton and NYCAL trial judge Cynthia Kern sit on the panel.
Justice Mendez brought significant change to the NYCAL during his tenure as Coordinating Judge—clearing out the backlog of the NYCAL docket by scheduling dozens of cases for trial or conferences every week. While conducting his court operations virtually, Justice Mendez has continued these near-daily conferences via Skype. Although each NYCAL Coordinating Judge brings their own flair to the job, it is likely that Justice Mendez’s approach to the NYCAL trial docket (weekly trial dates/conferences) will be his lasting legacy for some years to come.
Justice Shulman saw several cases to verdict in the NYCAL in recent years. Justice Shulman presided over one of the only lung cancer verdicts in the NYCAL in the Cooney matter, which was subsequently overturned on appeal on causation grounds. He also presided over the Robusto matter, one of the first talc verdicts in NYCAL, which was also overturned on appeal on causation grounds. Justice Shulman served as the trial judge in various upheld verdicts in the recent Nemeth, McGlynn, Gondar, North, and Peraica matters.
Justice Scarpulla’s time as a NYCAL trial judge was limited, serving as trial judge in a handful of cases in the early 2010s. Justice Scarpulla did issue a particularly notable decision in the Kestenbaum matter, in which she consolidated four matters for trial in 2013.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these appointments come at an interesting time. All things being equal, any Coordinating Judge goes through a learning-curve period, a process likely to be amplified by virtue of court operations being conducted virtually.
We at The Cook Group will continue to provide updates concerning any new judicial appointments in the NYCAL, as well as Justice Mendez’s planned departure date.