On July 13, 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced four appointments to fill vacancies in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, in the First Department of New York State. Two of those appointees are no strangers to New York Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL), Judge Martin Shulman and Judge Manuel Mendez. NYCAL has one of the most active asbestos dockets in the United States. In fact, NYCAL had approximately 314 filings in 2019.
Justice Shulman, a well-known judge in NYCAL was first elected to the Manhattan Supreme Court in 2005. He first became a Justice if the Appellate Term in 2009. Judge Shulman served at New York County’s Civil Court from 1995 to 2014. He is currently the presiding justice in the New York Supreme Court Appellate Term. He has presided over dozens of asbestos trials including cases with novel issues such as the Cooney matter.
Justice Mendez has been a state Supreme Court justice since 2012 and became the NYCAL coordinating Judge in 2018. He established many procedures to help alleviate the significant backlog of asbestos cases in New York such as developing four lists of cases based upon whether a plaintiff is living/deceased and FIFO/In Extremis cluster. Justice Mendez’s system has led to the resolution of hundreds of cases in NYCAL since 2018. In fact, despite the pandemic, Judge Mendez has continued to hold virtual pre-trial conferences and settlement conferences to facilitate settlement.
The next NYCAL coordinating judge faces a difficult challenge due to COVID-19. There is a significant backlog of cases in NYCAL. While many courts have begun operations taking significant precautions including Plexiglas barriers, hand sanitizing stations, masks, and gloves, there is still no indication as to when jury trials will commence for asbestos cases. There are many questions left unanswered, but the ultimate and most important questions remain as to who will be the next coordinating judge and what changes will be implemented.