As much as he reveres legal tradition, Rolando T. Acosta ’82 plans to radically update procedures as the new presiding justice of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, where he has served as an associate justice since 2008.
“Our profession loves history,” Acosta said shortly after his appointment by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “When we cite a Cardozo decision for a particular principle, we take pride in it. The difficulty is that we have had systems in place that are decades old, if not a couple of hundred years old, which means there is almost a built-in reluctance to modernize.”
The First Judicial Department, which serves the Bronx and Manhattan, has lagged behind other New York courts when it comes to technology. “We still do not have e-filing, which is one of my priorities,” said Acosta. “We are already starting a pilot project for the e-filing of commercial cases and trying to iron out all the kinks and make sure it works perfectly.”
Acosta, who is 61, will also institute live-streaming of oral arguments after Labor Day. “Our court has resisted that,” he said, noting that the New York Supreme Court’s other three judicial departments and the Court of Appeals already live-stream their proceedings. Acosta explained that the court has been literally up against a wall when it comes to installing cameras in the courtroom. “Our building at Madison Avenue and 25th Street is landmarked, and we can’t even put a hole in the wall without seeking permission from the landmarks commission. We are going to have to do some rewiring, and we have gotten special dispensation for that.”
The Appellate Division reviews 3,000 appeals, 6,000 motions, and 1,000 interim applications each year. Appeals are taken to the Appellate Division, as a matter of right, in civil and criminal cases, from the Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, Family Court, and Court of Claims. “Our court has been called the preeminent intermediate appellate court in the country, because of the court's quality and docket of complex and important issues dealing with commerce in New York, the capital of the world,” said Acosta.
“As a Dominican and an immigrant, I am incredibly proud to be presiding over this court,” said Acosta, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic with his family when he was 14 years old. His parents, who hadn’t graduated from high school, stressed the importance of education, and Acosta quickly learned English while a student at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. A 1979 graduate of Columbia College, Acosta played on the varsity baseball team for four years and was named one of the best student-athletes in the country by the NCAA. As a lawyer, he has devoted his life to public service, including posts with The Legal Aid Society and the New York City Commission on Human Rights. His extensive community and pro bono work includes co-founding the Latino Commission on AIDS, serving as legal adviser to the founding board of Alianza Dominicana, and serving as treasurer and chair of the Policy Committee of the Hispanic Federation.
Acosta’s civic-mindedness includes an abiding commitment to his alma mater. He is serving his second term as a trustee of Columbia University, which awarded him its Medal for Excellence in 2000. He is an active member of Columbia Law School’s Dean’s Council, and he received the Law School’s prestigious Wien Prize for Social Responsibility in 2013. His daughter, Zila Reyes Acosta-Grimes ’15, followed in her father’s footsteps to Columbia College and the Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and an articles editor of Columbia Law Review; she is now an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton.
The news of Acosta’s appointment was praised by New York litigators and politicians. “I commend Governor Cuomo on the appointment of Justice Rolando T. Acosta,” New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat, told Manhattan Times, a bilingual community newspaper. “He embodies the most important qualities we look for in a judge and has a deep appreciation for the rule of law. Justice Acosta’s reputation as one of the most prominent judges in New York State is well-deserved as he has worked tirelessly to enhance the legal profession for all participants.”
Acosta is looking forward to serving with Peter H. Moulton ’86, one of the four State Supreme Court justices who Governor Cuomo named to the Appellate Court when he elevated Acosta.
“Peter’s appointment continues the wonderful tradition of Columbia Law School graduates dispensing justice in the First Department,” said Acosta, citing fellow justices Richard T. Andrias ’70 and Angela M.Mazzarelli ’71. “Peter is a fantastic judge and friend who will no doubt bring to the First Department the qualities that led to his appointment as the Administrative Judge in Manhattan.”
Posted on June 9, 2017