Will Trump Name First Woman Federal Judge Ever in Buffalo?

Jeremy Colby ...in the mix for federal bench

By Tony Farina

Will President Donald Trump be the chief executive to appoint Buffalo’s first female federal court judge, possibly in just a few months?

That certainly appears to be a strong possibility as Amy Habib Rittling, 48, an employment attorney with a Buffalo law firm, is seen as a leading candidate for such an appointment.

“I think Amy is well positioned,” says former State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a partner in the Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman law firm where Rittling has worked for the last nine years. She is also a partner.

Vacco says he considers Rittling a strong choice for the lifetime appointment “based on her experience, her legal temperament, and her community service.”

At present, there is only one female judge in the Western District, and she sits in Rochester. Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford, a Democrat, was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2013 becoming the first ever female judge in the district.

“There’s no question that being a woman works in her [Rittling’s] favor,” says Vacco who said she would be a wonderful choice, a “win-win decision,” given her strong credentials.

“She would make an outstanding judge,” adds prominent Buffalo attorney Terry Connors. “She is certainly held in high regard by the legal community.”  The heavy backload in the judicial calendar in Buffalo makes the appointment all the more urgent.

Amy Habib Rittling
…candidate for federal judge

Also in the running for the judicial appointment is Jeremy Colby, 42, a former county attorney and current Lancaster town justice who has also been mentioned as a candidate for the job of U. S. attorney and who remains in the mix for that appointment. Another potential Republican candidate for U. S. attorney, Michael Powers, has taken his name out of consideration.

Colby is a partner at Webster Szanyi LLP who worked briefly as county attorney under former Erie County Executive Chris Collins. Collins now serves as the congressman from the 27th District and is a key congressional ally of President Trump and will likely have a strong say in the judicial appointment along with other leading local Republicans.

Colby is a former law clerk to a federal judge, the late John Elfvin, and has said he would be honored to serve on the federal bench.  Rittling has declined to comment.

If Trump would choose to select one of the two Republicans for the federal bench, he would then have to deal with the two New York senators, both Democrats, but it remains to be seen if they would be willing to take on the president on an appointment to the federal bench, and possibly less inclined if that appointment is a woman.

Rittling, a graduate of UB Law School, was recognized as one of the Buffalo Law Journal Legal Elite in 2014 and has been very active in community service including the board at Women and Children’s Hospital and the John Oshei Children’s Hospital Campaign.

Colby is a graduate of Boston University Law School (cum laude) and Niagara University and has also been active in the community, serving on the board of directors of the Sankofa Charter School and the board of the Western New York Coalition of Charter Schools.

Vacco, who also served as U. S. attorney before winning election as state attorney general in 1994, is a highly respected Republican leader and strong voice in support of Amy Habib Rittling.  Other Republican leaders with likely input in the final decision include leading local Trump supporter Carl Paladino and Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.

Political sources suggest the appointment for a new U. S. attorney could come before the judicial selection as the process for that appointment can move much quicker through the system.  However, sources say the judicial selection would not be far behind, possibly within eight to 10 weeks, given that Buffalo is one judge short and the backload is increasing.