Musings on the D train: Brooklyn judge reflects on life in public service

March 7, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn judge William Miller has lived a full life representing the public’s interest. 

Starting out in the Kings County District Attorney’s office in 1969, Miller gradually ascended to a seat on Brooklyn’s criminal court bench. A lifelong Brooklynite, Miller believes that the time spent on the Kings Highway “D” train allowed him opportunities to think on his future and legal career.

A graduate of Cunningham Junior and James Madison High Schools, Miller received his undergraduate degree at City College in NYC.

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“Everyday I took the D train that runs from Kings Highway,” Miller reflected. “It was a time to think,” he said. Though forever a Brooklyn resident, Miller left the city for three years to attend law school at Boston University.  While in Boston, Miller “always missed Brooklyn” and returned immediately after graduation.

Unsure how to leverage his law degree for gainful employment, fate presented itself to Miller under the guise of luck.   In the late 1960s, Miller returned to a New York where nepotism and favoritism ruled high-level public service positions.  

Walking down Kings Highway with a friend, Miller passed a local political club that had just finished discussing ways to get more attorneys to apply for and receive assistant district attorneys positions based solely on merit. A member mentioned that an ad would be placed in the New York Law Journal; Miller promptly applied.

After a number of interview rounds, Miller became one of 15 young attorneys selected to join the Brooklyn DA’s office. “I think that my time as a member of the Boston University Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Committee helped my application,” Miller said. “The job of a prosecutor is not just to prosecute individuals,” Miller noted. “It is to fairly evaluate cases. I think that my work with the committee helped with that. It made me a fair-minded thinking person.”

As a prosecutor, Miller saw many parts of human society that many only witness on television shows, such as “Law and Order.” Dealing with the proverbial underbelly of society did not thwart Miller’s efforts to remain positive and fair. “I am, in general, an optimistic person,” Miller said. “Crime is a part of the fabric of life, but I see everyone as a human being.” During his time with the DA’s office, Miller became chief ADA, managing approximately 330 attorneys, and 300 support personnel.

In 1983, the late Mayor Edward Koch appointed Miller to the Criminal Court bench. “I was very comfortable at the DA’s office,” said Miller.  “I like to stay put for the most part, but it was time to move on.” The transition from ADA to judge was not a particularly difficult one for Miller. “I already had managing experience, so I was not worried about that aspect of the job,” he said.  

Miller’s first assignment was in Staten Island. “Having worked for 14 years in the Brooklyn’s DA’s office, there needed to be an appearance of propriety, so I was removed from Brooklyn and assigned to Staten Island,” Miller explained.

It was the commute to the island that proved difficult for the new judge. “I had to take two, sometimes three buses, and then walk about a mile to get to the courthouse,” Miller said with a smirk. “At times I would pass lawyers who would call out ‘Judge Miller, do you need a ride?’”

Miller spent a year in Staten Island and was assigned back Brooklyn. As he did at the DA’s office, Miller quickly rose up the ranks, becoming Brooklyn Criminal Court’s Supervising Judge in 1985. “We accomplished a lot during my time in Criminal Court,” Miller noted.  

Discovery by Stipulation and the Red Hook Community Court are just a few of the innovations instituted during Miller’s tenure. “It was all a collaborative effort,” said Miller. “I was merely a part of the collaboration.”

“Brooklyn’s Criminal Court has a lot of pride and we did a lot of great work.,” Miller continued. “A lot of progress started in Brooklyn because, as Brooklynites we are always open to ideas and willing to try things that are different.”

Miller is now an elected member of Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term. Elected in the 2012 election, Miller began his term in 2013. “There’s a mandatory retirement age for New York judges,” Miller reminded.  “I hope to stay on the bench as long as I can but, there is life after the bench.”

What does such a life look like for Miller? “I have a lovely wife and wonderful children,” Miller said. “I look forward to gardening, among other hobbies.”

Miller hopes to leave a lasting impression of his time on the bench and if possible work on one more program before he retires: “Alcoholism. If I can, before I leave, I would like to bring a focus to alcoholism programs,” Miller concluded.

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