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Judicial Spotlight: Justice Spodek —through JALBCA — raises awareness of breast cancer

October 20, 2015 By Paula Katinas and Charles Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hon. Ellen Spodek in her chambers at the New York State Supreme Court. Eagle photos by Paula Katinas
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The lives of judges involve far more than just putting on black robes and ruling on motions. New York State Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek, for example, works tirelessly to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Justice Spodek is a member of the board of directors for the Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA), an organization that sponsors free mammograms and educational programs to encourage women to take charge of their health. Spodek is also a past president of JALBCA.

“We have a van that comes to the courthouse and gives mammograms for free,” the jurist told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in her chambers at the Supreme Court building at 360 Adams St.

JALBCA has 29 vans that travel to courthouses in the five boroughs. When Spodek was president, the group expanded its free mammogram program to Nassau and Westchester counties.

JALBCA also follows up with women. “We contact women the next year to remind them that it’s time to get a mammogram, just as a doctor’s office would. It’s important to be consistent,” she said.

Spodek became involved with JALBCA even before she ascended to the bench. One year, she was asked to help with the preparations for the group’s annual dinner. “At the dinner, they were introducing the board of directors and someone said to me, ‘Stand up! You’re on the board.’ That’s how I found out I was on the board,” she said.

In addition to JALBCA, Justice Spodek takes part in other health advocacy activities, including the Race for the Cure, the annual fundraiser for Susan G. Komen Foundation, a leading breast cancer group. The Kings jurist, along with attorney Joanne Cohen, serves as a team captain each year.

Breast cancer advocacy is important to her, she said. “Breast cancer touches everyone in one way or another,” she told the Eagle.

Despite Busy Schedule, She Gives Back to Community

Spodek finds the time to give back to the community, despite a hectic work schedule.

She is a vice president of her synagogue, Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, and is a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “I do it to support my neighborhood,” she said.

Life as a New York State Supreme Court justice is a never-ending flurry of lawyers, motions and juries. Spodek presides over an estimated 1,300 cases a year. On Oct. 13 alone, she handled 58 cases.

Her cases run the gamut from medical malpractice to guardianship matters to foreclosures. Her role is to ensure that all parties receive a fair hearing in her courtroom, she said.

Elected in 2008, she serves as a justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Civil Term, in the 2nd Judicial District of New York.

Prior to being elevated to the Kings Supreme Court, she served as a judge in the New York City Civil Court. She was elected to that position in 2003 and was appointed as the Supervising Judge of the Kings Civil Court. .

Her father is Hon. Jules Spodek, a retired justice of the New York State Supreme Court. Her courtroom is the same one her father used during his years on the bench. “But, we don’t have the same chambers,” she pointed out.

Her chambers are charmingly decorated with movie posters of films with courtroom themes like “The Verdict,” “And Justice for All” and “My Cousin Vinny.”

There are lawyers who argued cases before her father who now argue cases before her, Spodek said. “I know the ones who knew my father,” she said.

Ellen Spodek was born and raised in Midwood. She attended P.S. 197, Andries Hudde Junior High School and Midwood High School. She is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and Fordham University School of Law.

Upon passing the bar, the then justice-to-be went to work for the New York City Law Department, defending the city against lawsuits, and later became associated with the law firm Jackson and Consumano.

After a few years, Spodek decided to branch out on her own. She started a law firm, Spodek & Barrett, with fellow lawyer Jane Barrett. The firm’s offices were located in Lower Manhattan.

During her spare time, Spodek ran a law clinic for the YWCA and served on the advisory board for Brooklyn Legal Services.


Attacks of 9/11 Increased Her Interest in the Bench

About that time, she started to develop an interest in running for a judgeship. The Sept. 11 attack pushed her even further in that direction.

She was on the FDR Drive on her way to an appointment when the hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. She thought about her life and her desire to become a judge.

“I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’d better do it now. Why should I wait if this is what I want to do? Life is too short.’ I had made up my mind,” she recalled.

In 2002, with the Democratic Party’s support, she ran for a seat in the First Judicial District, covering Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and DUMBO. She won.

“I had a great team of young kids working on my campaign. People kept telling me they were too young. But I said, ‘They might be young, but they obviously know what they’re doing because I won,’” she recalled.

She became the Civil Court’s supervising judge. In 2005, she was appointed to the Family Court.

In 2008, she became a New York State Supreme Court justice.

Spodek often serves as a guest lecturer at the Brooklyn Bar Association, and her life as a judge and a lawyer has taken her down many interesting roads.

Fifteen years ago, Spodek was part of a delegation of judges and lawyers from Brooklyn who traveled to Cuba.

“It was fascinating,” she told the Eagle. “We met with Cuban judges. We talked to members of their bar association. We brought supplies down there with us.”

The supplies included everyday products such as First-Aid kits and lotions, which were then scarce in the country.

“The streets of Havana were filled with cars made in the 1950s,” she recalled. Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have become more cordial she hinted she might be interested in a return trip, emphasizing that “It was truly an educational experience.”

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