Judicial Spotlight: Acting Justice Wade enjoys being mentor

December 3, 2015 By Paula Katinas and Charles Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Acting Justice Carolyn E. Wade is pictured in her chambers, where she keeps her books and figurines shaped like elephants. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas
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Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Carolyn E. Wade said one of the things she loves most about her job is the opportunity it gives her to serve as a mentor and a role model for young people. “You have to give back,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in her chambers in the State Supreme Court building at 360 Adams St.

But while Justice Wade enjoys having young people around and feels it is important to give then advice to help them find a good path in life, she also believes that they have to do their part as well. She always tells her summer interns that it’s not just a job for the summer. She wants them to understand that they are making a lifetime commitment to being upstanding citizens and contributing to society in a positive way. She keeps in touch with former interns and is always delighted when they wind up going to law school.

“We have to honor our elders and help our young people,” Justice Wade said.

Just as she does while presiding over a courtroom, the soft-spoken jurist exudes a calm, confident manner during the interview with the Eagle. Her chambers reflect her personality. he collects elephants, including ceramic elephants, stuffed elephants, and jeweled elephants, and displays them on her bookshelves. She has loved elephants since she was a teenager.

“I believe they symbolize the strengths of judges. They are intelligent, wise, patient and graceful. They are huge and they transmit strength. I have the power to change people’s lives. But the point is to not become conceited about that power,” she said.

Justice Wade is the sole presiding jurist of the Mental Hygiene Court in Brooklyn. It is her job to ensure that hospitals are in compliance with Article 9 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law, which prescribes standards for the treatment and hospitalization of psychiatric patients. She handles several cases a day in the Civil Part of the State Supreme Court.

“This is a huge county. There are 12-14 psychiatric facilities in Brooklyn,” she said.

Some examples of the types of cases she decides: a patient seeks to be discharged from a mental health facility and the facility wants the patient to remain; a patient refuses to take prescribed medication and is questioning the need for it; family members of a resident seek to have the person committed to a mental health institution.

“I believe in treating everyone with dignity,” Justice Wade told the Eagle.

The mentally ill patients who come into her courtroom are not criminal suspects. She does not decide if a criminal suspect is mentally fit to stand trial. That’s not her job. That is done in the Criminal Court, not the Civil Part. Justice Wade takes a lot of notes during her hearings and decides her cases with due dispatch. In addition to the 10-12 cases she handles a day, she also handles emergency mental health warrant cases.

Off the bench, she practices her belief that judges should give back to the community. She is a member of many legal organizations, including the Women’s Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Catholic Lawyer’s Association and the Columbian Lawyer’s Association. She is also an honorary member of the Black Bar Association. Justice Wade does a great deal of public speaking as part of an informal Meet the Judges type of program in which judges go to churches, synagogues and civic organizations to talk about what jurists do. It’s useful, she said, because it de-mystifies the courthouse.

“We go all over Brooklyn,” she said.

As if she isn’t busy enough, she is also an adjunct professor at Queens College, where she teaches litigation to paralegal students. She has won numerous awards for her educational endeavors, including Teacher of the Year. She was elected to Civil Court in November of 2007. She served in the Civil Court in Queens County from January of 2008 to December of 2008 and was re-assigned to the Kings County Court in January of 2009. Three years later, the chief administrative judge appointed her to serve as a ‘hybrid’ acting justice. In that role, she handled civil cases as well as criminal arraignments.

Earlier this year, she was elevated to the Kings County Supreme Court as a full acting Supreme Court justice. These days she is ably assisted by Turquoise Haskin, Esq., her court attorney. Prior to becoming a judge, Justice Wade served as a principal law clerk to two Supreme Court justices and as a principal court attorney in the New York City Civil Court’s Housing Part. She began her legal career as a lawyer in private practice. She has extensive experience in arbitration proceedings with the National Association of Securities Dealers, the New York Stock Exchange and Small Claims Court.

Justice Wade comes from a family of lawyers. Her late father, retired Supreme Court Justice George E. Wade, Jr., served on the bench until he was 76 years old. Her twin sister, Cheryl Wade-King, is a lawyer. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Justice Wade attended Brooklyn College and St. John’s University School of Law. Her father was a major inspiration in her life and her career. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School.

“He went to school at night,” she said. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1941 and was drafted right out of high school to serve during World War II. “He originally wanted to be an engineer. When he got out of the service, he decided to go to law school,” she said.

She showed a reporter her father’s yearbook from Stuyvesant High. Next to his picture, the caption indicated that he wanted to become a civil engineer. He worked during the day as a trolley car driver and attended Brooklyn Law School at night.

“He told us, ‘You can’t complain about anything!’” Justice Wade said. When she would complain about having a lot of study to do in law school, her father would tell her, “at least you don’t have to work while you’re in law school.”

Her father’s career as a lawyer and as a justice spurred her interest in becoming a lawyer. But she and her sister Cheryl didn’t want to admit it at first.

“Out of youthful rebellion, we did not want to go into the law right away,” she said. She realized that she did want to go into the law. Her father’s career spurred her interest. She also believed that she had what it took to be a good judge. When she and her sister were studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), they didn’t tell their father.

“We didn’t tell him until we were accepted into law school,” she recalled. Her sister went to Brooklyn Law School. She went to St. John’s University Law School. Justice Wade passed the bar in 1988. For a while, she was an associate at a law firm on Montague Street. She handled a variety of cases, including estates, trusts, and landlord-tenant disputes. She then entered the court system and served as a law clerk to judges. “You learn so much. You get experience with a lot of issues,” she said.

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