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Judge Cyrulnik shares the difficulties of trying crimes against children cases

October 13, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justice Miriam Cyrulnik (left) and Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) President Michele Mirman at Lunch with a Judge, a regular event BWBA hosts where members can get to know judges. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

As part of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association’s (BWBA) regular Lunch with a Judge series, its members sat down with Judge Miriam Cyrulnik in the Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon to discuss the seriousness and difficulty of trying cases in the Crimes Against Children Part.

“When you look at Judge Cyrulnik’s resume, you see someone who is extremely altruistic and gives back to her community, the community at large and especially the legal community,” said Michele Mirman, president of BWBA. “As the founding president of the Brandeis Society, the president of the Brooklyn Bar, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar, a president of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. It goes on and on and on.”

The event is part of a regular series where member of BWBA get an opportunity to sit down for lunch with various judges throughout Brooklyn. Often the discussion involves how they became a judge, or the experiences the judges have on a regular basis.

On Thursday, as soon as members heard that Cyrulnik worked in such a grueling part, many began peppering her with questions.

“They’re very difficult cases,” Cyrulnik said of the case she sees in the Crimes Against Children Part of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term. “They’re very difficult to listen to, difficult for the jury to listen to. It’s difficult to decide what the appropriate sentence is. Those are the things that weigh on you. Hopefully you’ve done it correctly so that it doesn’t get reversed on appeal so that you have to do it again, or that the right result was reached.”

Cyrulnik is a Brooklyn native who graduated from South Shore High School, Brooklyn College and Brooklyn Law School. She clerked for Hon. Michael Pesce before she was appointed to the Civil Court in 2003. She was later appointed to the Criminal Court, and eventually was named acting justice of the Kings County Supreme Court in 2010. Just prior to working on Crimes Against Children cases, she worked in the Domestic Violence Part.

Her appointment was supposed to be a temporary position, but it has lasted seven years so far. The majority of cases that go before Cyrulnik involve sexual or physical abuse of children, usually by a family member or family friend.

“She was selected for that part because she had the personality and compassion to deal with both sides of that issue,” Judge Michael Gary said of Cyrulnik. “I can tell you that when she gets off the bench, she agonizes. It’s a draining process. These are the kinds of cases that eat at you.”

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It’s hard on the judge, but it’s also very hard on jurors. Dealing with these kinds of cases often involves weeding out potential jurors who might not be able to make it through a case.

“There are people who self-identify and say, ‘I couldn’t sit on that kind of a case.’ Whether it’s because they were abused, a sister or someone close to them was abused. You make a determination that it would hurt their ability to be fair and impartial.”

Of course, the hardest part is putting children through the court process. Cyrulnik explained that this often means video-recording testimony from children for grand juries or, in some cases, trying to convince two sides to come to a plea agreement to avoid forcing a child to testify.

BWBA’s next meeting will be its annual Membership Party, which will be on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at Borough Hall starting at 5:30 p.m. Its next Lunch with a Judge event will be with Judge Randall T. Eng on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. at the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Brooklyn Heights.

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