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Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association honors three during 100th annual awards dinner

May 10, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Women's Bar Association held its 100th annual dinner on Wednesday, during which it honored three, including (pictured from left) Hon. Jenny Rivera, Hon. Sylvia Ash and Helene Blank (also pictured at far right is President Michele Mirman). Eagle photos by Mario Belluomo

The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association honored three women during its 100th annual awards dinner on Wednesday night at the Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook. More than 500 people attended.

Hon. Jenny Rivera, associate justice of the NYS Court of Appeals, was given the Beatrice M. Judge Award; past President Helene Blank was given the Sybil Hart Kooper Award; and Hon. Sylvia G. Ash, presiding justice of the Kings County Supreme Court commercial division, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“As women, to become a lawyer we have to pass the same exams as men, take the same chances and do the same work,” said Michele Mirman, president of the Women’s Bar. “It follows that we should be peers. Suffice to say, the men did not agree. So we took matters into our own hands and formed this organization and dedicated ourselves to advancing the rights of women.”

ABOVE: Front row from left: Hon. Sylvia G. Ash, Hon. Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, Hon. Jenny Rivera, Michele Mirman, Helene Blank, Hon. Marsha Steinhardt, Natoya L. McGhie and Meryl Schwartz. Back row from left: Marea Wachsman, Joanne Minsky Cohen, Hon. Theresa Ciccotto, Hon. Genine D. Edwards, Barbara H. Grcevic, Hon. Ellen Spodek, Lisa Michael, Susan Mauro, Anne Swern, Sue Novick Wasko, Derefim Neckles and Hon. Connie Mallafre Melendez.

The association has focused much of its efforts on helping women in the legal profession and in the local community by advocating for changes in the law. This past year, it was a part of helping to pass Lavern’s Law. For all of its efforts, Mirman led the group in a champagne toast.

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“We helped to pass Lavern’s Law, rectifying the statute of limitations inequality in medical malpractice for women cancer victims,” Mirman said. “For our work this year we received recognition from the DA, the borough president and the mayor. All of these accomplishments could not have been accomplished without the hard work of many of our members.”

Mirman explained that the group looked to honor women this year who furthered the cause of women in the legal profession, the community and the law.

“Associate Justice Jenny Rivera is the very model woman whom we seek to honor,” Mirman said. “She has taught generations of lawyers to consider others feelings, backgrounds, history and language just as she’s always done in the Court of Appeals.”

Rivera explained that the timing of the award and the fact that it is coming from the Women’s Bar Association meant a lot to her.

“At this moment in our country’s history it is very gratifying to receive an award from the Women’s Bar Association with its commitment to access to justice and gender equality, your work on women’s reproductive health issues, intimate-partner violence and your focus on the needs of women in low-income status makes a tremendous difference in the lives of women and their families,” Rivera said. “This bar is a truly committed to the spirit of service that is essential to the legal profession.”

Prior to presenting her with an award, Justice Hinds-Radix discussed meeting Justice Ash in law school and explained how the two have become closer, and helped each other’s careers since then.

“It’s not the number of years that you count, but what you’ve done with those years,” Hinds-Radix said. “The accomplishments that you have made, the significant lives that you have touched, and there were many, I love you my friend. Continue to blaze the trail.”

Judge Ash explained how she never wanted to be a lawyer and was more interested in becoming an airline stewardess so that she could travel.

“But god had other plans for me,” Ash said. “I can honestly say that I love the law and can’t think of a better calling than being a legal advocate to ensure justice. Being recognized by your peers for doing something you truly love is priceless.”

Finally, Justice Marsha Steinhardt presented Helene Blank with her award, but first she talked about Blank’s long career and the ordeals she endured as a female trial attorney.

“Helene Blank is tough and tenacious and when she believes she’s right, she will not waiver from her position,” Steinhardt said. “She is a person who will without hesitation help a colleague, a friend or a stranger. The most honorable Sible Hart Cooper was a force of nature. She accomplished great things and blazed a trail for female attorneys. There is no one more deserving to be its recipient than my B-F-F, Helene Blank.”

Blank said that when she first started as an attorney in the late ’70s that she was often the only female attorney in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court. She said that even when the number of female attorneys began to increase, men often treated them interchangeably.

“We must change all of the negative connotations about women and must start making our representatives in Washington and Albany mirror the diversity we have here in Brooklyn,” Blank said. “In Brooklyn, we have so many women and women of color in the courts and it’s fabulous. We need to keep fighting for real change and that will only come when our representatives look more like all of us.”

 

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