Brooklyn Boro

Charmaine Johnson takes the reigns of the court internship program

July 19, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charmaine Johnson took over the Brooklyn court system’s internship program about three and a half years ago and has already worked with hundreds of kids that have come through the various programs. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The late Izetta Johnson was a court employee for roughly three decades who built a legacy when she started an internship program in the Brooklyn court system in 1989 that remains unrivaled in the other boroughs of New York City.

Today, Charmaine Johnson (no relation) is building her own legacy as she has taken the reigns of that internship program from Izetta and it has continued to flourish.

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“I find this job extremely rewarding because I have touched so many lives and they have touched my life as well,” Johnson said. “They affect you and they show you a different side of how people are.”

Johnson, one of six siblings, moved to the U.S. from Jamaica when she was just 10 years old and eventually attended William H. Maxwell High School, an all-girls school at the time in East New York. After high school, Johnson attended the Borough of Manhattan Community College and eventually College of New Rochelle.

After college, Johnson enrolled in a stenotype academy that would have set her up to be a court reporter. However, she became pregnant and dropped out of the program. Eventually, she heard about an exam for law stenographers, took it and began working for Justice Salvatore T. DeMatteo in the Brooklyn Supreme Court.

When Justice DeMatteo retired, Johnson bounced around the court system working for various judges before she went to work for the law department. She didn’t know Izetta Johnson at the time except through the summer internship program because she had requested interns each year. When Izetta retired, though, Charmaine applied for her job.

“I immediately had such a great respect for Izetta even though I never worked alongside her because I had no idea what went into this program and how much you give up of yourself,” Johnson said. “During the summer I end up coming in early nearly every day and leaving late. But I love what I do. Seeing the joy the students get from it makes it a cake walk.”

Johnson is no mere supervisor and often explains her job description as similar to a psychologist, mom and disciplinarian.

She is responsible for approximately 100 students each year — between 70 and 80 in the Student Employment and Internship Program, more from a program called Work, Learn and Grow during the fall and spring and then various other students volunteer as well.

The students come from four boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan, and range in age from as young as 14 to college students. They are placed in each of Brooklyn’s courthouses and perform just about every job aside from judge, though they do assist judges, and court officers.

The program not only introduces the students to the many different jobs in the court, but through programs Johnson sets up, it teaches them a lot of valuable life skills as well. This month they will take a resume class, a financial literacy class, and will even go to an anti-bullying workshop.

The final week of the internship is dubbed competition week and includes best dressed, best interview skills and a mock trial competition. Some of the students will even participate in an annual basketball game against the court officers at McLaughlin Park in Downtown Brooklyn.

Getting the kids through the programs usually takes extra effort from Johnson. She keeps her office door open and invites any of them to come in and talk to her. She also puts it on herself to make sure that they are all fed when they come to work and has even paid for some of their MetroCards to get them to work.

I form a close bond with them and they end up sending me pictures of them,” Johnson said. “It’s not like they just pass through. No. This is hands-on stuff.”

One student who went through the program, Jonathan Forsythe, Johnson is particularly proud of because he struggled to adapt early on, but eventually he became one of her better interns.

“I’m so proud of him because when he first came here he was lost,” Johnson said. “Now he’s getting ready to graduate from ASA College this month. He sent me a ticket to the graduation at Madison Square Garden later this month and I have to make sure that I’m going to go because he told me that his grandmother might not be able to make it. I can’t see the potential that some of these kids have and not support them.”

While a lot of credit is given to Johnson for her work in the program by the judges and other court staffers, she points out that the programs would not be possible if not for the work of Izetta Johnson, the judges of the courthouse, especially administrative Judges Hon. Matthew D’Emic and Hon. Lawrence Knipel; and Chief Clerks Daniel Alessandrino and Charles Small.

ABOVE: Charmaine Johnson (standing left next to court officer Sgt. Erica Mercado and Hon. Deborah Dowling at Bushwick High School on May 3, 2018) often visits schools in New York City to tell students about internship and job opportunities within the courts. She always brings other court employees with her so that the kids can see people like them working in the court. “Some of the students have a negative connotation about the courts and when they see someone who looks just like them working for the courts their faces light up,” Johnson said. Photo courtesy of Charmaine Johnson

ABOVE: Charmaine Johnson said that she was nervous when she allowed a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds who applied for the internship to participate, but said that the students have been model interns. Pictured from left: Helen Hung, from Midwood High School; Chania Aubourg, from Leon M. Goldstein High School; and Alyssa Fragapane, from Tottenville High School. Photo courtesy of Charmaine Johnson




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