Charles Small climbed the ladder to become Chief Clerk of Brooklyn Supreme Court
The Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term is one of the largest and busiest courts of its kind anywhere in the U.S. with specialized parts in nearly every field. It takes a lot to run a courthouse like that and that phenomenal task is left up to Charles Small.
Small, an immigrant from Barbados, never wanted to move to the U.S. and preferred to stay in his home country to eventually become a politician. Instead, his brother and a go-where-God-takes-me attitude brought him to Bedford-Stuyvesant and eventually the Brooklyn Supreme Court, Civil Term, where he is the top ranking non-judicial employee in the court.
“I wanted to become an economist and go into politics,” Small said as he chuckled to himself at how far off his initial expectations were. “My brother was living here and brought us all here to live. It wasn’t something where I knew that I would be living here. He sold us on greater opportunities. I think I would have done well there too, but he had already convinced pretty much everyone else to come here so I kind of just went with the flow.”
Small said that the fast pace of Brooklyn was the biggest shock to him, but he kept himself busy right away as he found a job working on Wall Street and enrolled in Brooklyn College. Eventually, still trying to pursue a career as an economist, he transferred to the American Institute of Banking and took classes at night while he worked in Emigrant Savings Bank.
Things were going well for Small at the time. He met his wife Angela and the two had a son Chad while he was still attending college and working full time. After working at a few banks, he had settled at Emigrant, and even got three promotions within a year. Things changed, though, when a man named Cecil Watson came into the bank.
I remember he said to me, ‘Do you plan on working in this bank for the rest of your life?’ and I said, ‘I’ll go where God takes me,’” Small said. “Then he said, ‘I’ll show you how to get out of here,’ and left.”
Watson returned shortly with an envelope filled with applications for city, state and federal jobs in the courts and explained some of the different jobs and, most importantly, the benefits and pensions. He also explained that with a court job, he would have a steady nine-to-five position where he would never be forced to work late. This was important to Small because it made it easier for him to continue to pursue his education.
After he applied for and got a job working at 100 Centre St., which required a pay cut from his previous position, Small transferred to Empire State College where he continued his work towards an economics degree.
It wasn’t until a few years of working in the courts that Small realized that he should give up his dream to be an economist and decided to go to law school.
That was the start of Small’s now 27-year career in the courts, but things didn’t go smoothly from that point on. After graduating law school, Small’s wife was diagnosed with colon cancer. Small directed her to focus on her health while he took over the majority of the family’s responsibilities including helping their 12-year-old son with school.
Angela Small died in March 2010. His mother died in November 2010. In December that same year, he was promoted to chief clerk.
“It was an extremely hard time and quite a roller coaster,” Small said. “It was hard on my son, but he was able to channel his energy into school and told me once that whenever he thought about her, he would open a book. I was always very close with my son, but I look back and realize that God was preparing us for life after her because now we are very close.”
Small and his son often would use education as an escape. Small would even help his son’s friends and classmates. One friend stayed with them for more than a year and Small proudly proclaimed that his grades went from the low-70s to the upper 90s during that time and that his son’s friend eventually got a scholarship to Georgetown University. As for Chad, he eventually was accepted to seven Ivy League schools and went to Yale University.
Small has worked a total of seven positions within the court system. The one that most prepared him to take on the role of chief clerk, he says, was his position at Part 72, which reviews ex-parte motions, orders to show cause, and orders submitted after decisions on motions are made by the court. After a few years in that part, Small said that people encouraged him to apply for his current position.
Small has constantly been a ladder climber, but he thinks that his days of climbing that ladder are over. The only place for him to move up within the court system is to become a judge. While he insists that he doesn’t want to become a judge, he admits that his son is always after him to keep moving up.
“My son constantly asks me if I’m going to become a judge,” Small said. “He sees it as the next progression. I’ve climbed the ladder all my life and I’ve taught him to climb the ladder. He wants to see me take the next step, but at this stage it’s not something that I want to pursue.”
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