Judges of Appellate Division, 2nd Department celebrate courthouse’s 80th anniversary
Gail Prudenti: ‘This is courthouse heaven’
Generations of judges, clerks and other court staff gathered at the Appellate Division, Second Department on Monroe Place last Tuesday to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the elegant Brooklyn Heights courthouse.
“Thank you for taking the time to join us here today to honor and celebrate the dedicated men and women who made this brick and mortar structure the vibrant, living institution that it is today,” said Hon. Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the court.
“We hope that this event will not only serve to remind us of our storied history, but will also help preserve these special memories for those who will tread in our footsteps, just as we have tread in those of the leaders who came before us.”
Justice Scheinkman opened the ceremony by putting on his history-professor hat and explaining how the building came to be.
He explained that the first location of the Appellate Division, Second Department, which opened in 1896, was a now defunct courthouse named the Kings County Courthouse that was located where the Brooklyn Law School now sits. Eventually the court moved into Borough Hall where it stayed until Presiding Justice Edward Lazansky convinced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia that they required a new building.
The cost at the time was an estimated $1.25 million, but fortunately the federal government covered $1.06 million of the cost. However, the court did run into problems when it came to furnishings.
“Presiding Justice Lazansky asked for $105,000 for furniture,” Justice Scheinkman said. “Desks for judges were going to cost $450, chairs $240 and the sofas $350. He asserted that it would actually cost more to buy cheaper furniture and that the furniture he wanted would last as long as the building.”
The crowd laughed as Justice Scheinkman pointed out the 80-year-old furniture in the room and added, “In many respects, he was proven to be absolutely right.”
Justice Scheinkman was followed at the podium by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York; Hon. Gail Prudenti, the court’s first female presiding justice; Hon. Guy James Mangano; Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt; Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa and the immediate past presiding justice Hon. Randall T. Eng.
“When you look around this room and take a moment to think about all of the individuals that have come through this institution and the personalities, the professional experiences, you appreciate more and more that our courts are institutions,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “They are institutions entrusted to individuals for a very brief and limited time. Because of that we have a very special responsibility to tend to these institutions dearly and with great affection and reverence.”
Justice Prudenti, who now serves as the dean of Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, recalled walking into the building for the first time nearly 40 years ago.
“I loved it the very first time I walked in the door,” Justice Prudenti said. “Whenever I visit I feel that I’m coming into the company of ghosts. Friendly ghosts, to be sure, but spirits that remind me that this building and this court have quite a history.
“As caretakers it is very important that we must safeguard it,” Prudenti continued. “We must take care of the court for generations. For me, in so many ways, this is courthouse heaven.”
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