Chief Judge Irizarry honored by NY County Lawyers Association
Judge gives speech on the importance of second chances
Hon. Dora Irizarry, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, was this year’s honoree of the New York County Lawyers Association during its annual Judge Edward Weinfeld Award Luncheon at the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan on Wednesday.
Chief Judge Irizarry was presented with the Hon. Edward Weinfeld Award by former Chief Judge of the EDNY Hon. Jack B. Weinstein. The award is given by the NYCLA’s Committee on the Federal Courts for her distinguished contributions to the administration of justice.
Given the location of the event, Scott B. Klugman, the chair of the Luncheon Committee, led the organization and its guests in a moment of silence to honor the 11 people who lost their lives in the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27.
Michael J. McNamara, president of NYCLA, then talked about the award’s namesake Judge Edward Weinfeld and his important contributions to the legal community.
“One very important reason for the enduring success of this event is the fact that the award is bestowed in the name of Judge Edward Weinfeld, who was a model of federal judges,” McNamara said. “He was a renowned federal judge in the Southern District of New York.
Following his death in 1988, The New York Times ran a lengthy obit that described him as the nation’s most respected federal judge, a legend in the legal circles who is known for his dedication and fairness.”
When Judge Weinstein introduced Chief Judge Irizarry, who went to Bronx Science High School, Yale University and Columbia School of Law, and presented her with the award, he talked about her early career and detailed how she became a judge. A lot of importance was placed upon the role Judge Irizarry’s parents played in her life.
“Her parents were Dora’s heroes,” Judge Weinstein said. “They worked hard and believed in education as the key to success. Dora climbed the ladder of success through education.”
After she was presented with the award, Chief Judge Irizarry talked about what an honor it was because of the group presenting it, who the award is named for and the past honorees who were in attendance, including Hon. Robert Katzman (2016), Hon. Carol Bagley Amon (2014), Hon. Edward R. Korman and others.
Her topic quickly changed, however, to sentencing and the importance of giving criminal defendants, especially those dealing with addiction, a second chance.
“In my humble opinion, though punishment must play a role, and is often an important consideration, redemption and second chances are equally important considerations in reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” said Chief Judge Irizarry. “This view is informed from my 21 years on the bench and also comes from deep within me.”
The judge explained that this view came from her experience growing up in the Morrisania Housing Projects in the Bronx and realizing that she could make big changes in her community as a lawyer and a judge.
Right around the time Irizarry became a judge, she explained that drug treatment courts started being created in Brooklyn and all over the country. Though she admitted to being skeptical of the courts at first, due to her background as a prosecutor, she quickly realized their importance and after she joined the federal court bench she got involved with the STAR (Supervision to Aid Re-entry) program that she helped to create.
That program helps to provide addicts with pro bono representation and helps to provide them with housing, employment, family court, domestic violence and other assistance to help them re-enter society as full law-abiding citizens.
Participants are required to remain drug free for at least 12 months to graduate, but if they can do that and fulfill other obligations, which include getting a job, finding consistent housing and improving their education, they can cut years off their sentences or supervised and pretrial release programs.
“Not only have people been saved, but they have saved federal government millions of dollars in probation and supervision costs and avoiding entirely the cost of incarceration,” said Chief Judge Irizarry. “The rewards are truly priceless. Seeing persons become drug free, employed with stable finances in a stable home, paying their taxes and reunited with their families. And of course, there are immeasurable savings to society in stopping future crimes.
“I’m not naive, there are those who commit crimes and there is no other choice but incarceration. However, there are those who deserve a chance at redemption and we should not be so quick to throw these souls away.”
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