Judge Harriet Thompson inducted to Surrogate’s Court at emotional ceremony
Hundreds of people crammed into the central jury room of Brooklyn Supreme Court, Civil Term Thursday night to support Justice Harriet Thompson as she was inducted to the Surrogate’s Court of Kings County.
Thompson arrives at the Surrogate’s Court with almost 40 years of law experience behind her, working as an attorney since 1982 and a judge since 2011. Thursday night she was welcomed into her induction to music, cheers and hugs as she made her way to the front of the room.
“You deserve the celebration, more than really I do,” Thompson told the crowd of colleagues and friends. “I just hope that the words that I say tonight reflect my heartfelt honor to give to each and every one of you an acknowledgement to your significant contribution to my successful conclusion.”
As Frank Carone, partner at Abrams Fensterman and president-elect of the Brooklyn Bar Association, noted, the position of Surrogate’s Court judge can often be overlooked, but plays a big role in the community.
“Very often matters presented to the Surrogate Court will require the Court to interpret ‘from the grave’ or perhaps to exercise judgment for those not present to able to do,” said Carone. “In a borough that would be the fourth largest state in the union, this incredible responsibility is only amplified.
“That is why Kings County is so very fortunate to have Judge Harriet Thompson as its Surrogate,” Carone continued. “Quite simply, her work ethic and integrity coupled with her ability to spot salient issues so quickly puts the Court in the most capable hands possible.”
Each speaker shared stories about Thompson and praised her experience and integrity. Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte spoke about the time she hired Thompson as her attorney to buy a home in 2008. Thompson cautioned her about housing and tenant laws that Bichotte would have to traverse with the building’s current tenants while teaching the soon-to-be politician the importance of preserving tenants’ rights.
Bichotte was laid off from her high-paying Wall Street job the same year.
“That was the biggest blessing, because that was the answer, and Judge Harriet Thompson was that angel. And I kid you not, it was the experience that taught me in order for me to move forward, I had to acknowledge where I came from,” Bichotte said. “So Judge Thompson, I want to thank you for making me a better person — and a better person for all of you.”
Thompson served as a rent examiner and enforcement attorney at the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. She also ran her own law office for over a decade in Fort Greene before becoming a civil court judge.
“Over the years, I’ve watched Harriet grow professionally, personally and spiritually,” said Supreme Court Justice Deborah Dowling. “I cannot think of anyone who is more poignantly qualified, intellectually or otherwise, or who has more integrity than Harriet to be the surrogate of Kings County.”
The Surrogate’s Court handles affairs of decedents, probates of wills and administration of estates as well as adoptions. Thompson joins Justice Margarita Lopez Torres at the court, as Brooklyn, one of the biggest jurisdictions in the state, has two surrogates.
“How blessed are we, the people of Kings County, that we can rest assured that the matters brought before the Surrogate’s Court, which deal with issues of people at their most vulnerable times, are in such good hands: the hands of a competent, honest, capable and faithful person, my friend Harriet Thompson,” said Mitchell B. Shpelfogel of Pinczewski and Shpelfogel.
Thompson ran unopposed in the general election, but her campaign manager Moses “Musa” Moore explained the real struggle was getting the vote from district leaders in May, which ultimately allowed her to become the Democratic nominee.
“It’s really one of the few times that we’ve had an election for such an important position without opposition,” said Kings County Chairman Frank Seddio. “It was the only time in recent memory that we were able to select a candidate so overwhelmingly popular … that when we nominated her and endorsed her for the position of Surrogate’s Court judge, no other candidate came forth.”
Thompson is taking the spot of Retired Justice Diana Johnson at the court.
“For those of you who did not know her when you came in, I’m sure that you must now have a new-felt respect and appreciation for Surrogate Thompson,” Johnson said. “The heartfelt tributes of her colleagues and friends give you at least an inkling of what we’ve always known about Judge Thompson … that she’s an extraordinary and exceptional person, that she’s an excellent jurist, that she is a servant for the people and she is the child of the most high God.”
When it came time for Thompson to speak, she spent the majority of her time thanking those around her.
“This will be my last rodeo in the judiciary, and I want it to count,” she said. “I love each and every one of you, and as I look around the room I see people from every walk of life, color, race, religion, ethnicity, from every walk of life. That says so much to me. I’m grateful, and I will be eternally grateful to my friends and colleagues in the judiciary, to all of you that have come to assemble, I love you and I thank you and to God be the glory.”
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