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Justice D’Emic explained his road to the bench at Women’s Bar Association meeting

March 1, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
President Carrie Anne Cavallo and the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association recently sat down with Justice Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Supreme Court, Criminal Term. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Every month, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association hosts its “Lunch with a Judge” program at which members get an opportunity to sit down with a judge and have an informal discussion with him or her.

A lot of times, the topics involve the judge’s court, its rules, and how lawyers can thrive there. A lot of times, attorneys are able to give the judges feedback too. On Wednesday, members sat down with Justice Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Supreme Court, Civil Term, in his chambers, where he discussed his path to the bench.

“We have 25 judges in the Criminal Term and we have about 500 employees,” Justice D’Emic said as he explained his court. “It runs the gamut from law secretaries, interpreters, court reporters and court officers. It’s a busy courthouse. We currently have an inventory of about 3,000 cases. We’re trying to keep the old cases down, but that’s boring.”

Justice D’Emic is a Xaverian High School graduate who grew up in Bay Ridge. Brooklyn’s top criminal judge graduated with his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1977 and didn’t practice criminal law for the first 15 years of his career. Instead, he worked for a Manhattan firm doing mostly corporate law and estates.

He eventually opened a practice in Bay Ridge to be closer to his family, but shortly after that he interviewed to become the law secretary for Hon. Ronnie Aiello, the administrative judge for the Brooklyn and Staten Island Supreme Court at the time.

“It intrigued me because it gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of people and do different things, so I took the job,” Justice D’Emic said. “I worked for him for three years. He left the administrative position and went to the Criminal Term after about a year. One year, we did 40 criminal trials if you can believe it.”

Members of the Brooklyn Bar Association, including attorneys, judges and court employees, got a chance to sit with Justice D’Emic in his chambers located at 320 Jay Street. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
Members of the Brooklyn Bar Association, including attorneys, judges and court employees, got a chance to sit with Justice D’Emic in his chambers located at 320 Jay Street. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

That was Justice D’Emic’s first taste of criminal law, but he decided to go back to civil law and ran for Civil Court in Brooklyn against Hon. David I. Schmidt and Hon. Arthur Schack in the Democratic primary.

D’Emic lost, but running on the Conservative Party ticket, he was the party’s first judge in New York State history to beat a Republican in the primary. This endeared him to the Conservative Party and its chairperson Mike Long, which eventually helped him get a foot in the door with Gov. George Pataki, who helped him get a seat on the Court of Claims bench.

“There were people saying that I would never be backed by anybody to get a judgeship after I lost the primary and people were telling me that as I was up in Albany interviewing with the governor,” D’Emic said. “So the governor nominated me, I was assigned to Brooklyn Supreme Court and I started out as a Criminal Term judge.”

For nearly five years now — it will be exactly five on March 13 — Justice D’Emic has served as the administrative judge for the Criminal Term. However, he also has two other big duties as he serves in the Domestic Violence Court and the Drug Treatment Courts as well.

Justice D’Emic recalled joining the Domestic Violence Court about 20 years ago when he joined Hon. John Leventhal on that bench a year after it was created. The court is a dedicated felony part with a resource coordinator, and a social worker on staff.

“My theory of the judgeship changed as a result of taking that job,” D’Emic said. “As an arraignment judge, I wanted to be an efficient docket manager, basically, but in domestic violence cases, since you have a targeted victim and complex emotional circumstances on both sides, I decided it was important to throw efficiency out the window.

“It became more important to make sure that if a defendant was out on bail that he came back to me on a regular basis so that nobody was being hurt, the order of protection was being complied with and if it wasn’t that I had to have an immediate hearing to see whether or not I had to remand the defendant for violating the order of protection,” he continued.

The Mental Health Court opened about 16 years ago in Brooklyn, modeled after a court in Florida. Since Justice D’Emic had experience working with a so-called problem-solving court, he was asked to sit in that part as well. The judge explained that while the courts were very different in a lot of ways, he would ask defendants in the court to make regular appearances similar to the way he did it in Domestic Violence Court.

“The violation rate was 12.5 percent in Domestic Violence Court so compared to the general violation rate that was over 50 percent we thought it worked — strict judicial monitoring — so that’s why we decided to do it in the Mental Health Court,” Justice D’Emic said. “The secondary benefit of it is that everybody gets to know each other. The defendants see each other in court, they know each other, they know who is doing well, doing poorly, and we give out certificates for the people who are doing well. So a community has been developed and 16 years later we have about an 86 percent graduation rate.”


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