Justice Marsha Steinhardt takes lessons from surviving cancer with her to the bench
Justice Marsha Steinhardt, who grew up on Carroll Street in Crown Heights, has always been a positive and bright person. In her office at the Kings County Supreme Court, she sits working on her needlepoint beneath words written in Hebrew and English: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The Judge says she lives those words every day on the bench.
Her career started at Brooklyn College where she decided to steer clear of traditional professions that women went into at the time, to go into something different.
“I didn’t want to be a teacher,” she said. “Most women at the time went into education.”
While teaching isn’t something she ever wanted, as a judge, she has found herself in the shoes of one at times. By day, Justice Steinhardt can be found at 360 Adams St., but at night she often helps to organize continuing legal education events for local bar associations, primarily the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, of which she is a past president.
Justice Steinhardt can’t help it. On top of the experience she has gained over the years in the legal profession, 12 years ago she was diagnosed with cancer. As a survivor, she feels that it’s part of her duty to educate others on her experience with breast cancer.
It was devastating news at the time, but the Judge was grateful that the type of cancer she had was treatable and controllable. Nonetheless, she said that the days following the discovery she was upset.
“It’s very shocking when you hear this and it’s the last thing you would expect,” she said about her reaction at the time.
However, she was not going to allow radiation treatments or anything of the sort to interfere with her work as a Judge. While she was undergoing radiation, Justice Steinhardt still showed up to work and maintained a normal routine. This is significant given the amount of work a judge has in any given week, but she considered her career a blessing and she decided she wasn’t going to let cancer stop her from doing her job.
“I believe, with every adversity, when things happen, you just have to take a deep breath and keep going,” she said. “What choice do you have? You have to find out what happens next in life. None of us is guaranteed an easy ride. And it’s not so much what happens to you that counts; it’s how you deal with it.”
Justice Steinhardt appreciates her career all the more because she never thought she would become a judge.
“Who would think?” she asked. “I mean there are big people who are judges. I never thought of succeeding in that realm.”
She is one of those big people now, a respected past president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association who is often at events and organizes them too. On top of her work with BWBA and others, she also serves on the advisory board of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert, which helps educate those in the legal profession on the dangers of breast cancer.
All of this, the judge said, happened because of sheer determination mixed with a measure of coincidence. A test she took in school that measured some of her skills showed that Steinhardt would make a good candidate for law school. So, with her parents’ strong support to buoy her, she attended Brooklyn Law School during the 1970s, a time when most law school attendees were male.
Justice Steinhardt said that she never noticed discrimination while she was in school, and if she did, she just shrugged it off and focused on her studies.
After she graduated, she wasn’t sure which direction she wanted to take as she became a member of the legal community. A position at the Transit Authority came her way and she took it. She worked there for over a decade, never imagining that she would later become a judge, changing jobs eventually and taking a significant salary cut.
However, Justice Steinhardt said, she felt the move was necessary to advance her career.
“Sometimes, you just have to plunge in and see what’s going to happen,” Justice Steinhardt said. “You have to be able to take calculated risks. You never know how it’s going to turn out. There are no guarantees. When I left the Transit Authority, it was a substantial reduction in salary for me. It turns out to have been the best thing I ever did.”
Once she realized that being a judge was within her grasp, she threw herself into it.
“In plain English, I worked like a dog,” she said. “Nothing good comes easy. You really have to go after what you want.”
Justice Steinhardt said that she learned her strength from watching her mother, who suffered from arthritis and spinal stenosis, but never once complained. Thanks to her, she said, she not only knows how to work hard, but how to maintain a positive outlook. As a cancer survivor, she sadid, it makes her want to help the people who come before her.
Working on the bench and dealing with the public also gave Justice Steinhardt a greater respect for the important things in life.
“Your life, your health, those are the most important things,” she said. “You also have to be nice to people, to be kind to people, and look at every day as a new experience.”
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