Bernadette Neckles is humbled but more determined in her second judicial campaign
D. Bernadette Neckles fulfilled one of her biggest life goals a long time ago when she attended law school and became an attorney. However, she was never going to be satisfied with that as her ultimate dream was to be a judge.
That’s why it was so devastating when she ran for Civil Court judge in Brooklyn’s 6th Municipal District in 2017 and lost.
“I remember that I kept waiting and waiting for them to announce the winner and it was really hard for me to hear someone else’s name,” Neckles said. “I was shocked. Losing isn’t easy. I put a lot of work into that campaign, a lot of time, a lot of money. When they announced my opponent’s name, I almost dropped to the floor.”
Neckles said that, after she figuratively picked herself up, it wasn’t long until she made the decision that she would run again. Luckily for her, she has a lot of mentors to help get her ready for her next attempt.
“That same night, I had women from the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association reaching out to me,” Neckles said. “I remember Justice Sylvia Ash said to me that failure is not an option. After that, there was no hesitation to run again. This is what I want.”
Neckles, who was born in Grenada and moved to Brooklyn after high school, said that she was always interested in right and wrong. She said that she was known as the arbiter amongst her friends even at a young age.
The impact of growing up in Grenada under a dictatorship and seeing the corruption that it led to further inspired her from an early age.
“When I was growing up, we had a dictatorship form of government,” she said “People who were not in favor of the government were really repressed. It was hard to get a job and people got killed. It was so wrong because nobody was held accountable for the crimes they committed.
“There was no accountability and no justice,” she continued. “I don’t want people to think that Grenada was lawless, but the injustice that I saw certainly inspired me to become a lawyer and pursue justice.”
After she graduated high school, Neckles moved to East Flatbush, Brooklyn and started attending Brooklyn College. Afterward, she attended the University of Miami School of Law and stayed in Florida for a year afterward while in private practice. Then, she moved back to Brooklyn and started working on Court Street.
“I did a lot of employment discrimination and civil rights law,” she explained. “We did a lot of false arrests and some police brutality cases. We also did contracts and landlord and tenant issues.”
Neckles, who is currently a court attorney referee, got her first job in the courts working as a law clerk for Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, who was in the Civil Court at the time. She spent 10 years with Justice Hinds-Radix as the two moved from Civil Court to Criminal Court and then Supreme.
Eventually Justice Hinds-Radix was named administrative judge and then went on to the Appellate Division. When the latter move occurred, Neckles took it as an opportunity to become a referee.
“In that role, you get to perform as a judge except you do not handle jury trials,” Neckles said. “The cases we handle are cases that are referred out by the judges. They’re often tough cases involving pro se litigants.”
Being a court attorney referee is similar to being a judge. It’s something that gives Neckles the confidence to believe that she has the ability to rise up to the next level.
“It has been a very good experience,” she said. “It has prepared me to be a judge because I rule on the admissibility of evidence, I handle my own cases similar to what judges do, I manage my own courtroom. It teaches you how to deal with attorneys and pro se litigants. You really need to have the right temperament to be able to settle cases.”
Neckles’ experience both as a law secretary and her seven years as a referee have shown her some of the challenges litigants face, especially those who struggle to afford representation. This is especially true in the residential foreclosure part where she has been charged with conferencing hundreds of foreclosure cases.
Neckles is heavily involved in many of the local bar associations. She is most visible as part of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, which she serves as vice president, but she is also involved with the Brooklyn Bar Association, the NYS Academy of Trial Lawyers, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York and the Catholic Lawyers Guild.
Neckles raves about the help and support that she has gotten from these bar associations over the years, particularly the mentorships. It’s why she has involved herself heavily in the BWBA’s Mentorship Pipeline, an annual program that tries to help women and minorities get into law schools.
“She has been an active and instrumental member of the BWBA for the past 12 years,” said Carrie Anne Cavallo, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association. “Bernadette has held a variety of board positions and co-chaired events and committees. During my presidency, she co-chaired our very successful Black History Month Celebration. The BWBA is a better organization because of the meaningful and consistent contributions she makes.”
She has also been a regular participant in the court’s Summer Youth Internship Program, which helps introduce local high school and college students to careers in the courts.
“The bar associations have always been a strong resource for me because of the diversity they provide in the sense that we have people from all over the legal community,” she said. “There are people from private practice, from the judiciary, from legal aid, and we all get along well. It’s been a great motivator and has always provided good mentorship.”
Neckles is confident heading into the June 25 Democratic primary in which she will go up against Ed King for Brooklyn Civil Court. She certainly isn’t taking anything for granted though.
“Losing was a hard, but good experience for me,” Neckles said. “It certainly taught me not to take anything for granted and it humbled me as well. This time I’m running countywide and not for a single district, but I’m having fun because I know what to expect. I don’t get home most nights until at least 10:30 these days because I’m going to so many events, community meetings, precinct council meetings, but I’m enjoying seeing all of Brooklyn and having fun meeting so many different people.”
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