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Brooklyn Family Court puts focus on First Amendment during Law Day celebration

May 7, 2019 Andy Katz
Award winners and court staff pose after the Law Day ceremony. From left, Captain John Posillipo, Officer Rick Carter, Gordon Flannery, Dinah Gronda, John Coakley, Zuzana Vojtek, Dennis Gillooly, Shandra Rhue, Ryan Darshan and Dionne Lowery. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

Kings County Family Court celebrated its 26th annual Law Day, providing the opportunity to honor clerks, court officers, and other court support staff. In addition student finalists for the Law Day Essay Contest from the nearby Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice were on hand to hear announcement of the winning essay.

Destiny Barrera, Kevin Ma and Jailynn Moye each took on a hypothetical case of a member of the LGBT community being denied services on religious grounds in North Carolina.

Kevin Ma of Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice was the Law Day Essay Winner. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Kevin Ma of Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice was the Law Day Essay Winner. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Family Court staff with attendees from the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice. From left, Liat Deener, Kevin Ma, Jailynn Moye, Destiny Barrera, Jennifer Castaldi and John Coakley. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Family Court staff with attendees from the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice. From left, Liat Deener, Kevin Ma, Jailynn Moye, Destiny Barrera, Jennifer Castaldi and John Coakley. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

In his opening remarks, Law Day co-organizer Judge Erik Pitchal reminded the assembly that it was 2019, the 50th anniversary of Tinker vs. Des Moines, a case that developed after public high school students in Des Moines were suspended for wearing black armbands in silent protest of the Vietnam War. In deciding 7- 2 for the students, the Supreme Court argued that children don’t give up their fundamental constitutional rights simply because they’re in school.

“Children’s rights rarely evolve without the direct involvement of children themselves,” said Pitchal.

Grace Harper presents Shandra Rhue with her award. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Grace Harper presents Shandra Rhue with her award. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
From left, Clerk of Court Dionne Lowery, Deputy Clerk John Coakley and award winner Zuzanna Vojtek. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
From left, Clerk of Court Dionne Lowery, Deputy Clerk John Coakley and award winner Zuzanna Vojtek. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

Pitchal went on to recount Benjamin Franklin’s early years, apprenticed to a printer, he published his own subservice, anti-colonial pamphlet under a pseudonym. Discovered by the authorities, Franklin was forced to flee Boston. Later he would be a force to enshrine freedom of expression in the newly written Constitution.

“Few laws are as fundamental to our society as the First Amendment,” said keynote speaker, Dennis Parker, Executive Director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Its meaning, its limitations and its importance have never more highly contested than today. When high ranking members of government call press ‘the enemy of the people’ or we’re subjected almost daily to stories of violence in college campuses over ideas that one side finds repellant … increasingly the truisms such as the only way to counter bad speech is with more speech are coming into question.”

Ryan Darshan presents an award to Dennis Gillooly. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Ryan Darshan presents an award to Dennis Gillooly. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

“You might assume that as a former ACLU attorney I’m a First Amendment absolutist. You’d be wrong. As one who works for racial justice I’m deeply concerned about the effect of discriminatory speech and its effect on marginalized people.”

“The law provides only limited guidance on how to balance the competing interests of absolute free speech against the need of government to keep some degree of order in society. In short, preventing the false cry of ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

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Captain John Posillipo after presenting an award to NYS Officer Rick Carter. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Captain John Posillipo after presenting an award to NYS Officer Rick Carter. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
 Supervising Judge Amanda White. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Supervising Judge Amanda White. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

After Parker’s remarks, Lily Shapiro, Senior Advisor to the Department of Probation, presented an achievement to Michelle Diaz. “She did not give up on young people,” said Shapiro, “and she will not let any of us give up on young people.”

Accepting the award, Diaz recalled having been a part of the system herself as an immigrant from Latin America who spoke little or no English, but was provided a stable setting in which to pursue first a GED and ultimately complete a college degree.

“All of us together, make a difference,” she said.

Keynote speaker Dennis Parker, Executive Director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
Keynote speaker Dennis Parker, Executive Director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

Employee recognition awards were given to Management Analyst Zuzana Vojtek, Associate Court Clerk, Shandra Rhue, Senior Court Clerk, Dinah Gronda, Court Assistant Dennis Gillooly and NYS Court Officer Rick Carter.

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