Justice George Silver looks back at his judicial career that started as a pipedream
When Justice George Silver received a call from Hon. Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the New York State Courts, offering him the job the top judge in New York City, he was shocked. It wasn’t something that he had sought out and even to this day he admits that he doesn’t know what she was thinking.
It was her faith in him that got him to buy into her Excellence Initiative and his experience as a judge and a lawyer that armed him with ideas of how best to implement it that had him excited for the job.
“I was shocked,” said Justice Silver. “People were talking to me, but I didn’t put in for it and I certainly didn’t expect it. For the first four months, I had to write down the job title because I couldn’t remember it. I was just flattered and honored that Judge DiFiore thought enough about me to offer me the job.”
Silver was raised in the Bronx and graduated from Christopher Columbus High School before he went on to New York University and Hofstra University School of Law. He later got an M.B.A. in finance from New York University Stern Graduate School of Business.
Sitting back in his spacious Manhattan chambers, the deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City courts laughed when asked when he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and later a judge.
“I am from the classic Jewish family where I was expected to become a doctor or a lawyer. I didn’t want to become a doctor and my father didn’t have his own business that I could join, so I became a lawyer.”
His mother and father laid the groundwork because they were often involved in the Parkchester community, especially his father with the local firehouse and police precinct. They also put a strong emphasis on education.
“I always had a great interest in helping people,” Justice Silver said. “My parents instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community and I thought a great way to do that is to become a lawyer. Ultimately, I did a lot of community work, mentoring at schools, and working with a lot of bar associations. It was very rewarding.”
Out of law school, Justice Silver went to work as in-house counsel for five private bus companies operating in Queens and parts of Brooklyn. It gave him great trial experience, he said.
Later on, with a stroke of luck, the judge went on to join the law firm Fields & Rosen, where he eventually became a partner, taking over the business and renaming it Silver & Santo. The firm did a lot of maritime and personal injury law, and Silver was able to continue representing the bus companies.
“I was very fortunate to get that job,” he said. “Someone at my previous firm had to work the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend so we flipped a coin and I lost. But I met an older lawyer that day, we got to talking and eventually he said, ‘I’m going to give you a break,’ and offered me a job.”
The lawyer who hired him was Stephen Fields. Not only did he help Silver find a more permanent job, but the move brought Silver to Brooklyn where he joined the Brooklyn Bar Association and feels that his career really began to take off.
“Brooklyn was a community and you felt that right away,” Silver said. “New York County is bigger, with a wider array of bar associations, and Brooklyn just felt like home. I was there every day as a lawyer. You come across the same people, you develop relationships and you want to be a part of a community.”
After 19 years working as an attorney, Silver said that he felt like he needed to be doing more to help provide access to justice, so he decided to become a judge. He admitted that at first, he thought the idea was a wild pipedream, but he quickly started to gain support. He was elected to Civil Court in Manhattan and assigned to Civil Court in Brooklyn in 2004.
The election was a landmark in that Silver became the first openly gay man to win a countywide election in New York State. He explained that while he was openly gay, he often tried to downplay his sexual preference.
“I had a tough practice representing merchant marines and luckily they cared more about me being a good lawyer than anything else,” Silver said. “Quite frankly, I was very discreet about it. The world is a different place today. I am who I am and certainly don’t hide from it.”
Silver did express great respect for Justice Paul Feinman, who was the first openly gay judge in New York. And he said that it’s important to see the courts’ positive efforts in working with the LGBTQ community.
In 2009, he was re-assigned to Family Court in the Bronx where he presided over juvenile delinquency matters. Then, in 2010, he was appointed to the New York County Supreme Court where he presided over 2,000 motor vehicle cases and later over the Trial Assignment Part. In 2012, he was elected to New York County Supreme Court.
As deputy chief administrative judge for New York City, Silver is responsible for handling the day-to-day operations of the courts. He was also asked to serve as interim administrative judge for the Bronx Supreme Court from January 2018 until December 2018.
One of the things that Justice Silver is most proud of in his current position is that he introduced presumptive mediation to a lot of the courts. This is a program through which parties get a free session with a mediator in an attempt to avoid a trial. Early on, lawyers told the Brooklyn Eagle that the program has been successful in moving cases along more quickly.
He did this while still having a case inventory of between 800 and 900 cases a year in the Bronx and Manhattan, and he has chambers in Brooklyn as well.
“I’m the DCAJ for all of New York City, not just New York County, so I wanted to see the DCAJ have more of a presence in Brooklyn and the outer boroughs,” he said. “It’s a ground game. It’s very important because it motivates the judges to see me do everything that a judge is supposed to be.”
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