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LeGal hosts Fireside Chat with Judge Ariel Chesler at Brooklyn Law School

September 20, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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Judge Ariel Chesler sat down on Tuesday with members of the LGBT Bar Association of New York (LeGal) for a “Fireside Chat” with Vice President Sarah Filcher at the Brooklyn Law School, where he discussed his life, his court and how the two come together.

The event was co-hosted by the Brooklyn Law School OUTLaws and the Network of Bar Leaders.

“We’re really excited for this because this is our first event for the year,” said Yasemin Akturk, chair of the BLS OUTLaws. “We’re happy to be working with the LGBT Bar Association of New York. We’ve attended a lot of their events in the past and participated in Mentor-palooza, where I got my mentor last year, so we like working with them as much as possible. We’re excited that you are all here for the Fireside Chat, even absent a real fire.”

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From left: Yasemin Akturk; Eric Lesh, executive director of the LBGT Bar Association of New York; Sarah Filcher; Hon. Ariel Chesler and Esther Cajuste, president of the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York.

Meredith Miller, who is both the president of the Network of Bar Leaders and a member of LeGal, made introductions.

Judge Chesler, an accomplished author and Brooklyn Law School graduate, won election to the New York Civil Court in November 2018. Prior to that, he worked as a public interest attorney and later clerked for Justice Peter Tom in the Appellate Department, First Judicial Department.

“One thing you won’t read about him in a bio is how much of a supporter he has been of LeGaL and that he was active and participating even before he was a judge, going to all of the dinners, meeting and greeting people,” Miller said. ‘He has these two wonderful daughters, who marched with us two years ago in the Pride Parade.”

Meredith Miller, president of the Network of Bar Leaders and a member of the board of directors at the LGBT Bar Association of New York.

Filcher, who is the vice president of LeGaL and active with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, jumped right into the discussion by asking Judge Chesler about his family life and how it affects him as a judge in Family Court.

“My mom and dad divorced when I was two so that was obviously a huge part of my childhood,” Judge Chesler said. “When we deal with the things that we deal with…I’m easily able to put myself in the place of the children who are dealing with these family breakups. It’s critical that they have a voice in the process. I certainly value that part of it.”

Judge Chesler explained that he is actually the “survivor” of two divorces, the first between his mother and father, and the second later on between his mother and his “other mother.”

Judge Ariel Chesler and Sarah Filcher.

He explained that the second divorce, which wasn’t legally a divorce because same-sex marriage was not legal then, gave him an appreciation for some of the finer issues the LGBTQ community faces.

“I certainly wanted to have a relationship with my dad and my other mom after their relationship with my mom ended,” Chesler said. “In some ways it’s a simple analysis — what is the best interest of the child if this person has been raising them for years, for example? It doesn’t seem that complicated.”

“I just try to bring calm to the families I see,” he added, “calm and stability, because the children in these cases are dealing with enough. So, my goal on each case is to remain calm and try to get to a resolution that makes sense.”

Judge Chesler explained that he doesn’t use the word ally to describe himself and his relationship to the LGBTQ community. Rather, having been raised by a bisexual woman, he prefers the term family. He said that’s part of the reason he has been so active within the bar association.

“Instead of ally, I use the word family,” Chesler said. “That’s what motivates me to be involved. I’ve had personal friends involved in this organization, but it really is like family. When I’ve gone to some events and you hear about some of the pro bono work they do, I don’t know how I didn’t cry. When you hear about some of the cases, the sex trafficking matters they’re dealing with, it’s really important stuff. How do you not get involved in that?”

Filcher laughed and said that some of her co-workers call her involvement with LeGaL her “second job,” but explained that when she lived and practiced law in Oregon, she didn’t feel like there was a bar association that truly represented her. So, when she made the cross-country move, she knew right away that she wanted to join the LGBT Bar Association of New York.

“I wanted to be involved and I wanted to have a place at the table,” Filcher said. “That’s the thing that keeps me going. In addition to that, LeGaL has given me a place to give me meaningful volunteer work.”

LeGaL is co-sponsoring a retirement party for Justice Marcy Kahn, which will take place at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan on Oct. 30. The event is being co-sponsored by the Richard C. Failla LGBTQ Commission of the New York Courts. More information on that event can be found online at www.lgbtbarny.org.


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