Second time’s a charm: Derefim Bernadette Neckles installed as Civil Court judge
It took two tries for Derefim Bernadette Neckles, but she is officially a Kings County Civil Court judge after she was installed during a ceremony at Brooklyn Law School on Thursday night.
Judge Neckles, a Grenadian immigrant and Brooklyn College and University of Miami School of Law graduate, had previously run for Civil Court in 2017 and lost. This time around, she won her countywide judicial primary in a landslide when she picked up 31,160 out of 43,154 votes.
More than 200 people showed up for Thursday’s ceremony including former Assemblymember Annette Robinson, who served as the master of ceremonies. She presided over the two-hour event that was kicked off with the national anthem sung by Sgt. Jessica Hernandez and the presentation of colors and pledge of allegiance performed by the New York State Court Officers Ceremonial Unit.
The speakers for the evening included Congressmember Yvette Clarke; Hon. Frank Seddio; Rodneyse Bichotte, Kings County Democratic Party leader; Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge of the Supreme Court, Civil Term; and Hon. Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge for the Criminal Court.
The other speakers included District Leader Ari Kagan, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Chief Clerk Charles Small, and Judge Neckles’ friend Miriam Sunshine, special referee at the Kings County Supreme Court.
Judge Neckles was elected to the Civil Court in Brooklyn but has been assigned to the Criminal Court where she is likely to spend at least two years. Her new boss, the supervising judge of the Criminal Court, was the first to speak.
“I had not met Judge Neckles up until a few weeks ago, but I would like to tell you, I’m involved deeply in new judge school for the state court system, whether that’s the statewide training in White Plains or the local training in Manhattan, and she was an A-plus student,” Yavinsky said.
“Even before new judge school, she made the effort to introduce herself, even though she had no reason to do that,” Yavinsky continued. “She is ahead of the curve. She was here, she’s ready and has been a tremendous colleague right off the bat, a quick study and a public servant that everyone can be proud of.”
Justice Knipel explained that Judge Neckles is uniquely qualified as a new judge because of her background. She has served as a special referee for the last seven years and before that she worked for 11 years as a clerk for Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, a woman whom Knipel referred to as his own mentor.
“For the last seven years, Judge Neckles has served as a quasi-judge, hearing and determining disputes as a referee in our Supreme Court,” Knipel said. “It’s unusual for a new Civil Court judge. She’s been doing it for seven years too, so she knows it well.”
Frank Seddio explained that Judge Neckles was the last person to be elected judge who campaigned while he was the Democratic Party leader and that he’s proud because, in his estimation, she was one of the best judges who ran while he was in charge.
“As a Brooklyn woman, a daughter of Grenada, a person who has come so far and been a law secretary under Judge Hinds-Radix, as a referee, and as a humble and good human being, I knew that this was a person who had to be rewarded with the ability to run for office,” Seddio said. “And that turned into success because of the hard work and sincere effort she gave, day in and day out, during the entire campaign.”
The new party leader, Bichotte, also spoke and explained that it was Judge Neckles’ past work as a tenant and homeowner advocate and mentor to school children that made her stand out as a candidate.
“I’m really happy that you are now part of the judicial family,” Bichotte said. “I want to make sure that you know that I’m here for you.”
After the speeches were wrapped up, Justice Hinds-Radix performed the oath of office and presided over the robing ceremony. Judge Neckles then spent the final minutes of the evening thanking the many people who helped her during her campaigns and who had mentored her throughout her career.
“This isn’t her first stint in the Criminal Court. She’s also worked in the Civil Court, the Mental Hygiene Part, and she was with me when I was administrative judge,” Hinds-Radix said. “The people of the City of New York will be well served by this judge because she unquestionably believes in justice.”
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