Brooklyn Boro

BWBA hosts Justice Ellen Spodek for Lunch with a Judge

Justice Spodek talks about the court’s response to COVID, her career path

July 13, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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When the court system shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 17, Justice Ellen Spodek admitted that she didn’t know how to use Skype and had never heard of Zoom. Today, she feels like an expert and is regularly showing others how to use the video conferencing programs.

Her new trick is learning how to use her new dual-monitor setup in her office that helps her be more efficient as she conferences with attorneys on one screen and consults motion papers on the other.

Justice Spodek, who served as acting administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court in April and May when Justice Lawrence Knipel became sick, discussed the court’s response to the pandemic, her own experiences in her legal career and some of her lifelong mentorships during a Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association Lunch with a Judge program on Wednesday, July 8.

“The first week the court closed, March 17, I had a conference on the 19th,” Justice Spodek said. “I didn’t know how to do Skype or Zoom or anything. I had to go into the IT office so they could show me. Now I can do it all, and I’m showing people how to do it too. It shows how things have changed in the last few months.”

Pictured clockwise from top left: Natoya McGhie, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, Hon. Genine Edwards and Hon. Ellen Spodek.

The meeting was the first Lunch with a Judge program the BWBA has hosted since Justice Esther Morgenstern sat down with the group in November. The meeting is a great way for members of the bar to connect with judges and other courthouse employees, said BWBA President Natoya McGhie, so she hopes to have many more now they started hosting them via Zoom.

“One of the great things about Brooklyn and our bar association is that we get to meet and network with so many diverse attorneys,” McGhie said. “We also get to meet and connect with members of the bench and court personnel. Many of our past presidents and board members are judges.

“I’m a court employee too, so I’m happy that we are able to continue with this program, especially in a time like this when there are a lot of moving pieces and we’re all adjusting to the new practice of law,” she said.

Justice Genine Edwards, a co-chair of the Lunch with a Judge committee, introduced Justice Spodek at the event. She recalled Spodek’s career. Spodek started as a trial attorney who held regular free legal clinics on Atlantic Avenue. Then, she took a spot on the Civil Court in 2003, a transfer to the Family Court in 2005, a promotion to supervising judge of the Civil Court in 2007, and a successful election to the Supreme Court in 2008.

Nearly 40 members of the BWBA, including at least 10 judges, took part in last Wednesday’s meeting.

Justice Spodek now sits in the medical malpractice part of the Supreme Court, Civil Term. She served as acting administrative judge for a brief time earlier this year when Justice Knipel was out and still helps out with administration of the building occasionally.

When talking about the importance of mentorship, Justice Spodek recalled one of her first jobs as a lawyer working for the NYC Corporation Counsel. She only worked there for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but said that some of the connections she made and mentors she met there lasted through her entire legal career.

“I can’t stress to you how important these mentorship relationships are,” Justice Spodek said. “Not only with my corporation counsel friends, but there are lawyers who I met at bar association events over the years who I’ve turned to in my personal life. When I was thinking of leaving the city, I turned to my professional mentor for advice. When I was thinking about running for a judge, I had mentors to turn to.”

Wednesday’s meeting had about 40 members sitting in including local judges Hon. Remy Smith, Hon. Lillian Wan, Hon. Carl Landicino, Hon. Rosemarie Montalbano, Hon. Genine Edwards, Hon. Robin Sheares, Hon. Heela Cappell, Hon. Marsha Steinhardt and Hon. Dweynie Paul. Not only were members given the opportunity to talk with Justice Spodek, other judges would also chime and explain their experiences.

The BWBA will host its next Lunch with a Judge program on Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 1 p.m. with Judge Heela Cappell, who sits in the Brooklyn Housing Court and is a co-chair of the BWBA’s Mentorship Committee.

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