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IN PUBLIC SERVICE: Delivering Economic Justice Through The Surrogate’s Court

When a loved one passes without a will or estate planning, families struggling to navigate the legal system are targeted by predators.

June 11, 2021 By Judge Dweynie Esther Paul

In the 21st century, the American Dream remains elusive for people of color, immigrants, and low-income families, because of the systemic racism that has been prevalent in the history of our society – particularly within the justice system. Equal protection under the law begins with representation on the bench that reflects the communities we serve, ensuring that our decisions are fair in every case over which we preside. 

Fighting for justice is at the core of my essence, instilled by my late mother, who never allowed the adversities that she encountered to dictate her potential in life. My mother, an orphan in Haiti at the age of 8 and formally educated at 13, migrated to Brooklyn very poor but rich in hope, faith, determination, and a spirit to work hard. Although she was a deeply spiritual woman, I do not know if she knew that her daughter would have an opportunity to go to school in America, and graduate from George Washington University Law School. These accomplishments, along with my election as Civil Court Judge in the State of New York, was beyond what she could have ever imagined. 

My journey to the bench started when I was nine years old, coping with the tragic death of my 12-year-old brother while on a youth trip that resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit in Supreme Court. My parents tried to navigate Family Court simultaneously to determine the best way to raise me. I watched my parents struggle to find justice for my brother, and I quickly learned what it meant to have a voice in the courtroom, a lawyer to fight for my rights. I saw how important it was for the judge to understand my life experiences to make the right decision for me, my family, and the community.

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I am passionate about the Surrogate’s Court because I intimately know what it means for one generation to start from humble beginnings and work hard to give the next generation a head start in life. I share the same story as many others; with strong values and love for community, my parents realized the American Dream. They wanted to ensure I had my fair share in life measured by my character and will to work. Parents envision that their children would realize the fruits of their labor. It is the same dream of sharecroppers, immigrants, and generations of families who built this country.

Families must feel empowered to preserve wealth passed down from one generation to the next. The Surrogate’s Court is a refuge for orphans and widows, a place for persons with mental disabilities and minors to receive guardians and families united through adoptions. The Surrogate’s Court was an integral part of protecting the legacy that I would inherit.  

Economic justice can be within reach for Brooklyn residents, who were among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and need a pathway towards a secure future through the Surrogate’s Court. Last year was unimaginable and compounded by unprecedented losses, but we are making a comeback. However, many families whose loved ones passed without a will or estate planning remain at risk of being preyed on because their identity and assets are public information in the Surrogate’s Court. Historically, communities of color and vulnerable populations have sought support through the court only to experience economic loss amid their own emotional grief. We cannot continue to follow the same practices that have perpetuated and further exacerbated the racial wealth gap.  

I am more than capable and ready to serve as Brooklyn’s next Surrogate Court Judge because I have the experience. During my four-year tenure as Acting Supreme Court Justice in Family Court,  I met families when they were in their most vulnerable state. I protected intimate partners, elders, and children against abuse and domestic violence; while strengthening families through guardianships and adoptions. I also appointed and monitored attorneys to ensure that they were working in the best interest of the families that I assigned to them. 

Today, I serve as a Civil Court Judge in the People’s Court, working to remove the barriers to justice for all people to become whole. I believe that judges should step off the bench and get more involved in the community to understand public perception and rebuild trust. I created countless educational programs and workshops to expand access to justice and bridge the gap between the community and the courts.

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In this era of reform, Brooklyn deserves a Surrogate’s Court Judge with the integrity to fight corruption, compassion to understand the issues, and fairness to ensure equal justice. We need more women and people of color on the bench who understand the day-to-day challenges families face to earn a livable wage and escape poverty.  

Early voting begins on June 12th, and Primary Day is on June 22nd; I hope I can count on your support to become the People’s Surrogate and put families first – always. 


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