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IN PUBLIC SERVICE: ‘Advancing Equity with Compassion and Respect Through the Courts’

June 17, 2021 By Inga O’Neale
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My name is Inga O’Neale and I am running countywide for an open seat in the Kings County Civil Court.

I am a long-time Brooklynite, a Caribbean immigrant and the first attorney in my family.  My parents both come from large families and did not have the opportunity to attend college, but they instilled in me and my brother the value of a good education, a strong work ethic and a deep sense of commitment to community and service.  

Even as a child, I always knew that I wanted to have a career serving others.  During college, I discovered that my true career path was in the field of law.  I was first inspired to work in the court system, after my first year at Hofstra University School of Law, when I participated in a summer internship program at the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. I realized then how I could make a difference addressing any inequalities in the justice system by being part of the court’s legal system serving all communities.

During law school, I was also a student advocate in my law school’s Child Advocacy Clinic.  As a student advocate, I represented children in cases involving allegations of abuse and neglect.  These experiences fueled a desire in me to ensure that all are ensured proper legal services and are treated with compassion by the court system.

In 2001, when I graduated from law school, the world seemed like an uncertain place at the time, in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 and the burst of the dot com bubble.  Legal jobs for recent graduates like me were difficult to come by.  Nevertheless, after applying to and interviewing for many legal positions, I was hired as a Court Attorney with the Law Department at the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term.  

As a Court Attorney, I conducted legal research and drafted bench memoranda on a variety of areas of civil law, conducted discovery and settlement conferences in actions pending in the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, as well as, civil cases pending in the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department’s Civil Appeals Management Program (CAMP).  I also provided legal information to unrepresented litigants in the court’s Office of the Self Represented.  My dedicated and thorough work as a Court Attorney was noticed by one of the Supreme Court Justices and led to an opportunity to work as a Principal Law Clerk.  I have now worked alongside three different jurists, Justice Randy Jackson, Justice Larry D. Martin and currently Justice Donald S. Kurtz, all of whom I consider to be my mentors.  In that capacity, I have had experience working in a Medical Malpractice Part, in busy Individual Assignment and Trial Assignment Parts, handling motions, preparing verdict sheets and jury charges and conducting on the spot research to address evidentiary and substantive issues raised during hundreds of trials.  Since 2005, I have also served as a volunteer arbitrator in the Kings County Small Claims Court where I am tasked with the responsibility of arbitrating and settling small claims cases including administering oaths, taking testimony and rendering binding decisions.     

My professional work experience was recognized when I was honored with the 2017 Employee of the Year Award for Chambers staff.  I was also the recipient of the 2016 Faith O’Neal Memorial Award for Distinguished Service to the Association of Law Secretaries to the Justices of the Supreme and Surrogate’s Court.  

Aside from my legal experience, I have demonstrated community service both within and outside of the courts as a member of various professional, fraternal and community organizations.  While I was a Court Attorney, I was a union representative for the Court Attorneys Association of the City of New York.  I am a former President and the current Secretary of the Association of Law Secretaries to the Justices of the Supreme and Surrogate’s Court.  I have served as a mock trial coach for the Court’s Summer Youth Employment Program for the past several years and I am the Chair of the Tribune Society’s Youth Committee.  I also serve on the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association’s Scholarship and Mentorship Committees.  I am currently the Vice President of the Brooklyn Canarsie Lions Club, a service organization which, among other things, has distributed food and PPE throughout the pandemic.  

I was motivated to run for election as Judge at this point in my career after being involved as a co-chair of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association’s Judiciary Training Academy, a program meant to increase diversity on the bench in state and federal courts.  This program is of particular importance, in light of the recent report by Jeh Johnson, Esq. who was appointed as Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts to conduct an independent review of court system policies, practices, and programs as it relates to racial bias.  The program gave me the courage to take the necessary steps to fulfill my dreams of serving our neighbors in our great borough of Brooklyn. 

Being involved in the community has heightened my awareness of the issues that affect Brooklyn residents.  This would make me an effective jurist who can make a difference by ensuring that justice is done in cases appearing before the court.  As an attorney working in the court system, I do not get to choose the cases that I handle but I know that what I do makes a difference to the parties whose cases mean all the world to them.  

I did not enter the court system with the intention of becoming a judge.  Over the years, my legal experience and community service sparked a desire in me to make a difference by helping people resolve the issues affecting their daily lives.  I would like to continue in the role of public service, this time as a judge of the Civil Court in Brooklyn.

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