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Opinion: Brooklyn judicial nominees are setting the standard in New York

August 12, 2022 Robert Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn legal community has long been a shining example for diversity, leadership and collegiality in New York State, and this year’s class of Supreme Court nominees is a great example of such excellence.

A total of 12 judges were nominated by the Brooklyn Democratic Party earlier this month including seven Black judges, nine women and four of Hispanic or Caribbean decent.

The Brooklyn Democratic Party’s 12 nominees for the Supreme Court shows off the diversity of the borough and its bench. Pictured from left: Hon. Lorna McAllister, Hon. Ellen Spodek, Hon. Susan Quirk, Aaron Maslow, Hon. Richard Velasquez, Hon. Cenceria Edwards, Hon. Anne Swern, Hon. Patria Frias-Colon, Hon. Cheryl Gonzales, Hon. Robin Sheares, Hon. Dweynie Paul, and Hon. Craig Walker. Photo: Robert Abruzzese, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Related article: Democrats Nominate Twelve Candidates for Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice; Groundbreaking Slate Reflects Diversity of Borough

The Supreme Court nominees include Hon. Patria Frias-Colon, Hon. Cenceria Edwards, Hon. Cheryl J. Gonzales, Hon. Lorna McAllister, Hon. Dweynie Paul, Hon. Susan Quirk, Hon. Robin Sheares, Hon. Ellen Spodek, Hon. Anne Swern, Hon. Richard Velasquez, Hon. Craig Walker and Aaron Maslow.

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In that group, Judge Paul was the first-ever Haitian American elected in the state and Judge Frias-Colon was the first Dominican-born judge.

“In the year that we saw the first Black woman U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Kentanji Brown Jackson, the Brooklyn Democratic Party is honored to break barriers by sending six Black women to the Supreme Court of New York State,” said Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, to the Eagle earlier this month. “With a diverse slate of 12 deeply qualified Democratic judicial nominees, Brooklyn has reached a historical win.”

District 3, which encompasses a large portion of Upstate New York, including Albany, had just three Black judges as of last year. That is contrasted with New York City which had approximately 91 Black judges as of 2020.

This is nothing new for the borough as it has long helped the state diversify its bench. Out of these 12 nominees, 11 are currently sitting on the bench in lower courts or are acting Supreme Court justices.

Women have also grown increasingly present in the process in recent years. I wrote about it back in 2017 when five women– Hon. Connie Mallafre-Melendez, Hon. Robin Sheares, Hon. Patria Frias-Colon, Sandra Roper, and Ellen Edwards all won borough-wide races and another judge, Hon. Elena Baron, won a Civil Court district seat. Not all of them ran contested elections, but all of them swept away their male counterparts in the primaries.

Women have succeeded in elections just prior to 2017, and since beating male opponents in nearly every contested election since.

Camp Quinones reunites in person

Internships within the court system – and especially those with judges – are some of the best opportunities available to high school and college students looking to get a foot in the door. In Brooklyn, there is no shortage of those opportunities.

Camp Quinones, an unofficial term for Judge Joanne Quinones’s group of current and former interns, goes back to 2015. On Wednesday, a group of over 60 of the judge’s interns returned to 320 Jay Street for a Camp Quinones reunion. Photo: Robert Abruzzese, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

One judge, the Hon. Joanne Quinones, goes above and beyond taking multiple interns throughout the year and will even have nearly half a dozen during the summer months. It’s her way to give back and help her community by lifting the youth up the way she was.

Judge Quinones was born in Bushwick and realizes how unlikely her path was as she had seen so many others like her struggle. It was one teacher, Quinones explained, who started her down a path that ultimately led to the bench which gives her an appreciation for mentorship and opportunities for children and young adults.

Shafia Akey (left), a 2022 high school intern from the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Summer Internship Program and Kaitlyn Cepeda, a 2022 college intern from the IDEAL Program. Photo: Robert Abruzzese, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Even the name “Camp Quinones” had come into fruition organically, being an allusion to interns following the judge in the courtroom and even at events. Someone said, ‘hey there goes Camp Quinones’ and the name stuck.

Judge Quinones gives back to her community– literally giving back to her interns every year when she invites them back to the courthouse for the annual summer reunion where she serves food and practically forces everyone to network. After two years in a row of hosting the event virtually on Zoom, the judges were finally able to bring people back together in person this year and a record of nearly 60 attendees showed up.

Robert Abruzzese is the former Legal Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Director of Member Services at the Brooklyn Bar Association. In addition to writing this column, he currently attends Touro Law Center and is a Legal Administrative Assistant at the Cavallo Firm, PLLC. You can reach him via email at [email protected].

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