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Brooklyn Bar Association’s Nathan R. Sobel Awards focus on non-judicial staff

October 4, 2022 Robert Abruzzese
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Among the honorees at this year’s Brooklyn Bar Association annual awards were some of the usual names, like Hon. Frank Seddio, a past president of the association and a former Surrogate’s Court judge with enough awards to fill a house in Canarsie.

However, every year the BBA gives out its Nathan R. Sobel Award, which is named after the former Surrogate Court judge and is given to non-attorney court personnel who are deserving. It’s the BBA’s chance to invite non-attorneys into its building and celebrate them.

“Nat Sobel always was one who cared so much about the courts,” said Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine, the statewide coordinating judge for matrimonial cases. “Some of us remember we called him Uncle Nat because even after he was surrogate, he was still in the courthouse and still had an office.”

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This year’s honorees included Natasha Pasternack, a social worker assigned to the Matrimonial Term at the Kings County Supreme Court, under Justice Sunshine; Danny Taveras, a network system engineer in the Supreme Court; and David O. Polk, also a network system engineer.

Justice Sunshine introduced Pasternack and explained how adept she is at running the Matrimonial Mediation Program, as well as performing case management and providing support to the matrimonial bench since 2018. Prior to working in Brooklyn, she was a supervisor at CASA-NYC assigned to Bronx Family Court and Queens Family Court.

“We launched a mediation program in Kings and right in the beginning in matrimonial, Natasha has been at the forefront of it and it would not be successful without her,” said Justice Sunshine. “She built the program, she administers the program, she just has this uncanny ability to know when to walk into your court. She knows the cases, knows the issues, and knows when she is needed.”

It was no coincidence that the other two honorees were both network system engineers who work for the court’s IT Department. The court system went through so many changes during the COVID-19 pandemic that it was up to them and their staff to get judges and all court employees and users up to speed.

Natasha Pasternack (center) was presented with the Nathan R. Sobel Award during the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Annual Awards ceremony on Wednesday, September 14. Pictured are Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine (left) and BBA President Richard Klass, who presented Pasternack with her award. Photo: Mario Belluomo

“In March 2020, COVID brought just about everything in life to a complete, screeching halt, and judges like me, who presided over arraignments, were told they had to do them remotely,” Justice Miriam Cyrulnik recalled. “I was provided with a laptop to hook up at home. It took me 11 hours. I spent the first 90 minutes trying to open the computer, but the latches didn’t seem to work. I even Googled how to open a laptop. I finally face-timed my nephew who looked at what I was doing, laughed, smirked and smiled. He said, OK, Aunt Mimi, turn the laptop around. You have it backwards.”

Justice Cyrulnik was certainly not bragging, but merely pointing out the tremendous task that both Tavares and Polk were faced with.

“Danny is unfailingly polite, he’s knowledgeable, accessible and if he has any occasion to roll his eyes at something I’ve done he’s very discreet about it,” Justice Cyrulnik said. “The Sobel Award is presented to non-judicial employees, who provide outstanding service to the Brooklyn legal community. Over the past two and a half years in particular, members of the IT department have demonstrated exceptional skill and commitment while working literally around the clock to create a virtual court system from scratch.”

Justice Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, presented Polk with his award, but not before praising him for not only his post-COVID work, but for his entire 23 years with the court system.

“There is no department in the Civil Term more important and overburdened than our IT department,” said Justice Knipel. “As administrative judge for civil matters, it is my pleasure in joining the BBA in congratulating David Polk in receiving this prestigious award for his dedication to the courts and our legal community. David started in the Supreme Court 23 years ago, and today he is our answer man for all issues relating to the configuration, maintenance, and support of our computers, telephones and video devices. I’m sure that all of you would agree with me that David is a master diagnostician of our electronic devices. When there is a problem he finds the resolution.”

Both award recipients were quick to point out that they were just one member of a team that helps out the court system.

“The 2020 pandemic forced us to utilize technologies in ways we only saw implemented in the future,” Tavares said. “From setting up virtual conferences and hearings, to walk-throughs with judges, ADAs, court officers and other personnel to make sure that courtrooms are fitted with the proper technology for trials. This could not have been accomplished without the hands-on assistance from my staff and the help of my superiors.”

“I want to thank my team because this is not just a singular effort,” Polk said. “It’s really because of them that I do what I do and I’m glad I get to show them what it is like when you succeed at what you do so I want to thank you for this award.”

The other honorees at the BBA annual awards meeting included Daniel Antonelli, who received the Frieda S. Nisnewitz Award, and Charles Small, Hon. Raja Rajeswari, and Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, administrative judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, who all received the Lynn Terrelonge Bridge to Diversity Award.

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