Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association gets a glimpse into Chief Judge Wilson’s plans
Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, the recently appointed head of the New York State Court of Appeals, was the honored guest during this month’s Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association’s Lunch with a Judge program, a virtual event that connects judges with the local legal community.
Over 75 members participated to hear about Wilson’s career, his visions for the court, and his thoughts on the significance of being the first Black chief judge in the state.
“We are so grateful for you, the work you do and the changes that you are getting ready to make,” BWBA President Jovia Radix said. “We’re all very excited and sitting in anticipation. Thank you for taking your time to sit with us today and if there is anything you need from us as a bar association, we are ready to work with you.”
The event, organized by Hon. Genine Edwards, provided an interactive platform where members could ask questions and learn more about Judge Wilson. The discussion was moderated by President Radix.
Born in California in 1960, Wilson initially thought he would return to his home state after his studies. However, after a stint as a clerk in the federal court and a career at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City, he eventually found his place in the New York legal landscape. His nomination by Gov. Kathy Hochul and subsequent confirmation by the New York Senate as Chief Judge in April 2023 marked the beginning of a new chapter in his esteemed legal career.
Radix expressed excitement about the fresh perspective and vision that Judge Wilson brings to the court, while Judge Edwards lauded the new leadership as “a breath of fresh air.”
In response to Radix’s inquiry about the significance of his role as the first Black chief judge, Wilson reflected on the societal changes he’s observed in his lifetime, and the continued struggles for equality. He also acknowledged the influence of pivotal figures like Thurgood Marshall on his career, but humbly noted that he does not compare himself to these luminaries.
“I don’t think of myself as anything in the league of those people, or having to deal with the magnitude of the problems they dealt with, but those problems still persist,” Chief Judge Wilson said. “More paths seem to be open for women and people of color than were before.”
In the discussion, Judge Wilson outlined his two-pronged responsibilities: serving as a judge of the Court of Appeals and administrating the entire court system. He discussed concerns about the decreasing docket, the lack of women arguing major civil cases, and court accessibility. He also revealed a plan to improve court visibility by moving sessions to different locations around the state.
On the administrative side, Judge Wilson identified two main priorities — improving morale among judges and addressing accessibility issues within the court system. He further highlighted pressing issues in Family and Housing Courts, a shortage of court reporters, and general hiring challenges within the system.
As Chief Judge, Wilson believes that bar associations can help encourage more women and younger attorneys to argue cases and shape the future of the legal profession. He also expressed his interest in using technology to improve court proceedings, but voiced concerns over the potential displacement of human thought and kindness by machines.
Even amidst the legal discourse, the session provided an opportunity for a glimpse into Wilson’s personal interests and aspirations beyond the courthouse. When asked what he might be doing if he wasn’t serving as a judge, his answer was both surprising and intriguing.
“I would be a jazz pianist if I wasn’t a judge,” Wilson said, chuckling at the thought. “I’m so right hand dominant that my left hand is essentially non-functional for piano so it’s hopeless, but in the next lifetime, you’ll be listening to me play instead of listening to my voice.”
The session ended with Jovia Radix expressing the association’s readiness to work with Judge Wilson and the gratitude of the legal community for his dedication and impending reforms.
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