The BWBA discusses the nuances of Housing Court with Judge Mcclanahan

July 20, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) hosted a virtual lunch with the Honorable Judge Kevin McClanahan, the supervising judge of the Kings County Housing Court, as part of its regular Lunch with a Judge program this past Wednesday.

The event featured a deep dive into the Housing Court system’s history and challenges, a personal reflection on Judge McClanahan’s career, and a discussion about the court’s current landscape.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Judge McClanahan extensively traveled abroad in his youth, notably to Europe and South America. In Colombia he studied homelessness and developed an understanding of culture’s significant role in instigating change. This experience kindled his thirst for advocating change and an appreciation for the influence of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Judge McClanahan earned a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College and then attended the University of Michigan School of Law. His career has seen him serve in various capacities within the legal system. Prior to his appointment as a judge, McClanahan worked as an associate court attorney for the Civil Court of the City of New York, a project coordinator for Legal Outreach, and an associate at Paul, Hastings Janofsky & Walker.

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In 2002, Judge McClanahan was appointed to the bench of the New York City Civil Court by Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. He was subsequently reappointed by Chief Administrative Judges A. Gail Prudenti in 2012 and Lawrence K. Marks in 2017. Today, he serves as the supervising judge for the New York City Housing Court in Kings County.

Apart from his extensive judicial duties, Judge McClanahan also serves as pastor to a thriving non-denominational church in Spanish Harlem. His dedication to his faith and community led him to pen “A True Tale of Urban Ministry: Walking Out Faith During Transition,” which chronicles his experiences in his ministry.

After taking over as the supervising judge from Hon. Cheryl Gonzales earlier this year, Judge McClanahan has brought a unique perspective to his position.

During his conversation with BWBA members, including Hon. Genine Edwards and President Jovia Radix, Judge McClanahan remarked on the Brooklyn community’s engagement and resilience.

Jovia Radix recently took over as president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association.

“The litigants here are much more active in terms of civic responsibility, they’re not impressed by the robes,” McClanhan said.

Highlighting the crucial, though often overlooked, role of the Housing Court, Judge McClanahan offered a comprehensive overview of the court’s evolution and its present-day complexities. “It’s not just about evictions. It’s about justice. It’s about providing a forum where the bedrock is neutrality and fairness,” he emphasized.

Judge McClanahan underscored the challenges of managing housing issues amidst the continuing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increased caseload, and the struggle to expedite backlogs with fewer staff members. He also voiced concerns over the high turnover rate among court clerks, attributing it to their heavy workload, lower pay, and more appealing job opportunities in other courts.

A significant point of discussion was the Right to Counsel program, designed to ensure legal representation for litigants in the Housing Court. Despite staffing challenges, Judge McClanahan remained optimistic about the program’s potential.

“Housing Court is doing whatever it can to facilitate the right to counsel,” Judge McClanahan assured.

Judge McClanahan also addressed the issue of rising evictions in Brooklyn, acknowledging the problem’s depth and complexity. “The reality is that a lot of the federal funding went a long time ago. We blew through ERAP (Emergency Rental Assistance Program). […] The likelihood is that evictions will be increasing,” he cautioned.

While he expressed empathy for the hardships many Brooklyn residents are experiencing, he stressed the court’s role as an arbiter and a solution provider

“Kings County is the people’s court,” McClanahan said. “When you come here we will try to resolve the problem. What happened? Was there an employment issue, a child support issue? Were you abused? We have to identify the problem and rectify it. If that problem comes down to, ‘I don’t have a job and therefore I can’t pay the rent,’ the housing court has nothing to do with that.”

Judge McClanahan wrapped up the discussion with a heartfelt expression of gratitude. “After 20 years, I don’t think there is a worse part. The best part is that at the end of a case, when a judgment is satisfied, arrears are paid off, and you are free and not at risk of being evicted,” he shared.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Kings County Housing Court so I know firsthand how large a task you have in front of you and we are so happy that you took your valuable time and decided to spend your lunch with us,” President Radix said.

The BWBA’s next event will be the Summer Soiree on August 1, featuring cocktails, networking, and fun. Details for that event will be announced. Following that, Justice Matthew D’Emic, the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, will be hosted for Lunch with a Judge on August 16.

The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association meets monthly on Zoom for Lunch with a Judge. Next month’s meeting will feature Hon. Matthew D’Emic.


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