Justice Matthew D’Emic discusses domestic violence, mental health and bail reform at the BWBA meeting
The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) held its monthly “Lunch with a Judge” meeting on Wednesday, featuring Hon. Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term.
The event took place via Zoom and allowed attendees to engage in a candid conversation with Judge D’Emic, learning about his experiences and perspectives on domestic violence, mental health and bail reform.
Judge D’Emic, who was appointed to the bench in 1996, has dedicated his career to addressing domestic violence and mental health issues within the criminal justice system. He has presided over the Brooklyn Domestic Violence Court and the Brooklyn Mental Health Court and has earned recognition for his efforts in those areas.
Judge D’Emic is a member of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts and the New York State Judicial Committee on Elder Justice.
The event was organized by the BWBA Lunch with a Judge Committee, led by Judge Genine Edwards, who often serves as the moderator for these monthly meetings. Judge Edwards introduced Judge D’Emic, detailing his impressive career, including his time as a bartender during law school and his tenure as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School.
Jovia Radix, the new president of the BWBA, expressed gratitude for the chance to learn from the esteemed judges featured in the “Lunch with a Judge” series. “We always learn so much at these events,” said Radix.
During the meeting, Judge D’Emic discussed the pivotal moment in 1996 when he was asked to take on half of Judge John Leventhal’s domestic violence caseload, which had increased significantly following Leventhal’s appointment as the first felony domestic violence judge in New York State.
D’Emic described how the murders of two women, both of whom had orders of protection, prompted the late Chief Judge Judith Kaye to explore ways to better protect victims of domestic violence. As a result, Judge Leventhal was tasked with overseeing all domestic violence cases in their entirety, helping ensure that nothing would fall through the cracks. Eventually, Judge D’Emic took over half of his caseload.
Judge D’Emic shared some of the harrowing cases he has encountered during his tenure, including intimate partner murder trials, which he described as some of the “saddest situations in the world.”
He recalled one particularly brutal case involving a young man who became obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, ultimately stalking and fatally stabbing her. In court, the man claimed extreme emotional disturbance as a defense, but Judge D’Emic allowed two other ex-girlfriends to testify, revealing a pattern of violence and jealousy.
In addition to his work with domestic violence cases, Judge D’Emic has been instrumental in the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, which offers community-based treatment as an alternative to incarceration for defendants with serious mental health diagnoses.
Established in 2002, the Mental Health Court seeks to address the underlying conditions that contribute to criminal behavior. Judge D’Emic spoke about the impact of the court on the lives of its participants, noting that he considers himself “the luckiest state court judge in the country” for having the opportunity to positively influence individuals and their families.
Judge D’Emic also addressed the complexities of the bail reform laws in New York State, highlighting that the primary purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant’s return to court. He raised concerns about the inability to set bail for certain criminal contempt cases, particularly when the safety of victims is at stake.
Judge D’Emic also expressed his opposition to cash bail, stating that it disproportionately affects the poor, but explained that it is a careful balance for judges who should have the discretion to consider public safety when setting bail.
The event concluded with an audience Q&A, where Judge D’Emic was asked about his stress relief methods. He revealed his passion for music, playing bass in a band with friends, Whippoorwill, and performing at charity events.
Surrogate Court Judge Rosemarie Montalbano praised his work. “Judge D’Emic said that he’s lucky, but we’re lucky as Brooklyn residents to have someone like him in charge of the criminal court,” said Montalbano.
The BWBA’s “Lunch with a Judge” series continues to provide valuable insights into the workings of the courts and the judges who preside over them, fostering a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system among its members. The BWBA’s next event will be its annual Paint and Sip at Fornino’s in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 6 p.m.
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