Hon. Cheryl Chambers shares judicial journey at BWBA’s ‘Lunch with a Judge’ event

February 20, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Justice Cheryl Chambers delivers insightful remarks during the BWBA's 'Lunch with a Judge' series.Screenshots via Zoom
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The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association (BWBA) recently hosted its monthly “Lunch with a Judge” series on Thursday, Feb. 15, featuring Hon. Cheryl Chambers from the Appellate Division, Second Department.

The event, overseen by Hon. Genine Edwards, who chairs the BWBA’s Lunch with a Judge Committee, provided an invaluable opportunity for legal professionals to gain insights from esteemed members of the judiciary, including Hon. Lillian Wan and Hon. Janice Taylor.

During the session, Justice Chambers shared her journey to the Appellate Division, emphasizing that her path wasn’t part of a master plan but rather a combination of natural progression, strategic positioning, and a bit of luck. 

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“I also think that I was better suited to being a judge than I was being an advocate,” Justice Chambers said. “In order to win, sometimes you have to step on the line or step over the line, and that wasn’t just for me. It was easy for me to say that I wanted to be an umpire instead of a litigant.”

She recalled her initial reluctance to pursue a judgeship due to her lack of political connections, highlighting the support she later received from notable figures such as former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson and former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, each of whom played a pivotal role in her nomination and subsequent election.

“I always did bar work, in fact, at one point, I actually did a lot of work with the BWBA,” Chambers said. “I was Hon. Deborah Kaplan’s program director when she was president and I was in the DA’s Office. I was also active in the City Bar and a member of the Criminal Courts Committee so I often sat as a subcommittee member of the judiciary. Within that responsibility, I had the opportunity to see many applications and judicial interviews. It put me in a good position to figure out what was required to qualify to be a judge.”

Justices Cheryl Chambers and Genine Edwards share a laugh during the BWBA Lunch with a Judge event.
Justices Cheryl Chambers and Genine Edwards share a laugh during the BWBA event.

Justice Chambers also discussed the responsibilities and challenges associated with serving on the Constitutional Bench, stressing the importance of building consensus among judges. She offered practical advice to both lawyers and young judges, including the necessity of making a clear record in court proceedings and the value of networking within the legal community.

The monthly event is not a continuing legal education seminar. Instead it is an opportunity for members of the bar to hear from various judges, understand their background, their careers, and their courtrooms. It is also a great way to get advice from top judges — Justice Chambers stressed the value of networking within the legal community. 

“You have to network and you need to network before you need the network,” she said. “It is important to belong to bar associations. Bar associations give you support.”

Engaged and inspired: BWBA members tune in for a valuable session with esteemed members of the judiciary at Lunch with a Judge.
Engaged and inspired: BWBA members tune in for a valuable session with esteemed members of the judiciary.

The discussions also touched on the daily responsibilities of appellate judges, with Justices Lillian Wan and Janice Taylor emphasizing the extensive reading and research involved in their roles. Justice Chambers further described the appellate bench as isolating, contrasting it with the fast-paced environment of trial courts.

Justice Chambers has a distinguished legal career that began in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in 1985 before her election to the bench in 1994, ultimately culminating in her appointment to the Appellate Division by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2008, and later to a senior “constitutional” seat by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016. She is notably the first African American woman to serve in this capacity in the Second Department. 

Previously, she had served as a justice in the New York State Supreme Court, Second Judicial District since 1999, and was a judge in the Civil Court of the City of New York from 1995 to 1998. She holds a J.D. from Boston University School of Law, an M.B.A. from Rutgers Graduate School of Management, and a B.A. from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

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