One of the best things for me about 2008 was graduating from law school and getting to shake hands with the most Honorable Judge Judith Kaye. To say she is a role model of mine is an understatement. Standing on the stage with her for those brief few seconds made that day even more remarkable and unforgettable for me.
During my career in the federal court in the Eastern District of New York, I observed, appeared before and got to know countless state and federal magistrates and judges. Regardless of the judicial decisions in the respective cases, sometimes my experience with some members of the bench was disappointing at best. I am sure you know what I mean and have all had similar or worst experiences at some point.
But the judges who have had the most impact on me and who I will never forget are not just the ones who I thought made the correct and just decisions, but the ones who were clearly seeking to administer Justice. I believe great judges are not the ones who make decisions or pronounce sentences based solely on some arbitrary or circumstantially irrelevant theory of crime and punishment, or worse, judges who have been socially segregated from society for decades who decide the rights of other’s based on what they believe “society is willing to accept.”
On the contrary, I have seen and worked with judges who overcame the inertia of our justice system and struggled with their own moral compass to arrive at a place where they could render decisions and pass judgments that although not always infallible, aimed to be righteous. Those judges, especially Judge Kaye, I believe are great and they will always inspire me.
This month I had the pleasure of attending two induction ceremonies for newly elected New York County civil court judges. When I received the first invitation I was very surprised and honored. I, especially as a new attorney, was delighted that another attorney, now judge, remembered meeting me, some two months earlier, looked up my address and sent me an invitation to her induction.
When I met both of these judicial candidates, I knew that they were remarkable women. I knew that they were the kind of attorneys I wanted to be like and the kind of judges I would want to appear before. They were both very “real” and grounded people who I believe appreciate the often ethereal relationship between the law and justice. I also sensed that no matter how long they sat on the bench, they would still “be a part of” the society they were judging. And my feelings and opinions were more than validated by the statements of the many family, friends and politicians who spoke at their respective ceremonies.
I have often thought of Judge Kaye and how sad I was when she retired last year. Whether there will be another like her remains to be seen. But after the second induction ceremony, I had only two thoughts, “The state of New York and especially New York County has some amazing judges” and “I am so proud to be a part of the New York State Bar.”