Q: When did you become a
member of the WWBA and why?
A: I started going to meetings in 1985 and
membership followed. Joining the WWBA,
for me, was (and still is) a must for women attorneys. It provided
information, support, and important networking contacts. Through the WWBA I met
lifelong friends and colleagues. Valued colleagues today are Judges Joan
Lefkowitz (JSC), Linda S. Jamieson (JSC), and Terry Jane Ruderman (JSC and
former President of the White Plains Bar Association) who were early
members. Without the benefit of WWBA
meetings, I would never have met some of my closest friends, Sandra Forster
(Ret. Greenburgh Town Court Justice and former President of the White Plains
Bar Association), Judge Ingrid Braslow (Ret. Family Court Judge and former
President of the White Plains Bar Association), and Melinda Bass (WWBA
delegate, strong advocate, defender of women attorneys and lifelong feminist,
now deceased). Every single one of us
owes a great debt to Hon. Sondra M. Miller (Ret. JSC, Appellate Division,
Second Department and former President of the WWBA) who was always there to
give advice and encouragement.
Q: Please tell us about your
career and why you decided to be a judge?
A: My earlier career path as a reporter
and editor led directly to my interest in the law. After college, I worked as a writer and
reporter for a number of nationally known magazines. I traveled throughout the
country. During the 80’s I wrote articles about women’s struggles, about the
plight of the poor, and the issues facing the African-American community. My
interest in social injustice for women and in civil rights eventually led me to
become a judge.
enjoyed several exciting years in journalism, but came to the point that I felt
I needed a change. I wanted to meet my own challenges and not just write about
the feats and struggles of others. I needed to move forward and law school
beckoned. Despite my friends’ dire
warnings, “We have too many lawyers already,” I entered Hofstra Law School at
31years old. I graduated three years later with high honors and a plan to
specialize in criminal trial work.
appointment as an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) to the Westchester County
District Attorney’s Office was my first step as a lawyer. I remained an ADA for 10 years and tried many
cases; I loved it. Since I was one of the few women trial lawyers there, many
of those cases centered on sex crimes.
lived in Yonkers and then learned there was an open elective position of
Yonkers City Court Judge. I knew nothing about local politics, but I
learned. I won the nomination for
Yonkers City Court Judge and I won the race.
My races for County Court Judge and Supreme Court Judge were natural progressions. Each time I faced the challenge of obtaining
political nomination and of winning. And
each time, I loved the challenge. I am
so grateful to have attained the position of Supreme Court Judge, which to me
is the highest honor and most rewarding position I’ve ever had. And I credit the WWBA for helping to pave the
way to these achievements.
Q. What are the most
significant decisions, which you have rendered as a judge?
A: I will mention a few:
Marco v Village/Town of Mount Kisco (16
N.Y.3d 111 ) & Groninger v Village of Mamaroneck (17 N.Y.3d
125 (): determined motions for summary judgment regarding defendant
municipalities defenses of no prior notice defense
- Porcari v Gannett (50 A.D.3d 993 [2d Dept 2008]): found
that an Assistant Corporation Counsel in Yonkers was not a
public figure when he sued for defamation
Inc. v Ground Handling Inc. (150 A.D.3d 922
[2d Dept 2017]): found that the Airport Terminal Agreement entered into between
plaintiff and defendant relieved the defendant County and its agents of
liability from their own negligence in “unequivocal terms” and was enforceable
v Fortis Benefits Ins. Co. (2005 WL
3070871): supported military mechanic in Iraq to obtain insurance benefits
denied by insurance company under “act of war” exclusion
Q: What challenges did you
face, if any as a woman lawyer and judge?
Have the challenges changed over time?
A: When I first started as a judge in the
early 90’s in Yonkers City Court, I faced challenges each day as a result of
the longtime male-oriented culture of Yonkers lawyers. In these early days,
many of the male trial attorneys had never appeared before a woman judge and
many of them challenged me in a way that I felt they would have never tried
with a male judge. After I became a
Justice of the Supreme Court, I noticed that these moments were more
infrequent, but even now there are attorneys who will act in a manner (whether
by interrupting, ignoring, or disobeying direction) that I suspect is reserved for
the women judges. Recently, I have
noticed a surge in pro se litigants, intent on taking their own cases to
trial. In addition to their
inexperience, they frequently seem to have trouble respecting a female
authority figure. Although much has
changed for the better over the years, I sincerely believe that we need still
more women attorneys trying cases before juries.
Q: How did you balance work
life and family over the years?
A: For most of my career I was a single
mother raising two children alone, from their infancy to their college
years. Of course I had to hire child
care help, but even then I often felt guilty because I was always running from
one responsibility to the next. Looking
back on it, being a single mother, being a Judge and having to run political
campaigns from time to time, I don’t know how I did it. And yet, it was the happiest time of my
life. I decided to spend all the time I
could at home with the children. And I
don’t regret it.
Q: When not on the bench,
what other activities are you engaged in as hobbies and in the community?
A: I perform volunteer work for certain
church activities and work with local arts groups, such as the Untermeyer
Performing Arts Council in Yonkers. I
also go to the gym (not enough), swim regularly, and am a film buff. I have traveled widely.
Q: What would you most like
to achieve professionally and personally going forward?
A: As of now, my goal is to provide a very
fair and informed forum to litigants on a day-to-day basis. In the future I am very interested in
pursuing writing as a second career, since I feel I have many stories to tell
after a long career on the bench.