Lending a Voice: Janet Malone (’89)

“I always wanted to give a voice to those who didn’t have one,” recalled Judge Janet Malone (’89).

That goes all the way back to her very first case: her older sister being picked on by a boy at school. “You can’t talk to my sister like that!” the judge remembers telling the boy. “When it was over, I said to my sister: ‘You have to speak up for yourself.’” Malone was 5, and it was her first day attending school.

Judge Janet Malone ('89)

Judge Janet Malone (’89)

Standing up for people and making the tough decisions are what Malone does to this day. She was elected to Westchester Family Court in 2007; in 2011, she was appointed acting supreme court justice to the Supreme Court.

“The biggest challenge is the decisions I make that impact families and children,” said Malone. In the family court “you don’t have a jury; I sit on the bench as custodian of the record and as judge and jury. I deliberate with me, myself, and I.”

Malone was born 48 years ago in Barbados, West Indies. Her father had left the family before she was born to pursue a life in England, so her mother raised her and her sister alone. “I grew up in a wooden house on cinder blocks, with no indoor electricity, no indoor plumbing, and we washed our clothes on the washboard,” Malone remembered.

When Malone was 5 years old, her mother entrusted her daughters to their maternal great-aunt, and she traveled to the United States, where she worked as a domestic with an attorney’s family in Scarsdale, New York. Her employer helped her sponsor Malone and her sister into the United States.

Once reunited with their mother, Malone and her sister saw how hard their mother worked, taking on multiple jobs to support the family. Their mother’s work ethic motivated Malone and her sister to succeed; for Malone that meant pursuing a dream that began in elementary school of becoming a lawyer.

That dream stayed alive through her attendance at Utica College of Syracuse University, where she was a criminal justice major. Her advisor, Professor Ted Olin, helped her apply to law schools. “CUNY offered me an interview, and the rest is history,” said Malone.

At CUNY Law, Malone found a diverse student body and many people who, like her, were trying to fulfill their dream and to learn law in a way that no one else was teaching it at the time. CUNY Law’s focus on practice, not just academics, and working in a group helped give Malone an edge in her first legal job as an assistant district attorney in the trial division of the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Malone prosecuted major felonies, including sex crimes and domestic violence cases, and argued appeals at the Appellate Division.

After many years in the DA ‘s office, she moved to the private sector and then the court system. Malone began in the Westchester Family Court as an appointed support magistrate in 2003.

Reflecting on a successful career and looking to the days ahead, the judge knows that CUNY Law has played a big part in getting her where she is today. “CUNY Law gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream to become a lawyer and now a judge. I am eternally grateful to CUNY Law for being in existence and giving me the foundation to succeed,” said Malone.

– Paul Lin

More from CUNY Law magazine Spring 2013 »