Here Come the CUNY Law School Judges!

They are seven in number. They sit to hear and rule on society’s problems—of tenants with their landlords, of families, of criminal acts and civil wrongs.

They are as diverse as the defendants, plaintiffs and problems they confront. One came to this country from her native Dominican Republic at the age of nine, another came as a child from Guyana, others were born and raised here. They are male and female, white and of color.

Their ranks include a former assistant district attorney, a psychiatric nurse, a shop steward for a Teamsters Union local, a psychotherapist and several adjunct professors.

Cuny Law Students
Uniting the seven is the fact that all are sitting judges in New York City or on Long Island, and all are graduates of the CUNY School of Law, based at Queens College, which is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The law school, which ranked first in the nation in the diversity of its students last year, is one of the newest in the United States.

The Law School’s deep ties to the University are reflected in the fact that five of the seven graduated from a CUNY college prior to attending the Law School—three from Queens College, one from City College, and one from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Three assumed their posts within the last six months. Six of the judges are women, and three of those are women of color. Four were members of the Law School’s inaugural class of 1986.

Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwan, who was born in the Dominican Republic, won election to a ten-year term in Civil Court in November 2002 with a three-party endorsement and 69 percent of the vote. In December 2002, Sondra Pardes began an interim appointment as a District Court judge in Nassau County; she will run for a permanent seat in November. Most recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Edwina Richardson-Thomas to Family Court in January 2003.

Like several of her judicial colleagues who are CUNY School of Law graduates, Judge Edwina Richardson–Thomas, seen here in her courtroom, attended multiple colleges within the City University of New York, and received her Ph.D. from the Graduate School. Photo above, Soung Wiser
They join Family Court Judge Bryanne Hamill and Housing Court judges Shlomo Hagler, Pam Jackman Brown and Margaret Parisi-McGowan.

Judge Jackman Brown, who emigrated to the U.S. from Guyana as a child, began her CUNY education as a graduate of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which she attended before entering John Jay College. Her accomplishments are featured in CUNY’s subway advertising campaign, “Study with the Best—Catch the Success Express,” which profiled exceptional graduates of the CUNY system.

In five years on the bench, she has presided over thousands of Housing Court cases. “It’s been very worthwhile,” she said. “Every day my work impacts peoples’ lives.”

Judge Edwina Richardson-Thomas began her pursuit of justice in the Urban Legal Studies Program at City College, which was founded and directed by the Law School’s second dean, the late Haywood Burns. Last June she became the first of the judges to receive the highest academic degree, a Ph.D. in criminal justice from the CUNY Graduate School. Her thesis examined family courts and how they deal with domestic violence under recent changes in the law in this field.

Judge Richardson-Thomas is not the only one of the seven to have obtained an advanced degree from the University. Judge Pardes earned an M.S.W. from Hunter College and was a psychotherapist for nine years before entering the Law School.

Several of these judges have carried their expertise into CUNY classrooms, serving as adjunct professors. Judge Pardes was an adjunct professor at the Law School for three years, Judge Richardson-Thomas teaches at John Jay, Judge Parisi-McGowan was an instructor in Queens College’s Continuing Education Program, and Judge Jackman Brown has taught at BMCC for the past two years.

Judge Parisi-McGowan, who has served in Housing Court since 1998, earned her undergraduate degree at Queens College. Before attending CUNY Law School, she was chief shop steward for eight years for her Teamsters Union local when she worked as a Pan American Airlines sales agent. Judge Hagler, a graduate of Yeshiva University, has been in the Co-op and Condominium Part of Housing Court since 1999.

Judge Hamill, a graduate of Regents College of the University of the State of New York, Albany, was a psychiatric nurse and mother of two children prior to returning to the classroom as a law student. Following her graduation, she utilized her legal skills as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, helping victims of domestic violence. That work, and her subsequent work in New York State Supreme Court, made her a perfect fit for a bench in Family Court.

The trend toward CUNY judges is especially close to the heart of Law School Dean Kristin Booth Glen, who herself served on the bench for 15 years as a Civil Court Judge, a justice of the Supreme Court, and on the Appellate Term, Fourth Department. “We are incredibly proud of these graduates,” she commented. “They demonstrate the kind of commitment to public service for which we are known, and I can personally attest to the rewards that await them—and those who will follow onto the bench.”

The Law School was the first in the U.S. charged with the explicit mission of training lawyers for public-interest practice. Its official motto is “Law in the Service of Human Needs.”

Legal educators have ranked the Law School’s clinical program among the top 10 nationally for more than a decade. In recent years, students and graduates have won two prestigious Pro Bono Publico Awards from the American Bar Association. In 2001, the three graduates who won the award began “making house calls” before they could afford to open an office; they now serve 5,000 immigrants.

In 2002, second-year law students in the Workfare Advocacy Project (WAP) seminar received the award from the New York State Bar Association for successfully representing hundreds of CUNY undergraduate students on public assistance, helping them stay in school and continue to provide for their families.

CUNY Law has also garnered many awards, including those from the Society of American Law Teachers, the National Associa-tion of Public Interest Law, and the N.Y. State Bar Association.

All seven judges express intense satisfaction with their jobs, experiencing not only “intellectual stimulation and collegiality” on the bench, says Judge Pardes, but the sense that they are actually living the School’s motto of public service. The work is “very rewarding,” says Judge Parisi-McGowan, “because it accomplishes a lot for people.”

The workload can be heavy. Judge Hamill supervises more than 650 active cases in Family Court, presiding over child protective proceedings like child-abuse and child-neglect hearings. Judge Richardson-Thomas arrived in court in January to find 799 pending cases looming on her bench.

Despite such heavy case loads, several of the judges find time to be active in their communities. Judge Pineda-Kirwan, for example, is a founding member of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County and has participated in the Dominican Bar Association and the National Hispanic Bar Association.

All of the judges express appreciation for the skills they learned at the Law School. Judge Hagler echoes his colleagues when he speaks of the Law School’s stress on professional responsibility, an important aspect of serving the public. He says, “I take pride in trying to resolve these cases fairly.”

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