Borough President says judgeships in Family Court should be more reflective of Brooklyn’s population
By Stephen Witt
Borough President Marty Markowitz and other elected officials and organizations this week called for more diversity on the Kings County Family Court Bench.
Their comments came following an exclusive Our Time Press story found that only one of 16 judges in Brooklyn’s Family Court was African-American.
“Diversity in our judicial system not only provides justices of color with opportunities on the bench, but helps our courts better and more fairly represent the residents that go before them—particularly in Brooklyn, which has one of the largest African-American populations in the nation,” said Markowitz.
“As Brooklyn, New York City and the rest of the nation becomes more diverse, it’s imperative that bar associations, elected officials and voters make every effort to ensure that justice is indeed color-blind,” he added.
Also calling for more inclusion on the Kings County Family Court Bench is the Manhattan-based Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA).
“The Metropolitan Black Bar Association believes that there is a need to increase the number of diverse judges appointed to Kings County Family Court,” said MBBA President R. Nadine Fontaine. “Given the nature of the cases and the numbers of diverse litigants that come before these judges, the bench should be more reflective of the community it serves. The association continues to fight for diversity in all levels of the court system.
Both the city’s Family Court and criminal court judges are mayoral appointments, although the state’s court system can also assign judges elected to preside over state, civil and Supreme Courts to criminal and Family Court as needed.
In Brooklyn, which is more than a third black, the only African-American sitting on the Family Court Bench is recently elected Manhattan Civil Court Judge William Franc Perry, who was appointed to Kings County Family Court earlier this year by New York State Unified Court System Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti.
Of the 20 judicial appointments that Mayor Bloomberg has made to the city’s Family Courts, only one was African-American, this paper has learned.
That one Bloomberg appointee is Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, who was appointed in 2003 and works in Queens Family Court. She is the only African-American judge of 11 in Queens Family Court.
The lack of diversity in the city’s Family Courts comes as the Bloomberg Administration continues to defend its controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics that has put thousands of youthful people of color in the judicial system – many for the first time.
This tactic has led to Flatbush Congresswoman Yvette Clarke calling for a federal investigation on the legality of the practice.
Clarke said while stop-and frisk, and a lack of diversity on the Family Court Bench are somewhat related, they remain two separate issues.
“While I am concerned about the low percentage of diversity on the Kings County ‘Bench’, I believe that the excessive stop-and-frisk tactics used in the city of New York is more a law enforcement issue than the judicial system. It only becomes an issue for the courts once a summons is issued or an arrest is made,” she said.
According to the court system’s guidebook, Family Court judges hear a range of legal issues, including child abuse and neglect (child protection), adoption, child custody and visitation, domestic violence, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, paternity, persons in need of supervision (PINS) and child support.
A “juvenile delinquent” is someone at least 7 but less than 16 years old who commits an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult and is found to be in need of “supervision, treatment or confinement.”