The Brooklyn Bar Association held a “How to Become a Judge” seminar on Tuesday night where Hon. Frank Seddio hosted a group of six judges and lawyers who gave a presentation for anyone considering a judicial career.
The crowd ranged from highly experienced lawyers to law school students thinking about their long-term future. They were treated to dinner from Eamonn’s Of Brooklyn while listening to presentations from Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, Hon. Evelyn J. LaPorte, Hon. Fidel F. Del Valle, Rachel H. Nash, Esq., Hon. Gary F. Marton and Hon. Sharen D. Hudson-Williams.
“The criminal and family courts need demonstrated, dedicated, industrious, knowledgeable and capable men and women of the highest integrity,” Cyrulnik said. “With the rarest of exceptions there is no easy path to the bench, but on the other hand, it is not an easy job.”
There are two main ways to become a judge in New York City — to be appointed by the mayor or to be elected. Judges Cyrulnik and Marton discussed how to be appointed, while Judges LaPorte and Hudson-Williams spoke about being elected. Nash and Judge Del Valle discussed the path to becoming an administrative law judge (ALJ).
LaPorte cautioned that it costs more to be elected as a judge, but added that the approval process is easier. Nash said becoming an ALJ was “the most cost effective and quickest way to the bench.” Del Valle added that with so many applications, the same 10 years of experience required to be appointed or elected has become a de facto requirement for ALJs as well.
Everyone who spoke said that anyone interested better have a good answer for the two “billion-dollar questions” — why do you want to be a judge and why do you think you would be a good judge?
“I can’t give you the answers,” Nash said. “It’s personal and you need to explain and articulate why your experiences make you right for the position. Judges are more than just a piece of paper, and that should come across in your interview.”
Another theme the judges stressed was to be very well organized for the application process and to be prepared for the screening committee, which includes a thorough background check from the Department of Investigation.
“You want to be candid during the screening process, you want to be forthright, you want to be open, you want to be yourself,” Marton stressed. “Don’t try to be someone you are not. Don’t try to be fake, don’t sell yourself as somebody that is not you.”
Experience as a lawyer is most important. It’s important to be known as a lawyer that displays empathy toward everyone and respect for the rule of law and the judicial assistants, court reporters and opposing counsel that surround them. Knowing and gaining the respect of other judges doesn’t hurt either.
Anyone interested in becoming a judge can read more on the process by going to www.nyc.gov/judiciary or by downloading the New York City Bar Association’s comprehensive guide. A video of this meeting is also available through the Brooklyn Bar Association.