When you first meet New York County Clerk Milton Tingling, you wouldn’t know that before he became one the city’s most revolutionary judges, he was a cab driver and an MTA token booth attendant.
However, what you should know is that he is the first African-American county clerk in New York. He was appointed to the position in February, replacing Norman Goodman, who served in the position for 45 years.
With more than 35 years of legal experience under his belt, as county clerk, Tingling’s office is in charge of several things, including marriage licenses, notary public and passports. However, it’s his duty of juror service information that he is most passionate about.
On a crusade to bring more Blacks into the justice process, Tingling said in a recent interview with the AmNews that he goes into the community urging people to register to vote, which also qualifies them to be out in the jury and grand jury pool.
With recent outcomes of cases including the Eric Garner death, Tingling said that having more diverse juries is important.
“Jurors are summoned out of five sources,” he said. “Human resources, social services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, taxes and voter registration. The minority male population is impacted between stop-and-frisk violations by numbers, yet they are not part of the system.”
Originally from Harlem, Tingling said he comes from a family of “preachers and teachers.” He is the son of State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling Sr. His mother was a teacher.
Tingling is able to trace his family roots back to slavery. His great-grandfather was an ordained minister, and Tingling has his prayer book, which dates back to the late 1800s.
Graduating from Brown University in 1975, Tingling took many jobs before going into law, including working for the IRS.
He graduated from the historically Black North Carolina University School of Law in 1982. Tingling claims that when he first started in law school, things didn’t go so well.
“In my first semester, I had a 1.9 grade point average,” he said. “After getting a letter from the dean that I could lose my scholarship. I got serious. The next semester, I had a 3.9.”
His legal career began as a law assistant to Civil Court Judge Milton Richardson, a law secretary to Acting Supreme Court and Court of Claims Judge Dennis Edwards and Wilfred O’Connor.
Tingling took the bench in 1996, when he was appointed to the New York City Civil Court. He served on that court until 2000. In 2001, he was elected to the New York County Supreme Court, retiring at the end of 2014. In 2013, he famously shot down the infamous soda ban by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ruling that the mayor did not have the power to create such rules. More recently, he was in charge of finding the jurors in the Etan Patz case.
However, his current passion remains getting more people of color in the jury pool. He notes that during the Jim Crow era, while Blacks struggled for the right to vote, they were also struggling for the right to serve on juries.
“I don’t have a problem confronting people about this,” he said. “If you you don’t like serving on jury, or don’t want to, you have no say in what goes on in society. Suppose we were to have a situation like Eric Garner in Manhattan. We would want a diverse grand jury.”
Still at the dawn of his life-term as a county clerk, Tingling said he does not plan to be in office as long as his predecessor and that he is wants to make change, especially when it comes to juries.
“It’s an opportunity to try and do something about this,” he said. “Someone has to try. American citizens have so many privileges, and the country only asks you do to two things: vote and do jury duty.”