legal (151021)

The New York State Unified Court System has always been a convoluted, complicated and sometimes very slowly functioning court. With too many cases, too little time and sometimes completely inadequate facilities, the court maintains itself but has not been able to thrive.

In the First Judicial District, which is New York County—also known as Manhattan—are several types of judgeships. But the two we are focusing on for the purpose of this editorial are Civil Court and Supreme Court judges.

Civil Court judges are elected to terms of 10 years and must retire the year they reach 70. Currently, four Black men hold the office of Civil Courtjudge, along with six Black women.

New York Supreme Court judges (this is not an appeals court) are elected for a 14-year term and also must retire at age 70. There are 38 Supreme Court judgeships in New York County, and as of Aug. 1, 2015, the Supreme Court will have four Black women elected judges and zero Black men. For the first time since the 1960s, not a single Black male is one of the elected Supreme Court judges in New York County. This development is a travesty.

Over the past year, because of retirements and individuals leaving office for other pursuits, such as Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling becoming the New York County clerk, and others being elevated to other courts, we are left with a dearth of Black men on the bench. Even more alarming, the feeder for Supreme Court is the Civil Court, and we only have four Black men there. Several of the current Black judges, both male and female, are serving as Supreme Court judges, however they are in appointed and not elected posts.

The upcoming elections will have four vacancies on the Supreme Court. All of those vacancies are the result of Black judges leaving office—two Black women and two Black men.

We must find a way to enlist more Blacks, especially Black men, to go after seats on the bench. We have hundreds of Black lawyers in this city, and the major qualification for holding a judgeship is that they have been admitted to practice as an attorney in the state of New York for 10 years.

The Civil Court is the stepping stone to the Supreme Court, and we must enlist our community in identifying and encouraging our best and brightest attorneys to leave the luxury of their white-shoe firms, where they have racked up healthy nest eggs, to serve their communities and run for judgeships.

We have enough problems with the criminal justice system. We have enough problems with our police. We have enough problems with our schools. We need judges who come from the same streets as our young people who are facing these judges. We need diversity and fairness. So I implore you as a member of the community to go to those lawyers you know who have been sitting in their fancy firms and encourage them to run.

We need them, and we need them to step up now. We must be represented in the halls of justice, and we must prepare for the next generation of judicial leadership in the city.