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Diversity of judges in city’s family courts called into question

Bloomberg appointed only one Africa-American to city’s family court


By Stephen Witt
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 who works in Queens Family Court. She is the only African-American judge of 11 in Queens Family Court.
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.
“Obviously given the diversity in the city he (Bloomberg) should appoint more African-American judges,” said Fort Greene City Councilwoman Letitia James. “I continue to raise issues of diversity with him (Bloomberg) from judicial appointments to appointments in his administration.”
James, an attorney, said unlike the city’s fire department, which the federal Department of Justice is now investigating because of lack of diversity, the court system could not be looked at by the federal government because there’s not test involved.
“It (judicial appointments) is clearly the sole discretion of the mayor. I don’t know how many lawyers of color have applied, but I’m sure it’s a lot,” she said.
The city’s Corporation Counsel Spokeswoman Kate O’Brien Ahlers responded via email that Bloomberg interviews all judicial candidates but that it is a culmination of an appointment process that can take up to eight months to complete.
“The mayor has “followed the process to a T,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo in the email.
The mayor steps in to appoint a new judge only from a list of three “highly qualified” candidates nominated for each position by the 19-member advisory committee,” he added
However, one knowledgeable Kings County Courts source, said that the Family Court judicial nominees often come from a tight-knit network of Brooklyn Family Court prosecutors and/or who work with the Administration of Childrens Services (ACS), and for the most part this network consists of white females.
“While there are a number of good family court judges in Brooklyn, a majority of the cases involve people of color and it would be good to have a bench more reflective of this,” the source said.
Although Brooklyn is more than a third black, only one of the 16 judges in Kings County Family Court is black.
That judge 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.
Additionally there is one Asian-Pacific judge and one Hispanic judge in Kings County Family Court.
In the Bronx, Bloomberg reappointed the one African-American judge out of 17 that presides over Family Court.
In Manhattan, Bloomberg reappointed the two African-American judges of 10 that preside over family court.
In Staten Island there are four family court judges and none are African-American.
The lack of diversity in the city’s family courts comes as the Bloomberg Administration continues to defend its controversial NYPD stop-and-frisk tactic that has put thousands of youthful people of color in the judicial system – many for the first time.
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.” The act committed is a “delinquent act.” Juvenile delinquency cases are heard in Family Court.

– Lucia Jean contributed to this story

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