NY Supreme Court Justice reminisces about Caribbean upbringing

Monday, April 01, 2019

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NEW YORK, United States (CMC) — After serving six years as a Civil Court judge in Brooklyn, New York, Caribbean American Justice Kathy King was appointed an acting Supreme Court justice in 2009, where she presided over criminal and civil court matters.

Prior to that, in 2003, Justice King, the daughter of Montserrat immigrants, was elected to Civil Court in Brooklyn.

In 2014, she was elected to the New York State Supreme Court, also in Brooklyn.

In an interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation ( CMC) on Saturday, King, a Brooklyn resident, reminisced about her Caribbean upbringing and her pursuit of law.

“I am the daughter of Caribbean immigrants who were born in Montserrat, British West Indies. Although my mother and father had no formal education, they stressed the value of education to me and my sister as a means of achieving personal growth, opportunity and advancement. Their values and unwavering support motivated me to be the first in my family to attend college and graduate school,” she said.

“While I was raised in St Albans, Queens, my fondest memories growing up were of time spent in the Caribbean. My mother would send my sister and me to spend summers in Montserrat. Just travelling to Montserrat was an adventure,” she said. “From New York, we would fly into Antigua and then catch a 'puddle jumper' for the 20-minute flight from Antigua to Montserrat. Once arriving in Montserrat, it was total immersion into Caribbean way of life — sun, surf and, of course, the warm embrace of our family and friends on the island.

“As an adult, I often seek refuge from the hectic pace of work and my other responsibilities by hanging out at a local beach or, if time permits, travelling to the Caribbean,” Justice King said.

In 2014, the King was the recipient of Montserrat Progressive Society's Mother of the Year Award, which recognised her accomplishments as a trail blazer and working mother.

She said her interest in pursuing a career in law was nurtured by Judge Kenneth Browne, with whom she interned during college in the mid-70s. Judge Browne was the first African American judge elected to Civil and Supreme Court in Queens County.

King said her internship coincided with the end of the Vietnam War, the progressive movement in American society, and was the catalyst for her to attend law school since, she said, she discovered that the law can be used as a “vehicle for social change”.

Prior to enrolling at State University of New York Buffalo Law School, Justice King said she attended New York City College's Urban Legal Studies Programme.

As the first in her family to attend an institution of higher education, she said life in law school was challenging.

Notwithstanding the challenges, however, she said she was able to graduate “through support of family and a steadfast determination”.

After law school, King said she returned home and, shortly thereafter, purchased a brownstone, moving to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

“As a resident of Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant) for almost 30 years it is amazing to see the transformation in the neighbourhood — from the late 1980s when there was an abundance of abandoned and sealed-up buildings, to the burgeoning development that is presently taking place on every block in the neighbourhood,” she said.

After law school graduation, King said her career trajectory was greatly influenced by responsibilities as a care provider for her aging mother and cousin, who lived in Montserrat.

“Little did I know that my experiences as a care provider, which included advance directives and elder law planning, would provide the foundation for my future assignment as a guardianship judge in Supreme Court,” she said.

King noted that her career path to the bench did not result solely from her own desire and initiative but was, in large part, due to encouragement by others.

Often referred to as “The People's Court”, since many of the parties appearing in Civil Court are self-represented, King said she found Civil Court to be “extremely rewarding”.

“As a jurist, I had the privilege of crafting practical solutions to issues presented,” she said.

New York City Civil Court hears cases worth up to US$25,000.

But King said her most challenging assignments as a judge occurred during her tenure as an acting New York Supreme justice.

She said the Office of Court Administration requires that acting supreme justices preside in criminal court arraignments six times a year.

King said many of the parties who are being arraigned are individuals with mental health issues, youthful offenders, and/or substance abusers.

“The decision to release or to keep a defendant in custody is particularly challenging, since the court must also consider and weigh the district attorney's recommendation regarding a particular defendant.”

Additionally, Justice King said she is “actively involved” in the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), an organisation dedicated to preserving judicial independence for women and minorities, increasing the number and advancement of women judges, and providing judicial education.

King previously served on NAWJ's board of directors. She is a former past president of the NAWJ's New York Chapter, and currently serves as co-chair of NAWJ's Membership Committee.

Recognising the importance of mentoring and empowering the next generation of women in the legal profession, Justice King said she mentors newly elected judges, lawyers, and law students.

She also provides internship opportunities in her chambers.

“I am hopeful that my work in the NAWJ inspires others to put their unique stamp on women in the legal profession,” she said.


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