Remembering Our Trustee Barry H. Garfinkel

It is with sadness that the Historical Society of the New York Courts has learned of the passing of one of our most treasured Trustees Barry H. Garfinkel following a bout of pneumonia.

Barry has been a Trustee of the Society almost since its founding. He has been a linchpin on the Board, and guided us to success in many ways. In 2007, he founded a project to bring enrichment to a segment of NYS students often overlooked — those in the State’s community colleges. The David A. Garfinkel Essay Scholarship sponsors an annual essay contest on topics of legal history relevant to many first generation and minority students. It is an opportunity for students to delve into the role of the courts in society and to connect with the courts in person through awards ceremony held each year with a luncheon where students can mingle with judges and lawyers. He has funded this initiative since its inception, and the ceremonies he attended were meaningful to him.

Barry was close to Hon. Judith S. Kaye and she chose to spend her post-court legal career at Skadden. After her death, he worked to have a room at the NYC Bar named for her.

Barry was a straight talker, sometimes gruff, but one of those rare ones who delivered when he spoke. He had a strong moral compass and saw the worth of our mission. He will be dearly missed.

The Historical Society has been named to receive donations in his honor, and the following people have made a contribution in Barry’s memory.

  • Virginia Aaron
  • Anonymous
  • Jodi & Gary Cullen
  • Lorraine DiPaolo
  • Hon. Eugene Fahey
  • Warren Feldman
  • Helen Freedman
  • Alice & Douglass Krauss
  • The Linda and Henry Wasserstein Foundation
  • Michael Mitchell
  • Daniel Stoller
  • Linda & Henry Wasseh
  • Beth & Earle Yaffa

If you are interested in learning more about Barry’s legal career — from the colleagues who worked with him at his firm for 65 years — please email history@nycourts.gov.

Hon. Thurgood Marshall

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

 

Though Hon. Thurgood Marshall was never a judge on the New York State courts, he spent much of his career in New York. In 1936, he became assistant special council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its New York offices. He later became the organization’s chief counsel. During this time, Justice Marshall represented the Brown family in the seminal case Brown v. the Board of Education, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that he would come to sit on, and winning a victory for integration in the school system.

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Elizabeth Jennings & Streetcar Desegregation in NYC

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

 

On July 16, 1854, a 24-year-old African American school teacher named Elizabeth Jennings and her friend, Sarah Adams, were on their way to church when they hailed a Third Avenue Railroad Company streetcar. It did not have a placard, and the women were immediately challenged by the conductor. Elizabeth refused to disembark and the streetcar continued on its route until the conductor sighted a police officer and requested his assistance. Between them, the two men roughly removed Elizabeth from the streetcar, and she found herself on the sidewalk with her “bonnet smashed and her dress soiled.”

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Hon. Edward R. Dudley: First African American Administrative Judge in NYS

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.


Prior to becoming a judge, in the early 1940’s, Edward R. Dudley was recruited by Thurgood Marshall, then Chief Counsel of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to become a Special Assistant Counsel at the Fund. In this period, before Brown v. Board of Education, the Judge worked on cases and wrote briefs seeking the admission of Black students to colleges in the south, equal pay for Black teachers, such as he had once been, and non-discriminatory public transportation. He also worked on voting rights cases. The NAACP developed a network of lawyers around the country who were willing to work on these cases. “[W]hen we got a case throughout the United States,” Judge Dudley said many years later, “we would call on these lawyers who were strategically placed, asked their help and they would give it. And this was the way we were able to handle far more than the number of cases that our office could handle itself.”

In the days before Brown, it was necessary to defend and advance the rights of the clients aggressively, but at the same time with judiciousness and care. Mr. Marshall was painfully aware that bringing a certain kind of challenge too early, before all the conditions for progress were ripe, could set the civil rights movement back 50 years.

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Mourning the Loss of Hon. Robert A. Katzmann, 1953-2021

We at the Historical Society of the New York Courts are deeply saddened about the tragic news this morning that Judge Robert A. Katzmann, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has passed away after a long illness. Judge Katzmann was 68 years old.

Speaking on behalf of the Second Circuit, Chief Judge Livingston said:

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The Oral Histories of Hon. George Bundy Smith and Hon. William C. Thompson

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

We are continuing the celebration with some of the pioneering Black judges in the New York State judiciary. The Society’s Oral History Project has given us the opportunity to record the reminiscences of Hon. George Bundy Smith and Hon. William C. Thompson. Both judges experienced racism early in their careers, but were able to overcome these early experiences to become preeminent jurists in the State and figures in their communities.

Hon. George Bundy Smith (Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, 1992-2006) describes his time as a Freedom Rider during the civil rights movement of the 1960s:

Coming back to Yale, in May 1961, one Sunday morning, I picked up a copy of the New York Times and I read that a bus had gone into Alabama. Persons there had been taken off the bus and beaten. And that really disturbed me. It just so happened that that Sunday evening, Reverend [Doctor William Sloane] Coffin [Jr., a leader of the program Crossroads Africa] called me and said, “We’re going to take a ride. We can’t let this situation continue in the South.” So to make a long story short, on that following Wednesday we flew from New York to Atlanta and we took a bus from Atlanta to Montgomery, Alabama…

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Hon. Jane M. Bolin: Judging Across Decades

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state. This article is adapted from an article by David L. Goodwin that was first published in the Dutchess County Historical Society Yearbook. The article in full appears here.

Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, but with a career in the five boroughs of New York City, Jane Matilda Bolin (1908–2007) is best known for a particular “first” of groundbreaking magnitude. She holds the honor of being the first African American judge in the entire United States, joining the bench of New York City’s Domestic Relations Court in 1939. Her appointment by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, which came as some surprise to Bolin herself — summoned with her husband to an audience with the mayor at the 1939 World’s Fair, she was not informed of the mayor’s intentions in advance — made “news around the world.”[2]

About that news: in announcing this historical judgeship, some outlets hedged the call, if ever so slightly. The Chicago Defender, which “chronicled and catalyzed [the African American] community’s greatest accomplishments for nearly a century,”[3] proudly announced that La Guardia had “smashed a precedent for the entire United States” because Bolin was “thought to be the first Race woman judge to be appointed in this country.”[4] About two months later, the Defender had eliminated the qualifier, describing Judge Bolin as the “first Race woman to serve as a judge in the history of America.”[5] And despite the shifting nature of historical inquiry, her title has held firm; on the sad occasion of her obituary, she was still, resolutely, “the first black woman in the United States to become a judge.”[6]

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Hon. Sheila Abdus-Salaam: First African American Woman Appointed to the New York State High Court

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

In celebration of our continuing series Every Month is Black History Month and in honor of Women’s History Month, we remember Hon. Shelia Abdus-Salaam. Shelia Abdus-Salaam was born in Washington, D.C., to working-class parents and educated in the city’s public schools. Upon earning her high school diploma, Judge Abdus-Salaam attended and graduated from Barnard College and Columbia University School of Law.

She began her judicial career with her election to the Civil Court of the City of New York in 1991. In 1993, she was elected to the Supreme Court of the State of New York for New York County and remained with the Court until 2009, when Governor David A. Paterson appointed her to the Appellate Division, First Department.  In 2013, Judge Abdus-Salaam became the first African American woman appointed to the bench of the New York Court of Appeals when Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate. After her nomination, the then-Justice said, “I have sought to uphold the laws of our state and treat all those who appear before me fairly and with respect and dignity. This nomination presents me with an opportunity to continue to serve New Yorkers and advocate for justice and fairness.”

During her short tenure on the Court of Appeals, Judge Abdus-Salaam accomplished her goal. In a statement following her colleague’s passing, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore stated:

“Her personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness, and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to know her. Sheila’s smile could light up the darkest room. The people of New York can be grateful for her distinguished public service.”

 

Catch up on the rest of our Every Month is Black History Month posts.

Every Month is Black History Month

Images from January, 2021 Calendar: Map depicting the status of slavery in the United States from 1775-1865, published 1893. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library.

Arrival of mail in New Amsterdam by Karl R. Free, a mural at the Ariel Rios Federal Building in Washington, D.C. Note the depiction of the enslaved person, in tattered clothing without shoes, receiving instruction about the mail delivery. Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

 

We at the Historical Society of the New York Courts believe every month is Black history month, as the achievements and struggles of Black people are deeply woven into the fabric of the State and nation. As such, our 2021 calendar Race and Slavery in the New York Courts, 1625-1860 investigates the evolving relationship the state had with the draconian practice of slavery.

Each month this year, we will be highlighting a program, an oral history, or a story about the impact of Black people on the New York Courts, beginning in February in celebration of Black History Month.

Society President Emeritus Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt writes in the opening of the 2021 calendar:

Our country is experiencing introspection into racial justice. As a historical society, it is right for us to examine this subject in the context of the New York State courts. The judiciary is but one of the three branches of government, and like the legislative and executive branches, it has influenced our political, social, economic, and cultural lives.

When it comes to the history of racial justice, and injustice, in our State, we look primarily to its antecedents, and for this we turn to the origins of slavery in New York, its evolution, and eventual abolition. The soil of what we now call New York had supported cultures eons before Europeans arrived here in the early 17th century. There are other important facets of racial justice in our history, but in this twelvemonth, we look at the roughly four centuries of our most recent history dealing with slavery. As I am completing a book on the Lemmon Slave Case, I can oblige by extrapolating some of my research and findings into a broader picture.

At the start, we might make an especially telling observation: New York has had slavery longer than not. Its trajectory has been toward freedom, but the line was neither swift nor straight. There were many fits and starts along the way.

 

Catch up on the rest of our Every Month is Black History Month posts.

Common Threads of Justice: Judith S. Kaye Teaching Fellowship Update

Over the next few weeks, we will be providing you with updates from our Judith S. Kaye Teaching Fellows as they teach remotely in BHSEC Queens and Manhattan. This week we are featuring new Fellow Jason Schulman, who is teaching Privacy, the Law, and New York on the Queens campus.

He had this to say:

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