By Jacob Kaye
Although it has been around for nearly a decade, the Asian American Judges Association of New York is just beginning to make a name for itself in the New York legal world, the association’s new president said.
The judges’ association recently held elections for its executive committee, which is now dominated by Queens judges.
The committee, which is made up of four elected officers and five board members, includes four Queens justices – Queens Supreme Court, Criminal Warrant Judge Ushir Pandit-Durant is now vice president of the association , Queens Civil Court Judge Changyong Li is Secretary, newly elected Queens Supreme Court Justice Karen Gopee is Treasurer, and Queens Supreme Court Justice Francis Wang is now a board member. administration.
Shahabuddeen A. Ally, the supervising judge of the New York County Civil Court, was elected for the following year as president of AAJANY.
“I keep pointing fingers at Queens because they have a very solid representation,” Ally told the Eagle. “I’m actually very jealous that Manhattan doesn’t have that representation.”
Ally begins her tenure with the organization as she enters her tenth year. Although it serves as a rallying point for Asian American judges, it has yet to fully take off from other judicial and legal associations, Ally said. But not for the fault of its members.
Asian Americans are among the least represented ethnic population on the New York State Bench, compared to the state’s entire Asian American population.
About 25% of Queens’ population is white, about 27% is Hispanic or Latino, about 17% is black, and about 27% of the borough’s population is Asian, according to census data. Asian Americans accounted for, by far, the strongest population growth in Queens over the past year — the population grew 29%, outpacing the borough’s overall growth of 7.8%.
But the story is different on the bench.
Asian judges, the least represented racial or ethnic group on the bench, make up about 6% of the Queens bench. White judges make up about 66% of the bench, 17% of judges are Latino and 17% are black, according to data from the Office of Court Management.
In the Queens’ Family Court, there is an Asian judge. There is no Asian American judge in the Borough Housing Court.
The lack of Asian American judges on the bench statewide was also a point raised by former US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who authored the Equal Justice in the Courts report in 2020.
AAJANY’s membership consists of 46 judges – 44 of them are based in New York.
While there’s still a lot of work to be done, diversity efforts on the bench appear to be headed in the right direction, Ally said.
“OCA has been a very good partner in trying to promote and advance all judges, and, in particular, Asian American judges,” Judge said.
Retired Queens Justice Randall Eng became the first Asian American justice to serve on the New York State Supreme Court in 1991. Many Asian American judges currently on the bench are still breaking the barriers.
Ally is the first supervising South Asian judge in state history. When she was elected last year, Gopee became the first South Asian justice elected to sit on the bench of the Supreme Court.
“[Hopefully] one or two lawyers look at Judge Gopee and say, ‘Wait a second, I can do it – if she did it, I can do it,’ Ally said. “That’s all it takes, it really is that simple. But without these landmarks, we are lost.
The judge says representation goes a long way – especially in his own history with the law.
Ally, whose family is originally from Guyana, was named after one of the country’s former attorneys general, who served after Guyana’s liberation from British colonial rule and helped draft the country’s postcolonial constitution. country.
Diversity on the bench means “more public confidence” in the justice system, Ally said.
“Judges are public servants and we only exist to serve the public and the community,” he said. “I think when you have a bench where people come from different places, where their backgrounds are different, that variety of perspectives helps to get better results.”
This allied representation may be the key to further diversifying the bench.
“What we want to do is inspire someone to have a desire to be a judge,” he said.
In this vein, AAJANY will begin to organize a number of events drawing attention to the accomplishments of Asian American judges and will engage with a number of organizations in the legal community in Queens and New York to awareness of their efforts.
OCA spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said the OCA recognizes the importance of diversity throughout the justice system, and particularly in courts that deal more directly with members of the public.
“We are acutely aware of the importance of diversity, or lack thereof, which can impact the criminal justice system,” Chalfen said in a statement to the Eagle. “That’s why in all areas where we have greater influence over judicial appointments, like the New York City Housing Court, the bench more fully reflects all New Yorkers. And why the Chief Justice defends the simplification of the judicial structure, which would directly lead to a larger pool of candidates, as well as to better serve all litigants.