NYS Chief Judge visits SJU Law School

St. John’s students were given an inside look at the challenges facing the criminal justice system on Monday during a special lecture at the School of Law.

Chief Judge of the state of New York Judith S. Kaye spoke to students in the Inaugural Honorable Joseph W. Bellacosa Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence Lecture.

By the time University president the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., began his introductory speech, the Belson Court Room was already filled to capacity with law students, professors and federal judges of the state of New York.

Harrington said he was “stricken” over deciding what to say in introducing Bellacosa, a former dean of the School of Law who Harrington said has been a good friend of his for almost 15 years.

Bellacosa began his speech by speaking about Kaye, New York’s chief judge since 1993. He also applauded Maxine and Jerry Belson, “for their generosity and their gift -this room- for you students,” referring to the recent $2.5 million renovations to the Law School’s Belson Moot Courtroom.

“I’m juiced,” Kaye said after taking the floor. “Being with the students has been a wonderful experience.”

Kaye spoke about the enormous task that the 1,227 state courts have to face everyday in the state of New York, noting that she did not plan on talking about issues, like education funding, which the state of New York copes with every single day of the year.

She explained that she really desired to speak about the millions of cases each year that end up in front of family courts and criminal courts.

“The fact is that an enormous part of the business of the day court of the 21st century involves much, much more than looking for who is right and who is wrong,” Kaye said.
She referred to the myriad of real-life tragedies that the most needy, “needier than we can imagine,” she said, experience every day in New York.

“In the past 13 years of my term,” Kaye continued, “I [have been] challenged to answer the question of what is the true meaning of ‘delivering justice.'”

One in 143 persons in the United States, Kaye said, is sent to a correctional institution at some point in their life. In some cities, more than 50 percent of African American men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

The cost of housing, feeding and caring for these inmates amounts to more than $40 million every year, she said, adding that the price the children of criminal parents have to pay is incalculable. She said that a meaningful intervention in the lives of these criminals affects not only their futures but everyone’s future.

“The challenge is not simply to resolve the law questions,” Kaye said, “but to find a way to make every court intervention a meaningful intervention.” She called this “problem-solving justice,” which acts to address and resolve not just the immediate dispute, but also the underlining problems that each individual faces personally.

At the end of her speech, Kaye acknowledged her appreciation for Mary C. Daly, dean of the Law School and John V. Brennan professor of law and ethics.

“This is the most satisfying work I have ever done in my life,” Kaye said. “Today, right here in this neighborhood, our problem-solving court includes an intelligence court, a misdemeanor court, a mental health court, an integrated domestic violent court and now a brand new E.W.Y. court.”

When questioned about the problem of corrupt federal judges in New York, the subject of a New York Times front-page article on Monday, Kaye said, “We are taking a three-fold approach at the moment [to combat corruption]… But I want to make one point clear: these are local courts and are locally administered. Many of them operate wonderfully and beautifully. I have been to many of them myself and they operate very well.”