Brooklyn pols condemn racist attacks on Haitian American jurist

Judge Dweynie Esther Paul.
Roman Vail Photography

Several Brooklyn legislators and community leaders have strongly condemned what they described as “vicious and unfounded allegations” levelled against Haitian American Judge Dweynie Esther Paul, a frontrunner in the Kings County Surrogate’s Court race, and her deceased mother.

Leaders expressing outrage over the attacks included Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, Senators Kevin Parker and Roxanne J. Persaud; New York State Assembly Members Nick Perry, Latrice Walker, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, Jaime Williams, Mathylde Frontus, Stefani Zinerman; Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Farah N. Louis, Robert Cornegy, Mark Treyger and Justin Brannan; District Leaders Annette Robinson and Henry Butler; and members of the clergy, Pastor Shaun J. Lee and the Rev. Al Cockfield.

Last Monday, the New York Daily News reported that Judge Paul, a civil court judge, “has been dogged by lawsuit allegations that she cheated a home care worker hired to help her mother out of $264,000 in wages and overtime.”

Paul — the daughter of Haitian immigrants and one of two candidates to replace retiring Surrogate Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres — has denied the charges, according to the Daily News.

It said, though the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2017, “the allegations have resurfaced in an online article and on social media — right in the middle of her campaign.”

Judge Paul, 43, has said the employee never worked for her, but for her late mother, according to the Daily News.

“Paul’s accomplishments on and off the bench demonstrate her character, integrity, compassion and fairness,” said Perry, who represents the 58th Assembly District. “No longer will the estates of low income and minority individuals be treated as income creators for a select group of wealthy lawyers.”

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District, said she found it “truly disturbing that, despite the harm we’ve all experienced in this era of misinformation, deception and distraction, we continue to see these tactics weaponized and brandished to derail, destroy and deter women from seeking to serve the public.

“As Black women seek to advance, especially in public service, I’ve noticed an alarming trend: the impugning of their character by accusations largely unrelated to their duties,” said Clarke, who heads the Brooklyn Black Elected Officials Coalition. “This is a harmful and divisive practice that must cease immediately.

“Judge Dweynie Esther Paul has diligently served our beloved city, and I am confident she will continue to do so,” she added. “Judge Paul, currently a civil court judge and George Washington University Law School graduate, was found qualified by an independent judicial screening panel, composed of practicing lawyers from various bar associations.”

Judge Paul said she was “deeply saddened that an unfounded allegation filed against my deceased mother targeting me is being used to assassinate my character.

“It was my duty to protect my elderly mother,” she said. “A family decision was made to resolve the case in an effort to allow us to enjoy our time with her until she passed in 2019 with dementia. This matter was disclosed in detail to the judicial screening panel. I never employed the complainant.

“As a Black woman, raised in a union household, I personally understand, respect and stand for all workers in the fight for strong labor laws,” Judge Paul added. “I am running to reform our Surrogate Court. I know voters will judge me on my judicial merits, integrity and character.”

“Instead of vilifying Judge Paul, we should applaud her unwavering commitment to her elderly mother and should be looking for solutions to make it possible for Black and Brown women to have professional careers and also take care of their families,” said Cumbo, New York City Council Majority Leader, who is the mother of a three-year-old child and the sole caretaker of two 80-year-old parents. “These difficult circumstances will make Judge Paul the type of empathetic Judge we need right now because she has lived through the very experiences of those who come to Surrogate’s Court.”

Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said: “In the face of systemic inequities which have reached a boiling point over the course of the pandemic, it is more important now than ever that the person we support for Surrogate will stand for the interests of the people.

“I will always support the most qualified candidate for the job,” added the representative for the 42nd Assembly District. “In this case, that is unequivocally Judge Paul.”

“Judge Paul has conducted herself always with dignity, integrity, compassion and respect at all times. We will not allow anyone to besmirch the reputation and character of Judge Dweynie Esther Paul, neighbor, friend and candidate for Kings County Surrogate Court Judge,” District Leaders Butler and Robinson.

Walker said: “It is offensive to try to muddy the reputation of a Black woman who rose through the ranks with hard work and the guidance and inspiration of her deceased mother.

“Judge Paul has brought fairness and justice to the courtroom,” she added. “I am confident she will continue to make us all proud as the next Kings County Surrogate.”

Ampry-Samuel said “this is another example of the abuse of a Black woman with impeccable credentials.

“Black women are continuously devalued and portrayed as underqualified,” she said. “Judge Paul will always keep to the highest judicial standards and ethics.”

Persaud, the Guyanese-born representative for the 19th Senate District, said she knows Judge Paul to be “a competent, genuine and caring individual focused on justice.

“Judge Paul’s family matters should not be in an election conversation,” she affirmed.

Louis, the Haitian-American representative for the 45th Council District, said: “We cannot tolerate the offensive and deceitful smear against Judge Paul.

“These attacks were meant to sow division,” she said. “Instead, we are united against every effort to discredit this experienced candidate in the race for Surrogate Court.

“We stand with Judge Paul, whose service on the bench and within our community has been exemplary,” Louis added.

Trinidadian-born Williams said, “as Caribbean-Americans know, we know there is no stronger commitment then caring for elderly parents.

“Defaming a hard working competent and sincere public servant is a disgrace,” she said. “I stand with Judge Dweynie Esther Paul.”

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