Guyanese-born Justice Ingrid Joseph says she’s “privileged and blessed” that she gets “to do work that I love” by sitting on the judicial bench in Brooklyn and Queens.
Joseph — who was elected as a Supreme Court Justice of the State of New York during the Midterm Elections on Nov. 6, for a 14-year-term, which begins on Jan. 2, 2019 and ends Dec. 31, 2033 — said her plan, as a judge, is “to do justice wherever I can.
“To give everyone who appears before me an opportunity to be heard and to render decisions that are thoughtful, fair, balanced and in keeping with the law,” she told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Friday, Dec. 7.
“I choose the law as my career because I like helping to solve problems, and I wanted to be a judge because the courts are often the only avenue some people have to address societal issues,” Justice Joseph added. “I also like the intellectual challenge of mastering new areas of the law and using it to render justice.
“When I sit on the bench, I represent first and foremost the members of the Joseph family; then I am a woman, a Caribbean / South American / Afro American / and a five-footer; but, mostly, I represent someone who wants to help to resolve the issues of the community,” she continued.
Joseph was first elected as a countywide judge to the Civil Court in 2008. That Civil Court seat was slated as vacancy 18 on the ballot in the Democratic Primary Election on Sept. 13.
There were two incumbents (current sitting judges) seeking re-election to Countywide Civil Court seats: Joseph and Loren Bailey. The contenders for those seats were Sheryl Orwell and Saul Cohen.
According to the Board of Elections’ Unofficial Election Night Results, a total of 388,119 votes were cast. Joseph received 133,372 votes; Bailey 118,520; 88,366 votes and Cohen 45,995 votes; with 1866 write-in votes.
After her first election in 2008, Joseph said she began her tenure as a judge in January 2009, serving for nine years and nine months before her re-election.
During her 10 years in Civil Court in Brooklyn and Queens, Joseph said she presided over cases (personal injury trials and motions, name changes and small claims); Family court in Brooklyn (custody and visitation); and the Supreme Court in Brooklyn (matrimonial).
In addition to her duties as a civil court judge, Joseph said she was appointed acting justice of the Supreme Court in 2012, working for seven years in that capacity.
She was promoted to supervising judge of the Civil Court in January 2017.
Prior to becoming a judge, Joseph was a principal law clerk, primarily for two Supreme Court Justices, Nicholas Clemente and Mark Partnow, working primarily in working primarily in the areas of medical malpractice and personal injury.
Joseph, who resided in Georgetown, the Guyanese capital, before migrating to the US, graduated with honors from Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn.
She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree (cum laude) from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and received a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from New York Law school.
She began her legal career at two law firms, where she handled wills and provided legal estate planning services to clients.
Justice Joseph said she also served as an adjunct professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where she shared her knowledge and love of the law with students.
She said her challenges sitting on the bench involve maintaining judicial demeanor, “even when litigants and attorneys misbehave.
“I handle it by recognizing that people sometimes only have the experience of court through television programs, which, most of the time, does not always reflect the day-to-day procedures of the court,” she said.
Justice Joseph added that she takes a recess “to allow everyone to calm down, taking the time to establish guidelines, and explaining the procedures and expectations as to behavior in a court house.”
She, however, said her successes involved helping to resolve a case that has been pending for several years.
“It also means being prepared to handle cases involving difficult litigants and attorneys in such a way that, at the end of the day, justice has been served, and all parties have had their day in court,” she said.
Justice Joseph said her advice to anyone interested in the law is the same that she gives to young students that she visits during career day each year.
“Before making a decision, take an internship in the area in which you are interested, determine if your dream of what you want to do survives when it meets with day-to-day reality,” she advised.
“Then, determine if you are passionate about what you want to do with your life,” she added. “Envision yourself doing it for 30, 40 or 50 years. Know that there will be obstacles that will cross your path, work hard and smart to overcome them.
“Choose friends who are smarter and just as or more motivated than you,” Justice Joseph continued. “Don’t put limitations on yourself, and separate yourself if you can from the negative people in your life, who can and will tell you in a million ways why you won’t succeed.
“Prove them wrong by succeeding, and enjoy the fruits of your labor but don’t forget where you came from; and lend a hand, a finger or a toe to someone who needs your guidance to succeed in life,” she added.