With significant expansion of real estate in Brooklyn in recent times, a Caribbean-born judge in Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn said she was up to the challenge in presiding over the Commercial Division of the court.
“It’s a very challenging role, given the fact that real estate development in Brooklyn has quadrupled,” said Justice Sylvia Ash, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago to a Vincentian father and a Grenadian mother, in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview.
“Brooklyn is becoming like another Manhattan,” added Justice Ash, who was appointed presiding judge in the court’s Commercial Division in January 2016. “Prices of real estate has gone up considerably. It’s very challenging because it’s an ever-growing field.
“As the first person of color to sit as the presiding judge in Kings County Supreme Court, it’s very challenging, but I’m up to the challenge,” she continued.
In April 2016, Justice Ash was also appointed a member of the 11-member New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct by Chief Judge of New York State, Janet DeFiore.
Justice Ash is also the only African-American and one of two women on the commission.
The members on the Commission are appointed by six different officers of government: Four are appointed by the governor; Three by the chief judge; and one each by the speaker of the New York State Assembly, the minority leader of the assembly, the president of the New York Senate (Majority Leader) and the minority leader of the senate.
The commission was created in 1978 in the Judiciary Article of the Constitution (Article 6, Section 22). Its enabling statute is the Judiciary Law (Article 2-A, Sections 40-48).
Justice Ash said the commission is the sole state agency responsible for “receiving, initiating, investigation and conducting evidentiary trials with respect to complaints of misconduct or disability against judges and justices of the New York State Unified Court System,” which comprises about 3,500 judges and justices.
The agency’s sole mission is to dispose of complaints that judges have engaged in misconduct, Justice Ash said.
On March 15, 2014, Justice Ash was among five Black female justices to receive a United States Congressional Honor during the all-day 3rd Annual Shirley Chisholm Women’s Empowerment Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. The late Congresswoman Chisholm, the daughter of Barbadian and Guyanese immigrants, was the first Black woman to run for the presidency of the United States.
Justice Ash had received the award from United States Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
Clarke’s mother, the trail-blazing ex-New York City Council Member Dr. Una Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman to ever hold elective office in New York City, presented the award to Ash and the other honorees at a special ceremony at the culmination of the conference.
The other honorees at the time were Justices Barbadian-born Sylvia Hinds-Radix, L. Priscilla Hall, Cheryl E. Chambers and Sharen D. Hudson.
Prior to her election to the Brooklyn Supreme Court, Justice Ash was the first Caribbean-American woman to be elected as a Civil Court Judge in New York City.
In 1984, immediately after graduating from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., Justice Ash accepted a position as a Judicial Law Clerk in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division. She was the first person of color to serve in that position.
In 1985, Justice Ash joined the legal staff of District Council 37 Municipal Employees Legal Services Plan in New York City. DC 37 is the largest municipal labor union in New York State.
In this labor union setting, Justice Ash provided legal representation to the council’s 125,000 state, city and municipal employees, specializing in real estate, family, administrative and immigration law.
She was the supervising attorney in the union’s Family and Administrative Law Units and the chief counsel of the Immigration Law Unit.
Prior to taking the judicial bench, Justice Ash was a practicing attorney for over 20 years.
In this capacity, she was the general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Social Service Chapter in New York City, where she provided pro bono legal services to the chapter’s members. The NAACP is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States.
Additionally, Justice Ash was very active in her community, and volunteered her legal talent and acumen to numerous civic, religious, labor and not-for-profit organizations, including youth mentorship programs.
She was a strong and vocal advocate of children’s rights issues and supported programs that impacted the development of the family unit.
Justice Ash said these issues motivated her to volunteer and serve as a victim services liaison for battered women and abused children.
Justice Ash was the proud recipient of the Brooklyn Bar Association’s 2012 Award in recognition of “Outstanding Achievement in the Science of Jurisprudence and Public Service.”
After earning her Juris Doctorate (law) degree from Howard University School of Law, she was admitted to practice law in the state of New York in 1985 and in the United States District Court, Southern and Eastern Districts in 1990.