Four Brooklyn lawyers are in the race for the 6th Municipal District Judiciary seat in Brooklyn in the New York Democratic Primary on Tuesday.
Chinyelu Udoh, Caroline Cohen, Tehilah Berman and Alice Nicholson are contesting the seat in the district that includes Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
The first two reached out and responded to questions by Caribbean Life, while the others have either failed to return repeated telephone calls and emails, or simply did not reach out to the paper at press time.
Both Udoh and Cohen expressed confidence in winning Tuesday’s primary.
Udoh — who was born in Los Angeles, whose parents are from Nigeria and a homeowner in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn since 2006 — said she has a “high probability of winning.”
“What sets me apart from and above the other candidates is my depth and breadth of legal experience in the civil, criminal and family court practices,” she told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview. “I am qualified to serve in the courts in any capacity on day one, as I have practiced in almost every jurisdiction within the courts.
“As a judicial law clerk, I have always been compassionate and respectful to everyone in the courts, and have done so without compromising my duty to follow the law,” she added. “My commitment to service in the community, and to my family and friends, are the most important responsibilities in my life, and I hope that I have earned the support from the community on this journey.”
Udoh said she has support and endorsements, as well as a campaign that is “community-based and grassroots.”
She said Jamaican-born Assemblyman Nick Perry, who represents the 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, has endorsed her, adding that she has “both a strong African American and Caribbean-based constituency.”
Udoh has also been endorsed by, among others, CWA Local 1109; Assemblywoman Jo Ann Simon; Former Assemblywoman Joan Millman; and Monique Chandler-Waterman, candidate for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
Udoh currently works as a law clerk to Acting Supreme Court Justice in New York county, Hon. Carol Ruth Feinman.
In this role, for the past nine years, she said she has served as liaison to the judge in “communicating directly with attorneys and pro se litigants in conferencing, negotiating and settling cases.”
She said she has been “deeply committed to public service” and her Brooklyn community, where she has lived for many years, with her parents, as her first role models, learning as she watched them plant roots as immigrants in the US.
Udoh credits her parents’ example of hard work and their dedication to family, friends and community as the “driving force” in her life – “to follow in their footsteps.”
On the other hand, Cohen, a civil rights attorney, said that, throughout her career, she has sought to “protect the most vulnerable.”
Educated at New York University, where she received her Master of Arts in non-profit management and Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, where she received her juris doctorate (J.D), a law degree, Cohen said she is a senior associate at Crumiller P.C., where she defends women facing workplace discrimination.
She said her work has touched on racial, immigrant and housing discrimination. Her law firm is set to open a new practice for women facing high rates of infant mortality.
“I’m incredibly proud to have such a wide portfolio of clients,” Cohen said. “Whether I’m protecting mothers who were fired after returning from maternity leave or tenants with gaping seven-foot holes in their wall, I know that I’m fighting to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in our courts.
“I will bring that dedication and mindset to the bench,” Cohen affirmed.
She claimed that Brooklyn’s judicial system is “often inefficient and insufficiently supportive of non-English speakers.
“Long wait times at courts mean that New Yorkers are forced to return to court on multiple different days in order to be heard by a judge,” Cohen said. “This is frequently impossible for workers and the elderly, many of whom never receive a fair hearing.”
As an attorney, Cohen said she has “seen this injustice firsthand”, promising to “maintain an orderly, efficient courtroom and advocate for additional funding for interpreters,” if elected to the bench.
If elected, she also has pledged to not charge minors as adults and to work to end cash bail.
“While some are skeptical of judicial elections, I view them as an opportunity to deeply engage our community on the issues they care about,” Cohen said. “You’re much more likely to meet an elected judge than your congressman; these elections give our community a stake in our legal system.”
Cohen said she has been found qualified by four judicial screening committees, including the New York City Bar Association and the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Brooklyn Assemblymembers Rodneyse Bichotte and Walter Mosley, as well as District Leaders Josue Pierre and Cory Provost have all endorsed her candidacy.
Cohen said she is also supported by the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club and Brooklyn Young Democrats. She is a member of the Ernest Skinner Political Association as well.
“Not a single candidate in the race for Civil Court Judge has more been found qualified more times or been endorsed by more community leaders,” she claimed.
Cohen said her “deep well of support” comes from, among other things, her “demonstrated commitment to the Caribbean-American community in Brooklyn.”
She said she, along with her family, have been “a consistent presence” at Caribbean events, such as the annual West Indian American Day Carnival Parade on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway and Haitian Flag Day.
In addition, Cohen said she marched with current Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Bichotte to defend temporary protected status for Haitians immigrants immediately after President Donald J. Trump threatened to rescind their Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Furthermore, after Trump was elected, Cohen co-founded Ditmas Civic, an organization focused on, among other things, helping immigrant families in the local Flatbush community.
Irrespective of the results in Tuesday’s primary, Cohen said she will “continue to vigorously advocate for the Caribbean community.
“Hearing people’s stories these past five years has only deepened my resolve to fight for New Yorkers throughout Brooklyn,” she said.