Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commision - Promoting Racial and Ethical Fairness in the Courts

In This Issue


Farewell Message from the Chair

Major Clemont Mack Promotion

  Office for Justice Initiatives

  Cervantes Society Ceremony  

Pathways to the Bench Panel

NYCLA Public Service Award

  The Julliard School Concert    

Farewell Message from the Chair


My retirement as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Term, First Department, also brings my stepping down as Chair of the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission. It has been my honor and pleasure to serve as Chair. The Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission has been at the forefront of justice issues since it was made a permanent part of the New York State Office of Court Administration in 1991. I am proud to be part of that legacy started by ambassador civil rights activist Franklin H. Williams and continued by my predecessors Hon. Rose H. Sconiers and Hon. Lewis L. Douglass. It is a legacy that has contributed to a court system moving towards diversity and promoting the equal and fair treatment of all people.

During my tenure, it was of upmost importance to me to promote a smarter approach on crime and solutions other than extensive prison sentences for long standing societal issues. The Commission through the conference, “Mass Incarceration: Mercy Matters” brought together experts to discuss how to fix a broken system. The attendees left empowered with information and actions that will make a difference in communities. Indeed, finding a less punitive approach to these issues is key to ending mass incarceration. The conference was a significant step in that direction. Mercy must matter if we are to move towards a just, productive and humane society.

I am grateful for the support of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Honorable Lawrence Marks, Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts of New York State, Ron Younkins, Executive Director and Barry Clarke, Chief of Operations for their continued support of the Commission and listening to our concerns.

I am also grateful to each member of the Commission for their support during my tenure and for their continued efforts towards the common goal of a more just, and equal legal system.


Hon. Edwina Mendelson &
Michelle Smith, Esq. Interview


Hon. Edwina Mendelson and Michelle Smith, Esq.


Conversation with Hon. Edwina Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the Office for Justice Initiatives and Michelle Smith, Esq. Chief of Staff

On March 30, 2017, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in conjunction with Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced the appointment of Honorable Edwina G. Mendelson as Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives. Shortly thereafter, Judge Mendelson appointed Michelle Smith, Esq. as her Chief of Staff.

1) What inspired or influenced you to pursue a career in the law?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - As a child, Judge Mendelson knew she wanted to do something to help others. Although she initially thought she would become a doctor, an aversion to blood made her realize the best way to help others was by becoming an attorney.

Michelle Smith - Michelle Smith attributes her pursuit of law to a desire to help those who are unprotected and with limited resources. Having grown up in Harlem at a time when there was marked economic decline, de-funding of educational and community based programs and a proliferation of illegal drugs, Ms. Smith knew that she wanted to be a voice for the less fortunate. It was part of her family’s legacy. Her grandfather was a source of advice for his community in South Carolina and although a myriad of issues including race prevented him from becoming an attorney, Ms. Smith would fulfill her family’s dream of having an attorney in the family.

2) What are your primary initiatives for the Office for Justice Initiatives (OJI)?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - Judge Mendelson’s number one priority is to identify specific needs in order to better serve and educate the community on the operations of the court and access to justice programs.

3) What do you see as the greatest challenges to achieving the goals of the Office for Justice Initiatives?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - The most challenging issue is developing an effective strategic approach that will have the greatest impact. Although most access to justice programs were started in Civil and Family Courts, Judge Mendelson intends to include issues of all the courts, especially the Criminal Courts.

Judge Mendelson noted that NYS courts have been improving access to justice initiatives since 1999. As the first Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, Justice Juanita Bing-Newton developed the platform for providing greater access. Justice Fern Fisher continued the legacy when she served as Director of Access to Justice Initiatives and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge. Justice Fisher was instrumental in making the New York State Access to Justice program known worldwide.

Currently the Office for Justice Initiatives has expanded its mission to include new challenges such as implementation of the recent legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State (“Raise The Age”). Judge Mendelson along with Judge Michael Coccoma, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts outside of NYC, are co-leaders of OCA’s statewide court implementation of this policy. Judge Mendelson and Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, are spearheading implementation within New York City.

Along with being Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for OJI, Judge Mendelson is the presiding judge of the Supreme Court Youth Part in New York County. In 1992, Judge Michael Corriero created this special court for juvenile offenders. In 2008, Judge Padro presided in the part and Michelle Smith was Judge Padro’s court attorney. Judge Mendelson assumed the Youth Part in 2016 after Judge Padro’s retirement. The Youth Part was expanded that same year to include felony cases of nearly all youth ages eighteen and younger, who are charged as adults.

4) What would you like to leave as your legacy as Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for OJI?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - Judge Mendelson believes it is too early in her tenure to discuss legacy but feels she has been gifted to have this position. Her focus is to do the very best and help as many people as possible.

5) What traits do you think one should possess if they want to follow your path of success?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - Judge Mendelson stresses that nothing worthwhile comes without hard work. Throughout her career and life – whether it was pursuing her Ph D, or teaching as a single parent – the chief component has been hard work.

Judge Mendelson also believes in being authentic in all endeavors. She does not behave or speak any differently at home, work, the courtroom or in her place of worship. She stresses to new judges to emulate good habits and traits from others on the bench yet be authentic to oneself.

The other crucial component to success is to have a balanced life and to temper work with the appropriate amount of rest and self-care.

Judge Mendelson comments, “Because we have an education, we are privileged to have choices in our life. It is important to find work that is of value and of service and that fuels your soul.”

Michelle Smith - Ms. Smith emphasizes the importance of being passionate about your work. Throughout her career, Michelle has performed work she loved and when she became weary and needed a change she made the difficult step to embark on new challenges. She says that you have to be willing to learn something new. It takes courage to start over at something that makes you feel less capable but with hard work it can lead to greater happiness.

6) What do you think diversity in the courts mean?

Hon. Edwina Mendelson - Judge Mendelson believes that providing opportunities for everyone is key. She states, “As it is with other thorny issues we face, we should not take the easy way out and say, ‘Well isn’t that a shame.’ Instead we must always remember that we have the power and ability to make things better. Our personal actions to improve diversity and inclusion in NYS must be as compelling as our words.”


Pathway to the Bench Panel


Hon. Joanne Quiñones, Hon. Charles Ramos, Hon. Jenny Rivera, Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, Hon. Judge Faviola Soto


On November 25, 2017, the Hispanic National Bar Association – Region II & The Latino Judges Association presented a seminar, “Pathways to the Bench: A State Court Judge Panel.” The panelists included judges from all levels of New York State Court: Judge Jenny Rivera, Court of Appeals; Justice Reinaldo Rivera, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department; Judge Faviola Soto, Court of Appeals; Judge Charles Ramos, Second Department Commercial Division and Justice Joanne Quiñones, Supreme Court Criminal Term. Justice Quinones also is a member of the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission and Chair of the Judicial Mentor program. The event was held at Loeb & Loeb LLP.


Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg, Regional President, Hispanic National Bar Association, Region II (NY) and Stephen A. Aschettino, Loeb & Loeb, LLP


The Julliard School Concert


Nash Ryder, Angela Kim, Jessica Hong, Erin Pitts


On November 29, 2017, students from The Julliard School performed works by Beethoven in the Rotunda at 60 Centre Street.


Major Clemont Mack Promoted


Major Clemont Mack


Commission Member Major Clemont Mack was recently promoted from Lieutenant to the rank of Major. Major Mack has twenty years of experience in the Bronx Criminal Court serving as a lieutenant and executive officer.

His responsibilities include ensuring the safety of judges, staff and members of the public, and furthering the goals of the Chief Judge DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative.


Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month


Left: Hon. Eric A. Gonzalez, Hon. Francois A. Rivera, Hon. Wilma Guzman, Grace Machuca, Major Luz Bryan (at podium). Center: Member of El Taller Latino Americana Dancers. Right: Hon. Ariel E. Belen, Court Officer Edwin Colon, Sergeant Jessica Hernandez, and Robin E. King


On October 26, 2017, The Cervantes Society hosted the Twenty-Second Annual Awards Ceremony celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. The event was held at New York County Supreme Court. The master of ceremonies was Hon. Ariel E. Belen, JAMS Mediator and Arbitrator. The honorees included Hon. Eric Gonzalez, Kings County District Attorney; Hon. Wilma Guzman, Justice, Bronx County Supreme Court and President of the Supreme Court Justices Association; and Hon. Francois A. Rivera, Justice, Kings County Supreme Court. A special Certificate of Recognition was given to Robin E. King, Secretary to Judge Faviola Soto. The 2017 Gilberto Ramirez Scholarship recipient was Samara Linda Santiago.


2017 New York County Lawyers Association Public Service Awards


Michael McNamara, NYCLA president, Catherine Christian, Mary Chris Greene, Neil M. Corwin, Dafna Yoran, Daphne Schlick, Magda Rosa-Rios, Angela Albertus, Elise Brown, and Hon. Troy K. Webber


On September 13, 2017, the New York County Lawyers Association honored outstanding public service attorneys. The recipients of the 2017 Public Service Awards had greatly improved the lives of those they served. Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission member Justice Troy Webber of the Appellate Division, First Department was the guest speaker at 27th annual ceremony.

The honorees included Angela Albertus, Chief of Family Court Division at New York City Law Department; Elise Brown, Deputy Director and Director of Housing Litigation at Mobilization for Justice; Neil M. Corwin, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York; Mary Chris Greene, Principal Court Attorney at Manhattan Supreme Court Civil branch, New York County; Magda Rosa-Rios, Citywide Director of Tenants’ Rights Coalition and Acting Attorney-in-charge at the Civil Practice’s Harlem Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society, Civil Practice; Daphne Schlick, Director of New York Legal Assistance Group’s; and Dafna Yoran, Senior Trial Counsel at New York County District Attorney’s Office. The event was chaired by Catherine A. Christian, Special Assistant District Attorney for External Affairs, Chief, Elder Abuse Unit, New York County District Attorney’s Office.

We salute the honorees for their dedication and commitment to making a difference in people’s lives and the legal community.

Office of Court Administration Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission  25 Beaver Street, Room 861 • New York, New York 10004 Commission MembersHon. Richard B. Lowe, ChairHon. Troy K. Webber, 1st Vice Chair Sandra Rivera, Esq, 2nd Vice Chair Hon. Vanessa Bogan T. Andrew Brown, Esq. Hon. George B. Daniels Hon. Kathie Davidson Linda Dunlap-Miller, J.D., MSW Lenora B. Foote, Esq. Hon. Craig D. Hannah Nadine C. Johnson, Esq. Hon. Barbara R. Kapnick Paul Kenny, Esq. Lenore Kramer, Esq. Hon. Yvonne lewisHon. Doris Ling-Cohan Major Clemont Mack Hon. Stephen T. Miller Hon. Eduardo Padro Hon. Joanne D. Quiñones Hon. Richard Rivera Hon. Robert E. Torres Adrienne Williams, Esq.Hon. Rose H. Sconiers, Chair Emeritus Hon. Lewis L. Douglass, Chair Emeritus Joyce Y. Hartsfield, Executive Director Karlene Dennis, Associate Counsel