By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Kings County Housing Court Bar Association (KCHCBA) held its first official meeting of 2017 on Thursday at Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar where Judge Bruce Scheckowitz issued a challenge to its members to apply to become judges within the Housing Court system.
“We are not getting enough candidates who are strong candidates with experience in landlord tenant law,” Scheckowitz said. “There is going to be a tremendous number of openings in the next two to five years because there are a number of judges who have reached the points in their careers that they can leave.
“We need to get more strong applicants in the future so that this court remains a strong court and we need to have a broader range of applicants,” he added.
The KCHCBA holds regular meetings on the first Thursday of each month and at every meeting it hosts a different judge to give a lecture or answer questions. It’s similar to a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) meeting, but slightly less formal while maintaining a level of collegiality. This month, KCHCBA President Michael Rosenthal expected Scheckowitz to discuss difficult cases involving difficult tenants or opposition, however, the judge quickly changed things up.
“When I became a judge in 1999 there were over 300 applicants for judgeships,” Scheckowitz said. “For four or five spots this year, we had 57 applicants.”
The judge explained that in addition to not having nearly enough candidates apply for positions, they also aren’t getting enough judges from various backgrounds. It has been especially hard finding candidates who represent landlords in court.
The group discussed the possibilities for why more people aren’t applying for positions. Scheckowitz joked that the courthouse building itself, notorious for being one of the worst in the borough, is one of the top three reasons the court struggles to attract talent. But he went on to say that he thought the pay, nearly $180,000 per year for Housing Court judges, is sufficient. The KCHCBA president said that timing may be an issue.
“One thing that you see now which wouldn't have been the case 15-20 years ago is that at most of the large landlord-tenant firms, most of the partners are aging out,” said Rosenthal, who speculated why the court is having trouble attracting prospective judges. “The partners are all beginning to retire and the associates who are there are seeing this as an opportunity to become the partners and start making some serious money. If they see that as a real opportunity they'll be less likely to become a judge than when the people who ran the firms were not going anywhere for a long time.”
Scheckowitz also discussed the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Housing Court Initiative of 1997. The initiative was created as a sort of a blueprint for the Housing Court, but as the judge noted, many of the goals when it was created have been achieved, so the court is looking to upgrade it for the next 20 years. Scheckowitz took suggestions from the KCHCBA.
“I think this court needs new energy to represent the people of the city, not just certain segments of the city,” he said. “That's my challenge to you guys.”