By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Kings County Civil Court's Gender Fairness Committee held its annual luncheon where it honored three people with the Trailblazer Award as part of Women’s History Month including Justice Michelle Weston, Marc Levine and Helene Blank in Downtown Brooklyn last Friday.
“This is March, which means it's Women's History Month. It's a month where we pause and reflect on the progress that we've made and celebrate the people who paved the way for us to be successful,” said Hon. Ingrid Joseph, supervising judge of the Civil Court. “Like the song says, there are still many rivers to cross and many mountains to climb to make sure that gender equality is the norm.”
The luncheon took place on the third floor of the Livingston Street court. A lot of the judges from the court, the court staff and the families of the honorees were on hand to celebrate and eat pizza. Each honoree was introduced and then gave a brief speech.
Judge Richard J. Montelione introduced Marc Levine first. He spoke of Levine’s work with the Gay/Straight Alliance, which he was the president of since he helped to create the group in 2003. He also spoke of the work Levine is currently doing as executive director of the newly formed LGBT Commission.
“It was very hard in the beginning of the alliance to get people to come to meetings,” Levine said. “People were still very much in the closest and if you weren't a judge, you were scared ... It is your right to be who you are. It's not my right to tell you how to be. We're entering a world where people get to decide who they are — period. And that's OK.”
Judge Theresa M. Ciccotto then introduced Blank, who is the immediate past president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association. Ciccotto spoke highly of her friend and credited Blank with making her a better judge.
“I'm thrilled to accept this award, but I'm also sad,” Blank said. “It's joyful to be here in Civil Court, Kings County, amongst some of the most wonderful people in the profession. The sadness about this award is that we still need and have to have a gender fairness committee and an anti-bias commission. It gives me hope and joy looking at this room and looking up all the people that make up the judiciary here that one day these awards won't be necessary for anybody.”
Finally, Judge Gary F. Marton introduced Weston. He spoke about not only the great work she has done as a member of the judiciary, but also in her community as a private citizen and also with the local bar associations.
“I was never aware of gender issues until I walked into law school,” Weston admitted. “My law school was a progressive school, but they made it clear that we were entering a male-dominated elite world of law and that we should be grateful to be here. We were not pampered or encouraged, indeed we were often discouraged.
“What I want to say to judges out here — remember why you became a judge,” Weston continued. “You didn't get this job for the money. Remember your roots, remember your foundation. Don't be afraid to make those tough decisions, you do make a difference.”