Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court judge Harriet L. Thompson resigns days before misconduct hearing

harriet s. thompson being sworn in
Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Harriet L. Thompson will resign from her post, state officials announced Monday, claiming she is medically unfit to stand trial or maintain her position. Thompson was facing a misconduct investigation.
File photo by Caroline Ourso

A Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court judge will leave office after being accused of misconduct in the courthouse, state officials announced on Monday. 

Harriet L. Thompson, who took her seat on the bench in 2019, has agreed to give up her position and never seek or accept another judicial office, according to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Thompson was accused of making racist and homophobic comments about her colleagues, and was set to face a formal hearing on the allegations on Jan. 17.

The judge’s lawyers claimed that Thompson was “medically unfit” to stand trial due to a shoulder injury, according to legal documents, and later admitted that she was also unfit to continue to serve as a judge. She will officially retire on March 1. 

harriet l. thompson at surrogate's court swearing-in
Thompson (center) was sworn in for a 10-year term as Brooklyn Surrogate in 2019. A special election will be held to fill her seat.File photo by Caroline Ourso

Thompson was suspended from her post by the state Office of Court Administration in December 2021 after she was accused of making hateful, disparaging remarks about gay people, Hispanic people, and more. The Daily News reported at the time complainants said Thompson said she assumed any Hispanic litigant was a liar, and an affidavit signed by a fellow judge accused her of making racist comments about her colleagues in the court.

Late last month, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge partially reinstated Thompson, ruling the OCA had overstepped their authority in taking away her access cards, work computer, and keys — but did not allow her to start hearing cases again.

Two and a half weeks later, on Jan. 9, Thompson chose to step away from the bench. Her 10-year term was set to expire in 2029. She was collecting a $210,900 annual salary, according to the CJC decision. 

According to the CJC’s decision, in addition to making hateful remarks about her colleagues and litigants, Thompson did not finish a mandatory campaign ethics course when she ran for Surrogate Court in 2018, and “failed to administer Surrogate Court matters in a timely manner, leading to substantial delays.” Thompson denied allegations of misconduct last summer.

“The conduct charged against Judge Thompson was egregious and, if established at trial, would have warranted her removal from office,” said CJC administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian in a statement. “She now claims a medical condition prevents her from performing judicial duties, which opens a different path in furtherance of the public interest for her immediate and permanent departure from the bench.”

kings county supreme court
A Kings County Supreme Court Judge will fill in for Thompson until a special election can be held to fill Thompson’s position, per a courts spokesperson. Google Maps

In New York, Surrogate’s Court oversees wills and estates, guardianships and adoptions, and more. The position is elected, not appointed, so there will be a special election to replace her, according to a court spox — though a date has not yet been set. In the meantime, the courts have appointed Kings County Supreme Court Justice Bernard Graham as interim judge. 

Thompson isn’t the only Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge to leave the bench in scandal — in 2005, former judge Michael Feinberg was removed by the state Court of Appeals for illegally awarding millions of dollars in legal fees to a friend of his. Two years later, Frank Seddio resigned as the CJC prepared to investigate alleged misconduct. Seddio went on to become the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and still maintains an active law practice.

Editor’s note: Justice Bernard Graham is the father of Schneps Media employee and Brooklyn Paper alum Aidan Graham.