Brooklyn judges celebrate Law Day, honor themes of civics, collaboration and civility

law day celebration
Newly-appointed Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson addressed the crowd at the annual Law Day celebration on May 10.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Bigwigs of Brooklyn’s legal scene gathered in the Kings County Supreme Court building on May 10 to celebrate Law Day — giving the legal eagles a chance to muse over this year’s theme of “civics, civility and collaboration.”

The American Bar Association selected the theme, and judges and lawyers alike ruminated on what is widely perceived as increasing turbulence in the American political system and lack of civility within modern American society.

“Over 85% of Americans believe civility is worse than it was 10 years ago,” said Judge Deborah Kaplan.”Civility is about treating everyone with the dignity they deserve. If you wound someone’s dignity, it is the same as a bodily wound. By violating someone’s dignity, we do real harm to them.”

people at law day celebration
Judges and lawyers celebrated themes of civics, civility and collaboration at the annual event. Photo by Caroline Ourso

Keynote speaker Sylvia Hinds-Radix, the head of the city’s law department, said collaboration and discussion is critical for advancing the goals of the country. 

“When we talk about collaboration, we talk about our ability to talk to each other,” said Hinds-Radix. “Not just as a civil discourse, but as a discourse that helps us to understand what we can do, where we can go, and how we can better help each other achieve the goals that will benefit our nation.”

Newly-appointed Chief Judge Rowan Wilson took a divergent approach, recalling that while civility has its uses, most instances of significant political growth come from unrest.

sylvia hinds-radix at law day celebration
Sylvia Hinds-Radix, head of the city’s law department, said civility and collaboration are imperative to moving forward. Photo by Caroline Ourso

“The greatest triumphs of our society over the last 200 years were born out of conflict,” said Chief Judge Rowan Wilson. “They’re born out of times that were not the easiest and not the most civil.”

“But that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary, vital,” added Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson.

Chief Judge Wilson argued we should be more worried about American civic education.

“All statistics show civic education has fallen off,” said Wilson. “The legal system doesn’t work unless citizen are informed and care about the process.”

Judge Wilson argued that in order to increase civility amongst Americans, we should “focus our efforts on young people and civic education,” and include debate in school curriculums and push people to argue for the sides they don’t agree with, to help them understand other points of view. 

Hon. Frank Seddio called on attendees to remember members of the court who passed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

lawyers singing at law day
Judge Matthew D’Emic (left) and Judge Lawrence Knipel perform a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Photo by Caroline Ourso

“We have endured tremendous hardship,” said Hinds-Radix, reminding attendees that, although painful, the pandemic “taught us how to treat each other.”

“It taught us that yes, civility matters, and our collaboration makes this democracy stronger,” Hinds-Radix concluded.