Meet Attorney Connie M. Melendez one of 11 candidates running for the five countywide open judge seats on the Kings County Civil Court bench.
Melendez has been a principal law clerk to Judge Marsha Steinhardt of the New York State Supreme Court for over eight years and touts her courtroom experience as one of the noteworthy advantages over her contenders. A law clerk’s responsibility is to research case-law and provide legal determinations in writing.
“My work with her for over the past eight and a half years has honed in the skills of thinking like a judge has to think,” said Melendez, adding that working as a clerk is just one of the qualities needed to preside over a courtroom.
We were having quiche lorraine at Maison Kayser, 57 Court Street, in Brooklyn’s judicial district with both the state and federal courthouses nearby in Cadman Plaza. The candidate continued how her life experience as well as that of being a litigator and social worker make her a well-rounded and exceptional candidate to become a judge.
“My mother was a school teacher in Cuba,” said Melendez, recalling how she migrated to the United States with her parents and younger sister. “She noticed children were being sent to summer camps. Normally that would have been a good thing, right? — It was indoctrination camp.”
At 2-years-old, Melendez and her family migrated to Florida to flee the Castro regime. The family then moved to Hudson County, New Jersey where Melendez would later attend and graduate magna cum laude from Rutgers University. Melendez reflected on Rutgers being a distant second to her first choice –– Princeton University.
“My dream was to go to Princeton and my father said to me, ‘Connie forget about it, because we don’t have the money for Princeton,’” said Melendez. Those burning words are part of what steered her desire to venture into the field of social work after receiving her undergraduate degree.
After realizing her ability to help people was limited as a social worker, the candidate then boldly enrolled into Brooklyn Law School while still working as a social worker for most of her law school career.
“As a social worker I would have to talk to the judges and being able to advocate for the kids I realized I have a voice,” said Melendez. “I wanted to do that job as a lawyer.”
After passing the bar, Melendez went in a completely different direction as a litigator who defended New York City hospitals and their doctors against malpractice suits.
It is through those opposing experiences and her work as a law clerk, Melendez says she gained three valuable perspectives, that as a litigator, a child advocate and someone who has helped interpret the legislation as a law clerk. “And that’s why I think my legal reasoning is so good,” said Melendez.
In responding to a question about the incessant backlog for which the New York City court system is known, Melendez said Judge Steinhardt has a successful case processing rate and she hopes to follow in those footsteps in her own courtroom.
Melendez admits courtrooms are intimidating for the general public, especially those involved in civil matters who sometimes do not have attorneys. The candidate pledges to foster a courtroom environment that encourages communication.
The candidate also attributes campaigning as a being helpful tool to hear people’s stories. Melendez says she can hear first hand how these social justice issues impact people. “To get a one-on-one is immeasurable,” said Melendez.
The mother of three who has practiced law for 30 years, says a judge both interprets the law and is bound by the law.
“I love decision-making. I love being neutral. I love taking it in and figuring out and putting out a good decision and, and –– being Solomon,” she said.
The Democratic Primary for these judgeships is Sept. 12.