At the end of last year, Justice Anita Florio, 76, stepped down from the bench after 19 years in the Appellate Division, Second Department, and another 16 years before that as a New York Criminal Court judge and a Supreme Court justice in the Bronx.
Florio was the longest-serving judge among her current Second Department colleagues, first appointed to the Brooklyn-based appellate court in 1994 and certificated three times.
Graduating from college in 1958, Florio did not plan to become a lawyer, let alone a judge. Instead, she worked as a high school teacher for a year on Manhattan's Upper East Side and only pursued a legal career after marrying and having a son. Since then, her experience as an attorney has included work as a Bronx prosecutor, an administrative attorney for the city and deputy secretary of state and counsel to then-New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo. Florio has also been active in professional groups for female judges and attorneys.
Earlier this year, she was given a standing ovation during her last day hearing oral arguments. In remarks read from the bench, Justice John Leventhal said that "without hesitation...she is beloved by us all." (NYLJ, Nov. 2).
Q: Why did you become a lawyer?
A: In all truthfulness, becoming a lawyer almost didn't happen. While I was an undergraduate student at Manhattanville College, I originally thought I wanted to attend medical school. However, after I graduated from Manhattanville I got married and had a son. Shortly thereafter, I realized that staying at home was not for me, and decided that I wanted to go back to graduate school and thus applied to, and was accepted at, the three law schools to which I had applied.
Q: Why did you become a judge?
A: As a young practicing lawyer I had the opportunity to go before many judges who I admired and respected very much. However, very few of them were women. I felt as though I embodied many of the same values and believed I could be a fair and impartial arbiter, and wanted to see the female touch being brought to the judicial landscape.
Q: Were women lawyers treated with respect in the courts when you began your career? How has the attitude toward women lawyers changed?
A: I'll start by going back to law school. I was one of three women in a class of 100 [at Fordham]. On the first day, a professor addressed the class, saying that he hoped that the women in the class realized that they were taking the seat of a man who needed a job to feed their families and to reconsider coming back the next day. Women have come a long way. We all know such a remark would have no place in a law school classroom today. I believe that I read somewhere recently that women students are outnumbering men at many law schools, and our admissions classes at the court seem to be nearly 50 percent women.
Q: What qualities do individuals need to be an effective judge?
A: Aside from being knowledgeable about the law, a judge must be able to write decisions clearly and cogently. A judge must also have the highest standards of integrity and be able to act fairly and open-mindedly, as well as having a judicial temperament.
Q: What will you miss the most about being a judge?
A: I will miss the collegiality of the judges of the Appellate Division, Second Department, as well as having the pleasure of being around all the hard-working and dedicated people who make that court the stellar institution that it is.
Q: What will you miss the least?
A: The schedule a judge keeps can be quite hectic and busy, including the long car trips from Westchester County to Brooklyn. I won't miss reading what appears to be endless records and briefs every night (even on the weekends). In all, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to spend more time with my family.