NYLJ Lifetime Achievement Award

Betty Weinberg Ellerin

, New York Law Journal

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Photo by Rick Kopstein/NYLJ

Ancient Greek philosophers viewed wisdom to be one of the most highly valued virtues and much has been written about how virtually impossible it would be for anyone to succeed in their field without the benefit of one or more mentors. In the legal community, few have embraced the obligation to mentor others, including lawyers, judges and people from all walks of life, as Betty Ellerin has done throughout her career. She is also known as a fierce fighter for the downtrodden and others in need of a "voice." She credits her parents for instilling in her a strong concern for the less fortunate and she never hesitates to speak out against injustice.

She has been described as "a person who refuses to take 'no' for an answer when trying to help the disadvantaged"; and "a person whose 'moral compass' is always pointed in the right direction." She is known for her ability to bring people together and her sense of humor. She is called "a friend for life"; a "flame that ignites"; a woman who works her "special magic to get something done that others thought was impossible"; "a voice for women and children who are in need"; and someone who helped to make our courts more accessible and responsible to the community.

After receiving her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University and entering private practice, Judge Ellerin served as a law clerk to judges in the Civil and Supreme courts. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 1976 and she soon gained a reputation as an extremely knowledgeable judge, whose well-crafted decisions were tempered by compassion and common sense and, also as one who had a remarkable talent for bringing about the resolution of cases amicably. This led to her appointment in 1982 as the first woman deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City courts, which was described in The New York Times "as one of the most sensitive and demanding judicial positions in the nation." It was in that role that she helped create the first 24 hour arraignment parts.

Thereafter, she became the first woman appointed as a justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, and the first woman to serve as presiding justice of that court. She currently serves as senior counsel at Alston & Bird, a mediator/arbitrator at JAMS and was recently appointed as a member of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

Among her multitude of activities, she was a founder and is a director of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, a past president of the New York Women's Bar Association and a past president of the National Association of Women Judges. She is vice chair of the advisory committee on judicial ethics and also serves as a vice chair of the First Department's committee on character and fitness, chair of the judicial commission on women in the courts, a member of the judicial screening committee for the Court of Claims and the Chief Judge's committee on pro bono for law students.

In her spare time she helped draft an anti-discrimination provision into the Code of Professional Responsibility and was instrumental in the development of child support guidelines. As cochair of the New York County Lawyers' Association Task Force on Judicial Independence, she is known for her strong defense of judges from unfair criticism.

Judge Ellerin's awards from highly distinguished national, state and local bar and other groups organizations which are too numerous to list include the American Bar Association's "Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award" and the State Bar's Ruth Schapiro Award.

A New York Law Journal article in 1993 noted that "Justice Ellerin's greatest am- bition has not been her own. Instead, she has worked unflaggingly to advance the careers of women lawyers and judges." Of course, many male judges have benefitted from her guidance. As one of her mentees put it, "what sets Judge Ellerin apart is her leadership and the far less common trait of outstanding leaders—helping other lawyers achieve great things."

Finally, Judge Ellerin feels "blessed" to have a wonderful family—her lawyer husband Milton, her son Seth, daughter-in-law Sharon, her son Bruce, her daughter Bunny and son-in-law Geoff Vincent, and her three grandchildren, Ashley, Alexandra and Michael.

Scott Mollen is a partner at Herrick Feinstein.

BETTY WEINBERG ELLERIN

Senior Counsel, Alston & Bird

LL.B., New York University School of Law, 1952

A 30-year veteran of the Appellate Division, First Department, she was appointed the first woman on that bench in 1985; also the first woman to serve as presiding justice, for one year in 1999, until her mandatory retirement

• The first women appointed deputy chief administrative judge for New York City Courts in 1982; responsible for administering operation of courts involving more than 425 judges and over 4,700 nonjudicial personnel.

 

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