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Many of Long Island, N.Y.’s women judges shed their judicial reserve last week and spoke candidly on an array of touchy subjects — from sexism to salaries — as part of a panel discussion presented to a local women’s business group. Speaking at “Women in the Judiciary: Perspectives from the Bench,” seven women judges from federal and state courts shared their experiences and challenges as women in the largely male profession. The March 14 event was presented by the Women Economic Developers of Long Island at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, N.Y. Comprising the panel were U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Melanie Cyganowski, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay, Appellate Division, 2nd Department Presiding Justice A. Gail Prudenti, State Supreme Court Justice Elaine Jackson Stack, New York State Supreme Court Justice Emily Pines and Nassau District Court Judge Denise Sher. Although these women were quick to recognize the support and mentoring they have received throughout their careers from their male counterparts, some expressed a feeling that women judges approached their jobs differently from men. “I don’t mean to be self-righteous. It’s just a different way of looking at things,” said Cyganowski, whose docket consists primarily of presiding over personal bankruptcies. She said that in her court, where Chapter 13 personal reorganization plans are often converted to Chapter 7 plans that provide less asset protection, her male counterparts are quicker to convert a person’s organization plan if it appears unlikely that the debtor can repay some debt under Chapter 13. “Sometimes, my male colleagues are caught up in statistics,” she said. Justice Stack, who previously served as a district court judge, also has seen differences between male and female judges. “We listen with a different ear than men,” she said, adding, however, “I don’t ever want to hear, ‘Oh, she’s a woman’s judge.’” Nassau County Administrative Judge Edward McCabe, reached by phone last week, disagreed that the sexes approach cases differently. “We have some very compassionate male judges,” McCabe said. “I think everybody is an individual, and I don’t see a gulf between male and female.” Frequently, a difference between the two genders is rooted in the way they are perceived by the public, Sher said. As a soft-spoken person, the judge explained that defendants or attorneys often have the impression that she is more compassionate than a male judge and will “go easy” on them. Just as often, however, they discover the misconception, she said. Prudenti added, “We don’t want to be known as great women judges or great women lawyers. We want to be known as good judges and good lawyers.” ‘JUGGLING BALL SYNDROME’ The speakers also observed that as professionals and mothers, they face the challenge of “switching from the law to Pokemon,” as Lindsay described it. “We’re all definitely type A’s,” she said. “We’ve made a choice to be the superwomen and it becomes very difficult.” Some of the judges expressed recurring doubt as to whether they effectively balanced family and careers. Sher said that she often was not home in time to cook dinner for her children when they were growing up. “You always hope you’re making the right decisions, you know, the juggling ball syndrome,” she said. These women, of varying ages, have seen opportunities change over the years. Pines said that she had a “schizophrenic view” having grown up in the 1950s and ’60s. “There’s a disjunct for those of us in our 50s between what we thought as a teenager and what happened for women in the 60s,” she said. From Stack’s experience growing up poor in the Bronx, she said families hoped for their sons to attend college, with little thought about what their daughters would do professionally. And for hardworking women who received higher educations, employers often passed them over. Today, however, “Women expect to be treated equally,” she said. “They expect to move up.” BUDGETS AND SALARIES The judges also addressed issues currently confronting all of those on the bench, including campaign funds for judicial elections. Differing opinions emerged between the panel’s federal and state judges. “The concept of a judicial candidate having a war chest of money is ridiculous,” said Seybert, who sits in the Eastern District’s Central Islip court. “The party will pick up what you need.” But Justice Prudenti, who was three times appointed and three times elected in the last nine years, had a different perspective as a state court judge. “Unfortunately, judicial candidates are in the same position as any other candidate,” said Prudenti, who most recently was elected as a state supreme court judge before her appointment as presiding justice of the 2nd Department. “I do not believe I would have gotten the nomination if it weren’t for the fact that they knew I was going to run my own campaign. Times have changed.” The judges also spoke about constricted budgets, particularly since Sept. 11. “Our budgets have been totally devastated,” Prudenti said, adding that only court security positions are being added. Stack said that because of the no-overtime policy, which means that court buildings must shut down at 5 p.m., expert witnesses must be called back instead of remaining for a few more minutes. During last week’s high school mock trials at Nassau Supreme Court, the Nassau County Bar Association footed the bill for security after 5 p.m., she said. As for federal court budgets, Seybert said that its judges desperately needed a pay raise, since over the last 10 years, only four cost of living raises have been granted. The reason? “You probably don’t want to know,” she said, referring to what she sees as a growing perception that salaries have remained low because more women have joined the federal bench. “Some think that maybe we should be kept off the bench because we depress the salary,” she said. The Melville, N.Y., firm of Lazer Aptheker Feldman Rosella & Yedid sponsored the program. Attorney Erica Garay, of Uniondale, N.Y.-based Rivkin Radler, moderated the event.

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