A Chapter of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY)


Interview of the Month


An Interview with Honorable Barry E. Warhit

Susan L. Pollet
Chair of the Archive and Historian Committee


Q. Our membership wants to know more about you.  Please tell us about your legal career and whatled you to become a judge. 

A. I commenced my legal career as an associate in a mid-size New York City law firm which specialized in commercial law and bankruptcy proceedings. Although I found the work intellectually stimulating, I left the firm to pursue my goal of becoming a courtroom litigator. I was elated when I was hired as an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. While there, I had the unparalleled opportunity to learn from a number of supremely talented career prosecutors whom I credit with having taught me the art of effective courtroom advocacy. When I left the District Attorney’s Office, I had felony trial experience and the confidence to pursue a career in civil litigation. I spent a number of years at an insurance defense firm in New York City before coming to the realization that criminal law is my calling. In 1994, I opened a practice in Westchester County and became a member of the assigned counsel panel. During my tenure as a criminal defense attorney, I tried 62 cases to verdict, including 14 homicides. My familiarity with criminal matters and courtroom dynamics fueled my interest in becoming a judge. In 2006, I was given the opportunity to serve as the Acting Village Justice of Tarrytown. This experience deepened my interest in presiding over criminal matters. I was honored when Governor David Paterson appointed me to serve as a Westchester County Court Judge and even more elated when I was elected to this position in 2010. My first assignment was as an Acting Family Court Judge in Yonkers. After a number of months, and while continuing to serve as an Acting Family Court Judge, I assumed the duties of County Court Judge. In 2013, I was appointed as an Acting Supreme Court Judge and, in 2015, I was truly humbled to be selected to serve as the Supervising Judge of the Felony Criminal Parts for the 9th Judicial District. 

 

Q. What Are Your Biggest Challenges as a Supervising Judge?

A. The biggest challenge I face is one I share with my fellow judges and that is to insure that justice is served. This occurs only when defendants are held accountable for their actions, the circumstances which bring them before the court are considered and balanced against the losses suffered by victims and their families. As the Supervising Judge of the Criminal Parts of the 9th JD, I am also challenged to move cases through the criminal parts expeditiously. Defendants are entitled to “speedy trials” just as victims and their loved ones are entitled to their day in court. Assuring “speedy trials” is complex. I strive to balance a defendant’s right to a “speedy trial” against counsel’s need to prepare for an often complicated felony trial. I am further challenged to provide defendants with “speedy trials” by factors beyond my control such as attorney, witness and judicial availability. Despite the complexity of the task, I am gratified that, during my tenure as supervising judge, the criminal courts of the 9th JD have routinely had only a handful of cases beyond the strict standards and goals set by the New York State Unified Court System. I do not take all of the credit for this. Indeed, I share this achievement with the experienced and talented judges I have the privilege of working with as well as the many dedicated prosecutors and defense attorneys who appear in the courts of the 9th JD. 

       

Q. What decisions have you rendered that you consider most notable and why?

A. Every decision a judge makes-whether to dispose of a motion, in connection with a suppression hearing or trial or even post-trial –is important and meaningful to the parties. Even a decision on a matter which appears relatively insignificant or mundane can have a profound effect on the outcome of a defendant’s case. As such, I make a concerted effort to give careful consideration to every decision I render. That said, pressed to name one decision of mine which I consider to be notable, it would have to be my determination that a witness who appears in court and is sworn but who thereafter refuses to answer questions may be deemed unavailable for the purposes of trial (see People v Days, 131 AD3d 972 [2d Dept 2015]). This decision upholds the integrity of a criminal case by preventing a witness who has ulterior motives from derailing the prosecution. Although the higher court did not agree with all of my rulings in Days, I am gratified that this particular aspect of the decision withstood appellate scrutiny and that it has been repeatedly relied upon by jurists in subsequent felony trials.

 

Q. What advice do you have for new lawyers entering the field?

A. I think law is a noble profession and I encourage those with a passion for it to pursue the career. The single most important piece of advice I can give new lawyers is to remember that their best and most valuable asset is their reputation. I also encourage new lawyers to recognize that judges appreciate attorneys who are prompt for their appearances, who meet their motion deadlines, who are prepared and who are courteous in their dealings with the court and their adversaries. Finally, I urge new lawyers to have confidence in their skills and not to be afraid to go to trial. While the thought of a trial, particularly a first trial, can be daunting, the experience is invaluable. 

 

Q. How have you managed to juggle work life and family live over the years?

A. Having a satisfying career is undoubtedly important.  However, in my opinion, it pales in comparison to a gratifying personal life. Earlier in my career, I was a solo practitioner and, therefore, with the exception of some court imposed demands, I was able to arrange my schedule around the demands of my home life. Having a flexible work schedule was a terrific benefit. While all of the cases I tried are memorable, none of them compare to the family vacations I took or my children’s tennis matches and baseball games. At this point, my children are grown. Although I sometimes miss the flexibility of private practice, I truly enjoy presiding over cases and am particularly well suited to do so now that I am able to prioritize my work schedule over my home life.


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