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Interview of the Month

An Interview with Carol Swidler, Esq. 

Susan L. Pollet
Chair of the Archive and Historian Committee

Q: You have been a loyal WWBA member for many years.  How many is it now?

A: I lost count at 25 … I remember Hon. Joann Friia was the President at the time. 

Q: Why did you become a member and what has kept you involved?
A: Rae Ellen Vitiello was my mentor and encouraged me to join, and to go to the meetings.  We also traveled together to Montreal and New Orleans for a State Convention and to Washington, D.C. to be admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court.  I remember meeting fascinating women and enjoying the camaraderie.

      The matrimonial lawyers reach out to me, periodically, for ideas on CLE topics and to coordinate efforts for events.

      My husband, Steven, has for many years been on the WWBA Judicial Screening Committee.  I fondly remember Steven and I volunteering to be among the “models” in a “dress for success” event program sponsored by the WWBA.

Q: Please tell us about your legal career.
A: This is my third career.  I was a registered dental hygienist, a registered dietitian and taught nutrition at NYU (I can’t help but notice a beautiful smile!).  I applied to law school after my daughter was born, and I went to Pace at night (my son was born during my second year).  I met Amy Lippman in law school and we became close friends and both participated in the internship program and worked together in the law department.  I also worked for Hon. Theodore Dachenhausen in Supreme Court and Hon. Isaac Rubin in the Appellate Division before graduating.  After a short stint in Yonkers City Court and relief clerking for Hon. George Bergerman and Hon. Sam Fredman (both of whom I adored), I was very fortunate to be chosen for an open court attorney position in the fledgling law department headed by Fred Shapiro (soon to become Hon. Fred Shapiro), a wonderful person and great boss.  At the time, we shared cubicle space with James Garfein, Rae Ellen Vitiello, and Hon. Ingrid Braslow. 

      The job of a court attorney has changed significantly.  In my tenure, we have gone from 5 court attorneys to now over 20.  Judge Scheinkman restructured the court system and created the compliance part and the matrimonial parts.  At his urging (you could not say “No” to Judge Scheinkman) and my desire to undertake a new challenge, I was assigned to the matrimonial part in 2012 as the supervising Court Attorney-Referee. 

      When the matrimonial attorneys heard that I was going into the “Mat Part” there were several words of advice:  “Don’t just give dates for discovery” (try to settle the case), and if you show any signs of weakness, the attorneys will “Eat you alive.”  I’m still here and my record speaks for itself.  I have enjoyed working with every judge that has been in the Mat Part, and I give my Mat Part colleagues credit for always working as a team.  We have regular “brown bag” lunches to discuss cases, issues, and strategies.  The best part of these lunches is the law secretaries who have left the Part and return for our lunches!

Q: How has the legal profession changed for women since you first started practicing, if at all? 
A: Despite the fact that court employees attended mandatory sensitivity training, it was not uncommon for a judge to call us “Dear” if he could not remember our name.  Many years ago I applied for an open law secretary position with a well known judge who clearly intimated that I, a woman with young children, would be taking away the position from a man who needed to support his family.  I can’t imagine that would happen today.  To say I was insulted and angry is an understatement.  Obviously, I did not get the job.

Q: What advice do you have for balancing work and family life?
A: When I joined the law department, Hon. Fred Shapiro followed by James Garfein led our then small team of court attorneys and always made it clear that family and personal life comes first.  I know from my husband how hard it is for attorneys in private practice, most of whom work long hours and weekends to meet deadlines and prepare to go to court.  I am very fortunate that my position affords me the time and ability to have a diverse and rewarding family and personal life outside the courthouse. 

Q: What activities are you involved in when you are not on the bench?
A: Now that our children have grown and moved to Austin, Texas, my husband and I travel as much as possible.  We recently returned from a trip to Dublin to attend a Rolling Stones concert and to visit the Ireland Supreme Court where we were privately entertained by Justice Iseult O’Malley, one of three women Justices on the nine-member court. 

We regularly take long bike trips, I entertain often as I love to bake, and we have recently moved into New York City after 35 years in Ardsley in Westchester County.

      I love the theatre and have a weekly Mahjong Game (or perhaps it should be called weekly wine tasting parties) with a group of longtime close friends.  I am doing the reverse commute and my husband can now walk to work (and work even later!). 

Q: What are your professional and personal goals in the future?
A: I now have almost 30 years in the court system.  I love my job but ever-changing policies now make it quite different from the early days.  I am certified as a mediator and hope shortly to be certified as an arbitrator.  When my days on the 10th Floor are over, who knows?  I may be doing the same thing, only in a different forum.  But for now, I take a lot of pride in helping (or trying to help) a divorcing couple to resolve their differences and hopefully eliminating or at least minimizing the conflict in their lives.

PO Box 926, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 505-6045

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