In this upcoming election on Tuesday, Sept. 12, there should be no confusion: David Pepper deserves your vote and will be a fine judge for our diverse Brooklyn.
This paper’s first political campaign endorsement is in support of a candidate for Brooklyn Civil Court whose experience, temperament, accomplishments and vision qualify him as the type of judge you’d want to have making decisions that impact your life. Democratic Primary Election Day is on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Of the 11 candidates running for five borough-wide spots on the “people’s court,” David Pepper stands out. Over omelets and coffee last Wednesday morning, David and I spoke about Brooklyn, lawyers and lawyering, what makes for a fair judge, and the old Culver movie theater that used to be on 18th Avenue.
“I used to go to the Culver on Sundays for horror movie double features, but wound up watching the films through my fingers because I covered my eyes,” Pepper admitted. “Or my friends and I crouched on the floor with everyone else. Those flicks were terrifying!”
Civil Court judges are elected directly by the voters, unlike other important judicial posts that are either appointed or nominated for office by political party leaders without direct involvement of voters. Civil Court judges hear cases involving damages below a certain amount, serve in Housing Court and often also sit in Criminal Court. These public officials, because they are directly elected and because they hear cases involving the types of regular disputes that happen among regular folks, are truly the judges in our justice system who are closest to the people.
A graduate of the State University of New York at Binghamton and then Brooklyn Law School, David Pepper is a real New Yorker. He practiced big-firm law before starting his career in the courts in positions of always increasing responsibility.
“Big-firm lawyers—and remember I was one for a while—would send six-page letters that cost their clients $10,000, when they could have called me for an answer in three minutes. In Brooklyn, we focus on results,” he said.
Pepper has worked in New York’s courts for over 20 years, helping to efficiently resolve all types of judicial disputes. Since 1996 he’s been the principal legal counsel to Supreme Court Justice Martin Solomon.
Civil Court has a special place in this publisher’s heart, as I worked as court attorney right out of law school. I well remember the sheer volume of personal-injury cases that needed resolving. So many people are subjected to personal injury through no fault of their own, you should take a look at someone like these personal injury lawyers if you need any help. It’s not just the cases that needed resolving though, it was the late nights in Criminal Court, and the stress of trying to fairly address extremely difficult housing cases, which often involved possible evictions. Which is why Pepper’s vision for judicial temperament impressed me:
“Give everyone the opportunity to be heard; nobody should ever feel as if they didn’t have the opportunity to make their case. If your decision will cause distress, do it gently. You don’t need a heavy hand all the time, though that’s sometimes required. And don’t ever enjoy the difficult decisions, especially when you’re presiding over a criminal case—this is a person we couldn’t reach.”
Some candidates for Civil Court see the position as a form of retirement with great healthcare benefits and a pension. I’ve personally seen, and been frustrated by, judges like that. I asked Pepper directly about the tendency of judges to slack off.
“Some do, there’s no doubt about that,” he responded. “But I only know how to work hard all the time. It was an exhausting time, but one of my favorite experiences working in the courts was pulling double duty in the Bronx and in Brooklyn—I’d be conferencing personal-injury cases in the morning up in the Bronx, and then hustling back to Brooklyn to help in a felony crime courtroom in the afternoon. Voters should know that I’m not afraid of hard work. My first job as a young teenager, I had to be 14 years old, was cleaning up a butcher shop after school. No job has seemed quite as difficult since then.”
After three refills, Pepper and I figured we’d had enough coffee, and he needed to get back to work. I asked him about old cases he’d been thinking about lately.
“There was one, the first decision I drafted years ago for Judge Slavin when he was presiding over election-law cases,” he said. “It involved Marty Markowitz. He was running for re-election to the State Senate, and his candidacy was challenged because his name on the ballot was listed as ‘Marty’ when his proper name was ‘Martin.’ My draft decision, which Judge Slavin agreed with and signed, focused on that everyone everywhere knew Martin as ‘Marty,’ and that so long as there was no intent to confuse the voters, it was OK. That decision was challenged but upheld by the Appellate Court.”