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Judy Kim ’89 Becomes First Korean-American Elected to NY Bench

On an ordinary day in December came an extraordinary opportunity in a 5-by-7-inch envelope. The simple envelope addressed to me at work gave no clue as to the significance of the information inside. I opened the envelope and read the following: “You are cordially invited to attend the induction of Judy H. Kim as a Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York.”

Although our years at Spence overlapped somewhat, Judy was, to use my daughter’s phrase, “a big girl at Spence.” We did not know each other at Spence, but the beauty of the Spence community is that you will always have an opportunity to connect with alumnae later in life when grades and class years no longer divide.

After attending a breakfast event for Spence, we rode the train downtown together and talked. We talked about our jobs, the practice of law and life in general. And seemingly from that point on, we kept running into each other—not just at Spence events, but in other settings. Judy served as the first vice president of the Korean Bar Association, and I was the first vice president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. We saw each other at the MBBA’s Annual Gala and, of course, were excited to see one another and tickled to know we were in the same position but for different minority bar associations. We planned to have dinner and looked forward to sharing war stories.

At Spence’s 125th anniversary celebration in May at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Judy and I passed each other while heading to our respective rooms for the celebration. We embraced, always happy to see one another. She said to me, “I have something to tell you,” and when we discovered we were not in the same room at the gala, she quickly said, “I am running for Civil Court!” I responded, “That’s great!” We agreed we would talk later during that night and went into our separate rooms to enjoy the gala. We never got a chance to talk again that night, but I thought about the journey on which she’d embarked and wished her well.

Having served on a judicial screening panel, I knew Judy was in for a challenging road that would consist of several long nights of sitting before panels of lawyers who would ask questions that probe not just her legal acumen, but also her temperament. She would have to visit with many political clubs and attend several events to garner political and financial support for her candidacy. And, as if all of that were not enough, Judy’s name would appear on the ballot, and she would have to win her race—no small feat in NYC politics. I knew, however, that Judy would clear all the hurdles and be successful.

When I received the invitation to her induction, there was no question as to whether I would attend. The only question I had was how to bring my daughter, Quincy, a first-grader at Spence, to witness the event.

The courtroom for Judy’s induction was packed with standing room only. It was filled with elected officials from all different branches and levels of government. There were judges, who would soon be Judy’s colleagues, district leaders, members of the New York State Assembly, a representative from the United States Congress and most important, Judy’s family and close friends. Many of the speeches reflected on Judy’s legal experience, her intelligence, her poise and affable demeanor, but the highlight of the evening was when U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney recognized Judy as a graduate of The Spence School. Quincy perked up, and we cheered.

I knew Judy’s candidacy was important to the bench because she would bring a balanced and thoughtful approach to interpreting the law, but I had no idea that I would bear witness to history in the making. To witness the induction of New York’s very first Korean-American judge and to know that I share a special bond with her as a Spence alum gave new meaning to Spence’s motto “Not for school, but for life we learn.” Judy has blazed a trail for many to follow. So from one Judy to another Judy I say, “well done,” and I look forward to seeing her grow and flourish as a jurist. Congratulations to the Honorable Judy H. Kim, Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York.

By Judith Joseph Jenkins ’91