NEW YORK – Born in India and brought up in New York, attorney Hemalee J. Patel seeks to become the first Indian American judge in Brooklyn.
Currently serving as a Court Attorney-Referee in Richmond County (Staten Island) Supreme Court where she handles matrimonial cases, Patel has a different immigrant story than others.
According to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle report, Patel was born in the North Western region of India and moved to Woodside, Queens when she was five-years-old.
A year prior to that, Patel’s father had already moved to the U.S. in efforts of establishing himself before bringing his family here.
He worked at Hostos Community College while her mother worked at Woolworths Supermarket before getting a job at Rockefeller University in Manhattan, making the family move to campus housing on the Upper East Side.
“That was really big for us because as immigrants, there was a lot that we couldn’t afford, but that gave our parents the opportunity to take us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Radio City, to Lincoln Center,” Patel told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“They wanted us to experience all of these things even if they didn’t grow up with it or understand it,” she added.
However, “they were strict; there was no dating, no wearing jeans to school and no wearing makeup until you were 16.”
After attending Stuyvesant High School, Patel started a pre-med program at New York University, but she quickly realized that it was not her cup of tea and much to her parents’ disappointment she switched to study Political Science.
Even though she wasn’t interested in joining the legal field at first, Patel enrolled at Brooklyn Law School in 1988 to make her parents happy and even started liking the field of law as she loved research and always had the desire to become a larger part of the American community.
“The quality of our lives is directly and deeply influenced by those who serve the public and I consider myself privileged to be a civil servant—and try always to be one in the truest sense.
This means, to my mind, that I must not only do my best, but convey that intention by being at all times honest, fair and courteous to the parties and attorneys who appear before me,” Patel told Kings County Politics.
“Beyond that, I believe that the quality of my work and persona must inspire confidence in our judicial system and address the needs and requirements of both the litigants and the court,” she added.
Right after graduating, she got a job working with a law firm that dealt with landlord and tenant cases.
She then moved on to a general practice firm on Court Street in Brooklyn where she handled a majority of matrimonial cases and began representing women during divorces and family court appearances through the Westside Battered Women’s Legal Project that existed in the early 1990s.
Besides practicing law in private practices, Patel also worked as a Supreme Court clerk in both New York County and Kings County under Judge Deborah A. Kaplan and Judge Rachel A. Adams.
“I loved going to court to help families and when you were able to successfully help someone it felt like it really mattered. When I had the opportunity to work for Judge Adams, I jumped at it,” Patel told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Patel is a member of several legal associations, including the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Brooklyn Womens Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association of New York and the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association.
If elected, Patel will serve as a civil court judge in the 6th Municipal District which covers Northern Park Slope, Lefferts Gardens and down the strip of Brooklyn between Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Avenue to Avenue M along with Brooklyn College.
“As an immigrant South Asian woman I have a unique perspective that, along with my background, experience and proven ability in performing the duties and responsibilities of a Court Attorney-Referee, prepares me to undertake a career as a judge,” Patel told Kings County Politics.