Hemalee Patel runs for the seat of the Civil Court Judge from Brooklyn

New York Board of Elections’ General Counsel Hemalee Patel who is running for Brooklyn Civil Court Judge’s Seat. PHOTO: Facebook.com

General Counsel Hemalee Patel of New York City’s Board of Elections (NYCBOE) is running for the seat of Brooklyn Civil Court judge from the 5th Municipal District which covers Bay Ridge and other areas of Southern Brooklyn.

Judges of the Civil Court serve terms of 10 years, and are elected through general elections to be held November 5 this year. Patel faces a tough race with Jacob Zelmanovitz and Benjamin Lieberman running against her.

Patel had more than 20 years of collective previous experience at the Supreme Court of Richmond County (Staten Island) and at the New York State Unified Court System when she began working at NYC BOE 3 years ago. She was the first South Asian woman in that position when she was appointed by the Democratic Party in 2021 as a General Counsel of the BOE.

In her current role as a General Counsel at BOE, Patel’s office provides legal advice and guidance to the Board of Elections in the City of New York on a wide range of matters relating to ballot access, the conduct of elections, and agency administration.

In 2021 at the time of her appointment at the BOE, Chair of Brooklyn Democratic Party, Rodneyse Bichotte, had said in a public statement, “As a woman of color, I applaud Hemalee’s historic appointment.”  “As a South Asian woman, she is a wonderful role model for greater diversity in government.” Patel was then also praised by party insiders, election lawyers and political players and was well-liked.

Patel was on leave recently from her BOE position while candidate applications were being reviewed by her office which handles all the candidates’ applications. “I did not want other candidates to think that my being in the office in person would influence, or that there would be any impropriety,” she said to Desi Talk in an exclusive interview.

Patel previously ran unsuccessfully for the seat of civil court judge in 2017, seeking to become Brooklyn’s first elected judge of South Asian descent at the time. Running from the 6th Municipal District, she was endorsed then by politicians and clubs, including Council Member Brad Lander and the Independent Neighborhood Democrats.

Patel, who is currently in her job at the Board of Elections, has personal reasons for getting attracted to the Judgeship. “It will be a good opportunity and the work will be interesting and rewarding,” Patel said.  If elected, Patel wants to accomplish one thing: to help everyday people get justice with dignity. “I love the court system,” Patel said. “I find working in the court system rewarding personally and impactful to individuals and families,” she said.

Patel, who immigrated at the age of 5, went to New York University for her undergraduate degree, and Brooklyn Law School for her doctorate. “Law spoke to me,” she said, adding that law always appealed to her. “I loved the way political science and study of law trains your mind,” she added. “Study of law changes one’s way of thinking, of approaching a problem,” she said.

Patel’s parents have always been very supportive of her choice of career. They are morally upright and very straight people, she said. “Even today they tell me ‘Do the right thing’,” Patel said. She spoke of her daughter who was in Girl Scouts for 10 years and their motto was: Make the world a better place. “I wanted to do that,” Patel said.

New York Board of Elections General Counsel Hemalee Patel with her family in a 2023 photo. PHOTO: Courtesy Facebook.com

Patel said she is not aware of any hindrances in her career created by her being a woman. She said she was one of the few women of Indian origins practicing law then. “I was a young brown woman and not many thought I could be doing the job of a lawyer,” she said. She admitted a lot has changed in the last 30 years, and there is more diversity and representation now. “It has always been important for me to remain a hard working, honest and decent human being,” Patel said.

Patel said her family has helped her keep balance between her career and her personal life. Her children are grown and need her less now. “But my kids understood even when they were young that all of us have our obligations to the community and to the world at large,” she said.

Patel has played both her roles well. During her 2017 campaign, her son was only 6 years old, she said. “I used to pick him up from school, give him something to eat in the car and have him sit and watch me when I attended events and meetings, till my husband would arrive from his work to switch turns and take him home,” she said. Patel also said she remembered when she was sworn in as President of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association. “I was holding my daughter with one hand and was taking an oath with the other,” she said. Patel is aware that many women have done this. “I did not do anything different than what all working moms have done and have juggled with,” Patel said.

Of recognitions, honors and awards which came to her, one has remained in her memory. In 2022, Patel got the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Trailblazer Award in a beautiful ceremony with a roomful of many accomplished persons. That was her gratifying moment, she said. “It felt very satisfying to be recognized that I have achieved so much in this job, to have the respect that I am doing my job and doing it well,” she said.

Patel said she feels that Indian American women should be lawyers because of the perspective they bring to the world. Patel said it is important that every person brings something of their experience to work-life. Indian American women have more experience to bring. “This city has more immigrants and more voices should be heard,” Patel said.



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