The Civil Court Judge Democratic primary election the 6th Municipal District—which includes Park Slope, Crown Heights, Kensington, Flatbush, Midwood, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Park South, and Ditmas Park—is on June 25.
There are four candidates vying for the seat. You can read our interviews with two candidates Chinyelu Udoh, and Caroline Cohen at the links. Today, we have an interview with Alice Nicholson, who specializes in foreclosure prevention and lives in Bed-Stuy, which is outside the district.
Nicholson was born in Grenada, and moved to the United States in 1972, at the age of 19. She first attended Borough of Manhattan Community College, then graduated from Hunter College, working at various law firms during the evening after she took classes during the day. Nicholson then attended NYU Law School, graduating in 1984, and soon after joined her sister for about two years in Dallas, Texas, where she did compliance work at her sister’s home health aide company.
Nicholson, who has four siblings, then went back to New York City, and worked at Bed-Stuy Community Legal Services in 1986 and 1987, handling Social Security and disability matters, while living in East Flatbush. She then worked as a court attorney at the appellate division, going on to work at the now-defunct Haythe & Curley working on insurance proceedings from 1989 to 1993, and subsequently returned to the appellate division. After her second stint there, Nicholson worked at Queens Legal Services, and in 2008, started working in private practice, taking cases mainly on real-estate transactions and Social Security.
“Since ‘08, since we had the foreclosure crisis, I’ve been focusing on that. Everything you see here is foreclosure,” she told Bklyner on Friday, pointing to folders in her office.
“I have a lot of working families,” she continued. “I would say 99.9% of my clients are working families.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bklyner: Why did you decide to run?
Nicholson: People have approached me before and I’ve said no, because it was not a dream for me to become a judge. I love what I do working in the community. But then, as I thought about it more and more, I thought it’s something that I must do, because I help a lot of people now to stay in their homes and I’ve seen that we need representation from various communities as I go through the court system and see that people are disrespected, or people don’t know who everyone from every community is, and I thought at a judge’s level, I could assist a lot more people.
If I do 100 [cases] in a month, I could do thousands [of cases] in a month, because I understand the stories of the community, have worked in the community for the past 30 years, so I feel that I’m experienced. I write well, I do research, I have a stellar career and I thought that this would be the ideal place to help the community a lot.
Bklyner: What do you think makes you most qualified?
Nicholson: The fact that I have a broad breadth of experience which I’ve gathered for the last 30 years. I’ve worked on almost every area of the law, and as a judge, I could be placed for a time in family court and I’ve done appeals in at the family court level. I also did a lot of criminal appeals, so I know that area very well. I’ve done a lot of research, writing decisions, I listen well and I think that makes me the ideal candidate for the bench.
Bklyner: What’s an example of a defining moment in your career? A case, a moment?
Nicholson: Well, the first thing that comes to mind—and I have a lot—is last year, around September 7, one of my clients was about to lose his home, with his family. [It was] just very devastating. I managed to reach the Daily News and they did a front page story. He was a first responder on 9/11, a detective. And I felt it was just so unjust. He was getting Social Security, he was getting early retirement, there was enough money there, but we couldn’t get the [mortgage] servicer to move. We have a lot of problems getting the servicers to adjust the mortgages so that families can stay in the community.
So once we did that, the auction was stopped and the next month, we were able to get a modification. The next headline on the paper was “SAVED.” So we were able to help them maintain their home.
Bklyner: How do clients find you?
Nicholson: Basically, by word of mouth. I do limited advertisement … Clients I’ve helped before will say “Oh, she goes the extra mile,” because I take the entire family into consideration. It’s not an index number for me.
Bklyner: How would you transfer your skills working on foreclosure cases to a different role as a judge?
Nicholson: Even if it’s foreclosure, people come in with different stories and reasons why they fell behind. I think that’s very relevant as judge, to understand all these different stories. For instance, I had a client in Park Slope with really good income, at one point, and a very valuable house, as we know how much Park Slope homes are worth. She had to take off from work, because her mom was very ill, so we were able to, once she got back on her feet, get her back on track with the mortgage.
I have another client right now, an Egyptian-American family, with a son who is in the service, who is now disabled. I take those to heart. It wasn’t working out here in Supreme Court, I took them to bankruptcy court … and now we have a resolution. My aim is to resolve issues. You know, law is about balancing, life is about balancing. If everybody wins, that’s a good thing. If I’m doing a foreclosure, I want the bank to get paid and the client to stay in their home. I think I balance really well. I’m not biased. Being just and fair is very important.
Bklyner: How do you see the position that you’re trying to be elected to? What are the ideal characteristics of someone in that position and how would you like others to see you?
Nicholson: Compassionate, understanding, experienced, fair, just, unbiased, a listener, and able to reach just and fair decisions.
Bklyner: What are your thoughts on the recent criminal justice reforms when it comes to bail? What do you think of the recent leftward shift?
Nicholson: It’s a good step. I’ve done a lot of criminal law. I work on the 18B assignment panel for appellate level. For the criminal division, there are a lot of appeals, because defendants are, of course, entitled to defend their constitutional rights. So it’s a step in the right direction. We have to do more in terms of education and changing attitudes. For instance, even attorneys say to me “Black people commit crimes,” as if other people do not commit crimes.
So when it comes to attorneys, who may end up on a bench one day with a certain attitude or orientation from society, I think we have to be very careful about how bail is set. Bail is not a punishment, it’s supposed to ensure the person who is accused returns to court, so I think it’s very important to get that message out. Too many kids end up going to Rikers, and that’s the beginning of a downward slope, when we could be remediating, which is essentially what punishment is supposed to do.
Bklyner: I believe you’re the only candidate in the race who was not born in the U.S.
Nicholson: Well, I come from Grenada and I came to this diverse Brooklyn setting, so I feel it’s like a Brooklyn family. I have friends and in-laws from all different nationalities, races, you know? So this is a diverse borough in its own way. There are pockets of immigration and immigrants, but I understand the community quite well.
Bklyner: Anything else people should know about you?
Nicholson: I don’t know what else to tell you, other than I am really qualified to be a judge.
Bklyner: What is your favorite restaurant in the 6th Municipal District?
Nicholson: [Cafe] Rue Dix, which is on Bedford. It’s a Senegalese restaurant. I am also a chef. I went to chef school. I went to the Institute of Culinary Education in ‘09. I just did that on the weekend for nine months and now I am the family cook.
Bklyner: Do you have any pets?
Nicholson: Yeah. I have a Double Yellow-Headed Amazon [parrot], I have a cat, a rescue. [His name is] Scout, because we found him in the backyard. He was scouting for a home.