Grenadian-born court attorney referee Derefim Bernadette Neckles is vying for the position of Civil Court judge countywide in Brooklyn, saying that she has the “knowledge, experience, integrity and compassion needed to serve as a civil court judge.”
“As a court attorney referee, acting in a quasi-judicial role, I preside over cases, render decisions and issue reports,” Neckles told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview on Monday.
“I am vying for the position for two reasons: first, to achieve my personal dream of becoming a judge; and, second, to promote justice, fairness and equal treatment under the law for everyone, including Caribbean-born folks now residing in Brooklyn.”
Since becoming a lawyer, Neckles, an East Flatbush, Brooklyn resident, said she has encountered many challenges as a female and immigrant.
However, she said she has been able to overcome those challenges by her faith in God, perseverance, her education and “being a strong woman.”
“As a court attorney referee, I have been successful in resolving difficult cases and issues, including residential foreclosure problems, which homeowners/borrowers encountered in dealing with lenders,” Neckles said. “At the same time, I have been challenged by the lack of resources available to the unrepresented borrowers.”
At an early age, Neckles said she learned the value of education and hard work.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics, with honors, from Brooklyn College and her doctor of jurisprudence (JD) degree from the University of Miami School of Law. She has been admitted to practice law in New York and Florida.
As a young attorney, Neckles said she spent the first four years of her legal career (1998-2001) in private practice, handling civil rights, employment discrimination, landlord-tenant and contract matters.
She spent the next 11 years of her legal career (2002-2012) in the Kings County Court system.
Starting as a court attorney in the Kings County civil and criminal courts, she said she advanced to a confidential principal law secretary/legal adviser to a Kings County Supreme Court justice and later to the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term.
During her tenure as the judge’s legal advisor, Neckles said she “counseled and advised” the judge on a multitude of legal matters, researched complex issues, drafted hundreds of decisions and orders, and mediated and settled cases.
She said she gained “a valuable insight into, and the working knowledge of, the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a trial-level judge.”
In addition, Neckles assisted the administrative judge in the development of court policies and procedures, and the implementation of new programs for the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term.
For the past seven years (2012 to current), Neckles has assumed a quasi-judicial role as a court attorney referee in Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term.
She said she had worked in the residential foreclosure part, in which she successfully conferenced hundreds of residential foreclosure cases, many of which resulted in affordable loan modifications to homeowners.
Neckles said she currently handles “a heavy caseload” of non-jury trials, framed-issue hearings, conferences and inquests.
She also issues decisions and orders, as well as reports and recommendations to the judges of her court.
Neckles said her commitment to the Brooklyn community is illustrated by her extensive pro bono service.
She has been volunteering as an arbitrator in the Small Claims Part of Kings County Civil Court for the past 14 years, where she presides over small claims matters.
As an active member in various professional and civic associations, Neckles participates in, among others, Summer Youth Employment Program, National Read Across America Event and Women in Prison Project, as well as many community forums and legal outreach programs.
She said she also mentors elementary, intermediate and high school students.
In addition, she was instrumental in organizing, at the Kings County Supreme Court, an annual summer internship program for law school, college, and high school students from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds.
Neckles is a member of highly-regarded bar associations, including the American Bar Association, the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers, the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York.
She is also a member of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kings County and Church Women United, Inc., Brooklyn.
Neckles said she has the “compassion, qualifications and experience to become a Civil Court Judge in Kings County.”
She said she was screened by the Kings County Democratic Judicial Screening Committee and was found “qualified” to become a Civil Court Judge.
Neckles affirmed that she is “committed to serving the residents of Kings County.”