Justice Lisa Ottley presides over guardianship cases in Kings County Supreme Court

Judge Lisa Ottley.  Judge Lisa Ottley
Judge Lisa Ottley.
Judge Lisa Ottley

Caribbean American Justice Lisa S. Ottley says she is one of two judges presiding over Article 81 matters on guardianship cases in Kings Country (Brooklyn) Supreme Court.

Guardianship proceedings are commenced when there is an allegation that someone needs a guardian to be appointed over the person, property or both of an individual who is alleged to be incapacitated.

“During the pandemic the biggest challenge was being able to assess the individual who is alleged to be incapacitated due to the isolating aspect of the pandemic,” Justice Ottley, whose late father, George Ottley, hailed from Trinidad & Tobago, told Caribbean Life.

“When a proceeding for the appointment of a guardian is commenced, the alleged incapacitated person is appointed counsel to represent the rights of the alleged incapacitated person, as well as a court evaluator, who is basically the eyes and ears of the court, who will submit a report with findings and recommendations,” she added.

“This, no doubt, was a challenge, because hospitals were not allowing people to visit patients, and nursing homes were following the same protocol,” Justice Ottley continued. “In addition, it was difficult to have access to the alleged incapacitated person if there was no internet access.

“However, the commitment that the attorneys, my staff and those dedicated to protecting the rights of those who were not able to do, allowed us to push through and figure out ways to assist with getting access via the phone, Skype, Zoom and Teams to allow the court to make a determination,” she said.

Currently, Justice Ottley said the process and COVID-19 protocol remain in place.

She said hearings continue to move forward and visits to the alleged incapacitated person, as well as those who have been deemed incapacitated, are hybrid.

Justice Ottley said the majority of the cases that she presides over are done via Microsoft Teams.

However, she said, when necessary, hearings can, and do, take place in person in a courtroom that is outfitted with plexiglass.

Justice Ottley said her entire staff is dedicated to getting the work done.

She said Lola Waterman, her law clerk, conferences cases on a daily basis, and her secretary, Chanel Lewis, is “busy scheduling conferences, hearings and making sure the attorneys receive the Microsoft Teams Link for calendared cases.”

Justice Ottley also said her part time clerk, Melissa Coleman, ensures that the decisions and orders are properly input into the system, “which allows access to the court’s decisions that are also sent out via email to all parties to proceedings and lawsuits.”

“Being efficient, effective and working as a team have enabled me to move the calendar and settle cases,” said Justice Ottley, who was elected to the Civil Court in 2008 and, two years later, was appointed Supervising Judge.

Prior to her appointment as Acting Justice of the Supreme Court, she presided over cases in both Civil and Family Court in Kings County.

As supervising judge of the Civil Court, Kings County, she presided over the Trial Assignment Part in Civil Court.

Justice Ottley is the first African-American judge to be appointed as supervising judge of the Civil Court in Kings County.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, she credits her parents, George Ottley and Minnie Ottley, a native of Greenville, SC with raising her to be “independent, strong-willed and determined.”

Justice Ottley said her father, a merchant seaman, traveled and spoke four languages (self-taught): French, Spanish, English and Portuguese.

She said he met her mother while traveling, and was “instrumental in making sure that his children traveled and experienced different cultures, customs and food.

“He and my mother loved to entertain, and welcomed many people into their home,” Justice Ottley said. “I, like my father, am a people-person and get fulfillment from helping others.

“I am the youngest girl of eight children,” she added. “My oldest sister just celebrated her 80th birthday.”

Justice Ottley said that, at an early age, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in law.

She attended James Madison High School and was enrolled in the law program as an honor student. She is a graduate of City College’s specialized program in Urban Legal Studies.

Afterwards, Justice Ottley said she attended Hunter College to pursue a Master’s degree in urban affairs-economic development, and received the Robert C. Weaver Scholarship.

Justice Ottley said she obtained her Juris Doctorate (law) degree from Temple University School of Law, where, she said, she had “the opportunity to study and travel abroad”, with her father’s “encouragement and enthusiasm.”

While attending law school, Justice Ottley said she taught high school students about the law, and was an active member of the Black Law Students Association.

Always active in her community, Justice Ottley said she was an officer and member of her block association, and tutored neighborhood kids in school subjects, such as English, literature and writing.

In addition, she said she has been the guest speaker at civic and bar association events.

Justice Ottley is the recipient of several honors and awards from various civic groups and organizations, such as the NYPD Guardians Association, the 42nd A.D. Democratic Club, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Kings County Housing Bar Association, The Kings County Courts Gender Awareness Committee and the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.

Prior to becoming a judge, she was an Associate Court Attorney for the Hon. Alice Fisher Rubin.

Justice Ottley is a former Small Claims Court Arbitrator and a former adjunct professor at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus on both the graduate and undergraduate levels, as well as an adjunct professor at Kingsborough Community College.

She is a member of Brooklyn Community Church, currently serves on the Board of Composers Now, and served on the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association Board of Directors for about 10 years.

Since 1984, Justice Ottley has been a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first African-American sorority founded on the campus of Howard University in 1908.

She credits the sorority for the “continuous foundation” of her “commitment to community service locally, nationally and internationally.”