Nation e-Edition

SEEN UP NORTH: CJ hailed by lawyers’ union

By Tony Best | Sun, November 11, 2012 - 12:00 AM

When Sir Roy Trotman, Barbados’ pre-eminent labour leader, and Chief Justice Marston Gibson meet again, probably at a social event or at an official Government function, they will have quite a lot to talk about.

Actually, they can reflect on something they have in common: trade union negotiations.

Before the Chief Justice returned home last year from New York to head his birthplace’s judiciary, he was on the negotiating team of the Court Attorneys’ Association of New York City – a registered trade union that bargains for higher salaries and improved conditions of service for hundreds of lawyers employed in New York State courts.

“It was an interesting opportunity for me,” explained Gibson, who was a judicial referee in Nassau County on Long island for several years.

“I served as a delegate to the union and was on its negotiating committee, putting the case for better terms of service for the attorneys. It was an exciting aspect of my career.”

Gibson came back to New York recently to accept an award from the association whose history dates back to 1966 when it was given its “collective bargaining certificate” from City Hall. At the time it negotiated its first contract on behalf of the lawyers who were then called law assistants and referees, earning an annual salary of US$15 000.

Today, the association represents almost 250 lawyers who work primarily in the supreme, surrogate and family courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, as well as in the appeals courts. They now earn more than US$100 000.

Gibson was among three jurists who were singled out by the union for their “long and distinguished” careers in the courts. The others were Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, the administrative judge in charge of all New York City family courts, and William Perry, a judge in Brooklyn’s family court.

“Every year our association honours attorneys and jurists so we decided to focus attention this year on the careers of three jurists who have made important contributions to the delivery of justice in our city,” said Brenda Levinson, the union’s long-serving president.

“In Justice Gibson’s case we decided to honour him because of his work in New York State’s court system on Long Island and to recognize his rise to the leadership of the judiciary in Barbados. We just couldn’t allow his appointment to go unnoticed in the city.”

Gibson, a Rhodes Scholar who earned law degrees from the University of the West Indies and Britain’s Oxford University, began working in the New York court system in 1989, starting as an attorney in the Appellate Division, Second Department of the State Supreme Court, America’s busiest state appeals court.

He became a court attorney-referee in the surrogate’s court in Manhattan in 1992 and later transferred to state courts in Nassau County where he served until his appointment last year as Barbados’ Chief Justice. As a court attorney-referee, Gibson tried matrimonial and other civil cases.

The awards were presented to jurists at the association’s 46th annual dinner held at the SPQR Restaurant in Little Italy. Gibson was introduced to the gathering of attorneys and judges by Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, the Barbadian who, until recently, was the administrative judge of Brooklyn’s civil courts. She was elevated to the appeals court which handles cases from about a dozen counties across New York.

Using the colloquial term of “home boy”, meaning that like Gibson, she was born in Barbados, Hinds-Radix said that during their professional careers they were “fortunate to serve on many community organizations together and I have come to know him as a committed and dedicated individual”.

Just as important, she added, the chief justice “had a long and distinguished career in the New York State courts, serving in several court attorney positions”.

After receiving the award, Gibson explained that while in New York he was a union delegate negotiating with management but as Chief Justice of Barbados he was now part of management.

“I regard it as not just a privilege but a pleasure to have served as a [union] delegate,” he said, adding that being chief justice gave him the opportunity to view the operations of the courts from a different position.

“There is nothing too small in [the Supreme Court Complex in Bridgetown] that occurs that they don’t think the chief ought to know,” he said.

“So if there is a toilet that is not flushing, the chief gets to hear about it.”

He said that the courts in Barbados had recently appointed a new batch of judicial assistants, legally trained professionals who conducted research and worked alongside judges “with a view to getting decisions out as quickly as possible”.

Gibson’s first job in the New York courts was as a law assistant, “which is the same thing as a judicial assistant”, he pointed out.

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