Judge Noach Dear: Dispensing Rapid-Fire Justice From The Bench


Brooklyn Civil Court is a crowded place, but one judge handles the litigation backlog by forging compromise between debtors and banks.

At a recent Tuesday morning calendar call, acting Kings County Supreme Court Justice Noach Dear kicked court into session just after 9:30 a.m. with an audience of about 100 self-represented debtors. He began with a no-nonsense, informational speech to the litigants and then got down to dispensing rapid-fire justice.

“Here, I see the big picture,” Judge Dear said of his courtroom. He said he’s helped make a two-year backlog in debtors court virtually disappear. He’s sympathetic to underprivileged debtors and impressed by those who try to take the reins of their legal case and represent themselves pro se.

“He’s alright. He has a job, you can tell,” Dear, who has a degree in social work, predicts of one debtor. About another litigant, he says, “Sometimes you can tell, if he’s taken [the case] that far, he’s probably right. All odds are he’s been shafted.”

Some pro se debtors just need a little help. At one point during the morning court session, the flow of cases is interrupted by a woman having a particularly tough time. She has two debts, and says she wants to pay off the first, but the second could bankrupt her. Judge Dear adjourns the case so that she can seek counsel, but the woman is confused and begins to cry.

“Everything will be okay,” Judge Dear says, changing his tone. “No one is hurt; everything is fine.” Beckoning a volunteer lawyer from the back of the courtroom, he tells her the attorney has now been assigned to her case and will explain everything. She dabs at her eyes, nods, and is led away.

“I feel bad for people. I could do it a lot slower [by explaining the particulars of each case], but other people are here, taking days off work to be here. I want to give everybody a fair shake,” Dear explained. “That’s just how it is! A hundred cases a day, and all that reading. I’ve been doing this a year now.”

‘Feet to the Fire’

Elected in 2008 and appointed as an acting Supreme Court justice in 2010, Dear is also a former Brooklyn politician and renowned Democratic fundraiser in national circles, earning the close friendship of former President Bill Clinton, he said.

His skills as a mediator and negotiator make him a great fit for this position, his colleagues and former supervising judge said.

“He’s amazingly efficient in that part, and I give him all the credit that I can give,” said acting Kings County Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney, who for over a year was the Brooklyn Civil Court supervising judge.

Sweeney praised Dear for holding attorneys to high standards of preparedness and for dismissing cases, when necessary, rather than letting lawyers without evidence get adjournments.

“You have to nip that in the bud; you can’t let them get away with that, and Judge Dear is firm.”

Former Judicial Hearing Officer Eileen Nadelson handled inquests and some small trials in Judge Dear’s part. She said that sometimes lawyers don’t like Judge Dear because he keeps the cases moving so fast. “He’s very rapid. He doesn’t give more than one shot. He won’t give [gratuitous] adjournments. … That holds the lawyers’ feet to the fire,” Nadelson said. “They rise or fall.”