Meet Justice Andrea Masley – A New Member of the Commercial Division
Meet the newest Justices of the Commercial Division! Lawyers at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP are interviewing the newest members of the Commercial Division bench to learn about their professional and personal backgrounds, why they decided to become judges, and what they expect of the lawyers who appear before them. Our first interview is with Justice Andrea Masley, who was elected as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court in 2016 and assigned to the Commercial Division in 2017. This is a multi-part series, so stay tuned as we publish interviews with other Justices.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I grew up in Clifton, NJ with my parents and two sisters. I recently returned from visiting one of my sisters who is retired and lives in Las Vegas. And I am also quite happy that I married my long-time partner, Sam.
Q: How do you spend your spare time?
A: I enjoy attending the theater, playing tennis, and spending time with friends and family.
II. Background in Business
Q: Did your family encourage you to go into the law?
A: My family encouraged me to go into business. When I was growing up, women were discouraged from pursing math, but I was always good with numbers. I received a B.A. in Economics and went to work as an accountant for Bunge Corporation, a grain trading firm, where I learned about trading commodities and feeding the world. At the time, there were very few women working in commodities. My business background has helped me understand complex finance and accounting issues.
III. Law School
Q: What inspired you to go to law school?
A: I first obtained an M.B.A. in Finance from Rutgers University. While in Business School, I interned at the Better Business Bureau handling consumer protection investigations. This experience inspired me to work in consumer protection. My mentors at the Bureau, Barbara Opotowsky (who later became the City Bar’s Executive Director) and Rhonda Singer, both encouraged me to attend law school. Years later, when I sat as a judge in the Credit Card Part of Civil Court, I heard consumer cases. It was nice to get back to consumer law.
IV. Early Legal Career
Q: What was your first job out of law school?
A: I worked at Dechert handling commercial litigations. From Dechert, I was hired as Diversity Counsel at the City Bar Association, where I worked with Fern Schair. I worked on a number of projects including the City Bar’s Glass Ceiling Report and for Barbara Robinson, the Association’s first female president.
V. Clerking for Judge Louise Gans and Justice Charles Edward Ramos
Q: Tell us about your experience clerking with Judge Gans.
A: My experience working for Judge Gans inspired my decision to become a judge. There were two cases in particular that still stand out to me. They were both housing cases where tenants were facing eviction under horrible circumstances. Both tenants were unrepresented, putting the onus on the Court to ensure a fair ruling. This required a great deal of careful research because the pro se tenants were not in a position to do the research themselves. Both decisions were appealed. One case was reversed and the family was evicted, and the second case was affirmed. I really became a judge to help people.
Q: What was the caseload like in Supreme Court?
A: The case load was enormous. We had over 1,200 cases, including the first mold class action. Judge Gans certified a class, and that ruling was reversed, so we ended up with about 800 cases from just one housing development.
Q: How did this compare to your caseload while working with Justice Ramos?
A: We had over 500 cases when I worked for Justice Ramos.
Q: Are there any lessons that you learned from Justice Ramos?
A: “Do the right thing.” That is it. He would say that all the time, and that was his advice when I was sworn in.
Q: How did these experiences prepare you to be a judge?
A: Court Attorneys understand case management and how to move cases. It is a learned skill.
Q: Have mentors played an important role in your professional development?
A: Absolutely. Barbara Opotowsky and Rhonda Singer—they encouraged me and took an interest in me. They have made all the difference in my career and continue to do so today.
Q: Are you a mentor to others?
A: Absolutely. Because mentors changed my life, I feel an obligation to do the same for high school, college, and law students who intern in my chambers. Many of these students come through the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program, the City Bar’s Thurgood Marshall Program, and City-As-School. A lot of my students stay in touch with me, and that is really rewarding. I learn so much from them.
Q: What is the Sonia and Celina Sotomayor Judicial Internship Program?
A: It is a program that places high school and law school students from diverse backgrounds in judicial internships. Justice Sotomayor meets with all of the students and their parents during the program.
VII. Bar Association Activities
Q: You have been very involved in bar associations. What are some of the benefits of participating in bar associations?
A: I actually met Justice Ramos through the New York City Bar Association. While I was Diversity Counsel, he served on the Executive Committee.
Q: In addition to networking, are there other benefits?
A: Yes. As soon as I graduated from law school, I joined the New York City Bar Association’s Consumer Affairs Committee and made lifelong friends with Committee members. It sometimes led to job offers and opened up professional opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. It was also an opportunity to make close friends in the profession.
VIII. Judicial Preferences
Q: Are there any practices lawyers have that concern you?
A: A few. While we have the best commercial practitioners in the Commercial Division, they are not always the best trial attorneys. I have seen commercial litigators bring in trial counsel for some cases, and that can be helpful. It is not good for you or your client if you are an inexperienced trial attorney. Trials move very quickly, and the best trial attorneys can keep pace.
In addition, it is frustrating to see litigators who lack familiarity with general accounting principles. If accounting issues come up in cases, it is the lawyer’s responsibility to understand them.
Beyond that, some people are abusing our page limits by including overlong footnotes. This is an obvious attempt to skirt page limits and extensive footnotes are difficult to read.
Q: What do you look for in good legal writing?
A: Clarity. No legalese. No repetition. Lawyers sometimes get so focused on the issue that it can take 4 or 5 pages before they clearly present the legal issue that they are asking the Court to address.
Q: What advice would you give to lawyers appearing before you?
A: Check the Part Rules. I am in the process of revising my rules again to make them clearer. One change is to attach a model trial exhibit list in the form of a chart that each party is required to fill in with the documents they seek to introduce into evidence. Also, be mindful of the differences between state and federal practice, particularly as it concerns the exchange of draft expert reports. In addition, there is a high standard for sealing documents, so you should be prepared to redact documents rather than seeking to seal everything.
Q: What can judges do to promote diversity in the profession?
A: My rules provide that you can have more than one attorney argue a motion. This is meant to encourage senior lawyers to give opportunities to junior lawyers. The bigger issue is I am not seeing women and minorities appear in my courtroom at all, let alone arguing motions. I was on the Commercial Division bench for 6 weeks before a woman appeared in my courtroom.
X. Support for the Profession
Q: In addition to diversity, what are other areas where the legal profession could do more to support lawyers?
A: We need to do more to support each other. People in our profession are suffering from different kinds of stress and pressure, both personally and sometimes as a result of caring for a loved one. For example, I care for my 88 year old mother who suffers from dementia so I know how difficult that can be. As a profession, we need to focus more on helping and supporting each other as people, not just as lawyers.