A 2017 lawsuit against Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Dweynie Paul, which was settled quietly that same year, has recently resurfaced and threatens her campaign for a seat on the Kings County Surrogate’s Court.
A home care worker hired to assist Paul’s late mother alleged in the suit that the judge owes her $264,142 in unpaid wages for three years of around-the-clock care.
On March 2, several high-profile Brooklyn lawmakers defended Paul, the front-runner for the coveted seat on the bench.
“This is another example of the abuse of a Black woman with impeccable credentials,” Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a Brownsville Democrat, said. “Black women are continuously devalued and portrayed as underqualified. Judge Paul will always keep to the highest judicial standards and ethics.”
The City newspaper reported on Feb. 23 that home care worker, Marie Coffy, filed the lawsuit in Kings County Supreme Court in April 2017. It accused Paul of exploiting her labor from November 2013 to December 2016 when she quit.
According to the allegations, Coffy received a paltry $2.29 an hour when she started, with small increases over the years. She provided care for the judge’s mother for as much as 24 hours a day, for five days in a row. Coffy’s attorney, Michael Taubenfeld, claimed Paul violated wage and other labor laws.
The lawsuit was settled in 2017 for an undisclosed amount. However, Paul denies any wrongdoing. She stated that Coffy worked for her disabled mother, a retired nurse.
“I am deeply saddened that an unfounded allegation filed against my deceased mother targeting me, is being used to assassinate my character,” Paul said in a statement, adding it was “a family decision” to settle and avoid a legal battle while her mother was ill.
Workers often exploited
Nationwide, home care workers earn low wages, with 45% of full-time workers surviving on public assistance. New York’s full-time home care aides earned an average of just $27,000 in 2017.
Many of these workers don’t know their rights and some are undocumented – making them vulnerable to exploitation, even when working for agencies.
In January 2020, officials announced settlement agreements with 11 agencies for violating the labor law. The settlement required them to pay nearly $450,000 in restitution to more than 4,100 home health aides.
Attempt to derail a campaign?
Paul and her supporters contend there is a racist motive behind the surfacing of the lawsuit intended to damage her chances of becoming a surrogate judge.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-9th District) denounced the “misinformation, deception and distraction” tactics used against Paul and other women pursuing public service.
“As Black women seek to advance – especially in public service, I’ve noticed an alarming trend: the impugning of their character by accusations largely unrelated to their duties. This is a harmful and divisive practice that must cease immediately,” the Crown Heights Democrat, who serves as head of the Brooklyn Black Elected Officials Coalition, said.
Paul is competing against New York Supreme Court Justice Rosemarie Montalbano to replace retiring Surrogate Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres. Michael Oliva, a spokesman for Montalbano, denied the justice was involved in the resurfacing of the lawsuit, according to The New York Daily News.
“Judge Montalbano is running an energetic, positive and independent campaign focused on taking her message of fairness and equal justice for all people to the voters of Brooklyn. In the end, the facts of Ms. Paul’s case will stand for themselves,” Oliva stated.
Surrogate judges serve 14-year terms and oversee cases in which county residents die without leaving a will. Kings County is allotted two judges on the surrogate bench.
These judges appoint lawyers to manage, sometimes wealthy, estate cases. It can be lucrative for the attorneys, who can charge exorbitant fees for their service.
Consequently, appointments often go to the judge’s friends or those willing to make campaign contributions to the judge or contributions to the judge’s political party.
Paul is widely expected to win because she has the support of the Kings County Democratic Committee, as well as the personal backing of the party’s chair, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.