Sheila Abdus-Salaam ’77
Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam ’77, who currently serves as a justice at the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, still recalls when lawyer and civil rights activist Frankie Muse Freeman visited her high school in the late 1960s. “She was riveting,” Abdus-Salaam says. “She was doing what I wanted to do: using the law to help people.”
A native Washingtonian, Abdus-Salaam, whose maiden name is Turner, grew up with six siblings and working-class parents who struggled to make ends meet. After graduating from Barnard and Columbia Law School, she remained true to her desire to help families like her own and began working for Brooklyn Legal Services in the late ’70s. Abdus-Salaam handled landlord-tenant and immigration cases, among other matters, for clients in the Bushwick, East New York, and Brownsville sections of Brooklyn. “The job was not just legal, but also part social work, and some part education,” she says.
After stints in the state attorney general’s office and as a judge at the New York City Civil Court, Abdus-Salaam ran for the state Supreme Court in 1993. Once elected, she rose quickly through the ranks, and now, nearly two decades later, sits on the appellate court bench, where she hears dozens of cases each week. “The stakes are high for a lot of the litigants because this court may be as far as their case goes,” says Abdus-Salaam. “I think people consider me to be a judge who listens and gives them a fair shot.”