Setting the Bar High with Legal Eagle Trailblazer Judge Helen Voutsinas
by Athena Efter
As a Greek-American woman and contributing writer, it was very inspiring to be given the opportunity through NEO Magazine to interview the Honorable Helen Voutsinas, the only Greek-American woman to rise to the position of District Court Judge in Nassau County and in what still is a predominantly male-oriented position in the general Court system. In this interview, Judge Voutsinas shares her thoughts with us on what motivates and inspires her. Being the eldest daughter of working class Greek immigrants who emphasized education above all else, it’s important for us, as a community, to express our support for her re-election. Judge Voutsinas is committed to leadership and justice. By supporting her candidacy, we, too, commit ourselves to upholding the same ideals of fairness and justice that she vows to uphold and maintain. We thank Judge Voutsinas for taking the time out of her busy schedule to accommodate this interview. As a community, we are proud of her dedication to her work, her family, and her representation as a successful young Greek-American woman in our legal system. Every vote counts and yours will too.
How important is this re-election for you and what does it signify for your long-term career goals?
I have served for almost six years as a District Court Judge. If I do not come in first or second in this race, my term will end on December 31, 2016. I would like to continue as a District Court Judge and some day move on to be a Supreme Court Justice. I would like to move on to higher office eventually. If I do not win, I obviously will no longer represent my community and those goals will be put off for another time or extinguished. I trust that all Greek-Americans will come out and vote and I will be victorious on November 8th. With the Greek-American vote I will no doubt win.
Last time you received 104,000 votes in Hempstead and Long Beach. There is no doubt you have many supporters and people who believe in you to be the best woman for this role. How can we, as a Greek-American community, support your campaign?
You can support my campaign in many ways. The Greek-American community can change an election locally. They have that power. How can they help? If you live in the Town of Hempstead of City of Long Beach, which extends from the Queens border to Seaford and is all the area south of Old Country Road in Nassau County, please vote for Voutsinas on Line 9. You can tell your friends and neighbors to vote for me, put a sign on your property, follow me on facebook at @JudgeHelenVoutsinas, join my campaign and make phone calls for me, and spread the word.
Tell us about your beginnings. Did you always want to pursue a career in law?
I am living the American Dream. My parents are both immigrants, who came from simple beginnings to the United States in search of a better life. My father started as a bus boy and my mother as a cashier at a clothing store and they worked numerous jobs to make a better life for themselves and their children. They both instilled in me the importance of a good education. My dream was to be a leader and defender of people’s rights from a young age. However, as the eldest of three children I did not know whether I would be able to obtain that dream financially or even academically. With hard work, my dream became reality when I graduated from St. John’s University with an Accounting and Law Degree.
What inspired you to go to the next level, to run for District Court Judge?
When I graduated law school, I started at a local law firm and one of the partners there was running for Judge at the time. He asked me where I wanted to be in the future and I told him I wanted to become a Judge. He started me on the career path and introduced me to the process. I was able to observe others become Judges and I tried to replicate their efforts.
As a woman, and being the only Greek-American woman to serve as a judge in Nassau County, were there any challenges you had to face in achieving this rank?
Currently, I am the only Greek-American Judge in the Nassau County court system and there are very few women Judges in the Court system that became a Judge at my age, so I had few role models or mentors. In essence, I am blazing a trail for other Greek-American women. I knew I had the credentials and temperament to be a good Judge, but I had to convince others to get over their preconceived notions of what a Judge should look like. I built a substantial resume. I served as an attorney to a County Court Judge for over six years and I became involved in many organizations throughout the years. I also became involved in my local community. I served as President of the Nassau County Women’s Bar Association and founded the Nassau County Women’s Bar Foundation, which provides scholarships to women who can’t afford law school. In order to become a Judge, I had to go before the bar association to be found well qualified for the position. Once I was found well qualified, I had the political challenge of being chosen as the nominated candidate by the political parties to be the District Court Judge. The biggest hurdle is getting the community to vote for you. However, with all the work I had done in various organizations and in the community I was successful in 2010.
What are the issues and causes that matter to you firstly, as a prominent and well-respected member of the legal community, secondly, as a woman, and thirdly as a Greek-American woman in this position?
As a Judge I am not permitted to speak about causes or issues. We can only run on our qualifications. However, I can say it is of utmost importance to me that everyone that come before me get a fair and equal chance. I treat everyone that comes before me with respect and I listen to all the facts of each case that comes before me. I think it is important that Judges are in touch with the needs of the community. Everyone is entitled to protections of the law and their day in Court. I am mindful of my role as a referee to make sure that people get a fair chance.
What are the primary concerns and issues that face the district and county that you serve?
Judges can’t answer questions with regard to issues because we are not policy makers. We cannot legislate, we are there to administer the law.
What are the rewarding experiences that make the work you do, as an attorney and a District Court Judge, so important to our legal system and societal welfare?
It is of utmost importance to me that everyone that come before me get a fair and equal chance. It is also important to me that the people of Nassau County receive the help they need during tough times in their lives. It is always rewarding when a just outcome is achieved, whether it is by helping a member of the community get the services they need, letting an innocent person go free, or administering the appropriate punishment to those that are found guilty. When justice is served in any form, it is rewarding. If justice is not served our society falls apart.
Do you visit Greece often? Does your heritage play a big role in your life outside the courtroom?
I try to visit Greece every year. I love it there. My husband is Greek and my son has started Greek school at two years old. It is important to me that they learn the language and culture. Being Greek is just a part of my life.
What advice can you offer to young attorneys starting out? What are the challenges they will face?
Be honest to everyone. Be prepared. Know the law. Be courteous to everyone. Love your job. Be good at your job and confident with everything you do. The major challenge they will face is being true to themselves and who they are. My advice is to keep stern in your beliefs, don’t waver, and always try to give and help others.