Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres has appointed municipal prosecutor Dawn Blakely-Harper as a judge at the Paterson Municipal Court. Her appointment came before the City Council on Tuesday night which has to confirm her for the judgeship.
Blakely-Harper has served as an assistant corporation counsel in the city for the past nine years. She also served as a municipal prosecutor during that time, according to her resume. She also briefly worked as an alternate municipal prosecutor at the Borough of Woodland Park (previously West Paterson).
Blakely-Harper, 48, has her own law practice focused on family law, civil, landlord-tenant, wills, and estate. She has a juris doctorate from the Texas Southern University.
Council members held a hearing as part of the confirmation process.
“As a prosecutor, your goal is to put people away. Have you been on the other side of the table where you keep people out?” asked Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
“Every day. I try to seek justice,” said Blakely-Harper. She said when she receives a case that she determines should not move forward she has used prosecutorial discretion. “I can move that in front of the court and ask them to dismiss the case because in our profession it is against justice to pursue this type of a case,” she replied.
Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, asked for her opinion about bail reform.
Law director Domenick Stampone chimed in stating, “Regardless of how anyone feels about it, it is state law. As a judge soon, she’ll have to apply that law.”
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, asked if Blakely-Harper ever worked as a public defender.
“As a prosecutor, I’m precluded from doing criminal defense work of any kind,” said Blakely-Harper.
The two women on the council expressed solidarity with Blakely-Harper. Cotton said she was happy to see Blakely-Harper has advocated for women in the past.
“As a female, I feel very proud,” added Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large.
Blakely-Harper is replacing longtime judge Kevin McDuffie.
The mayor has decided against re-appointing McDuffie. He has re-appointed the other judges — Abdelmageid “John” Abdelhadi, Jeremias Batista, Cecelia Guzman, Gerard Keegan, Giuseppe Randazzo — on the city’s court.
A dozen member of the church McDuffie attends protested the mayor’s move to forgo re-appointing the longtime judge.
“It’s a bitter sweet moment because I think you have some big shoes to fill,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He praised the work McDuffie has been doing and described him as a “passionate member of the community.”
McDuffie has been a judge at the Paterson Municipal Court for well over a decade, according to officials and several of his supporters.
“I hope you rule with compassion and you do it with a measure of understanding of circumstances,” said Jackson to Blakely-Harper, who was born and raised in the Silk City.
Blakely-Harper grew up in the Riverview Towers. She has known the mayor since she was a little girl visiting the bodega run by the Torres family. At 15 years of age, Blakely-Harper got a summer job at the Paterson Municipal Court, which helped to change her career outlook and pushed her towards the legal profession.
Blakely-Harper, who has been appointed for a three-year term, attended the hearing with her husband Damon Harper.
Council members will consider confirming her appointment to the court on Tuesday night.