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  • Laura Italiano

Longest-sitting NYC judge retires

By Laura Italiano

November 22, 2012 5:00am

The city’s longest-sitting judge stood up yesterday.

And while the retirement of controversial Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman is cause for celebration among the legion of lawyers she’s sparred with over the past 32 years, even her avowed detractors grudgingly call her a smart and prepared jurist.

“I have this reputation for being a mean old bitch,” Berkman, 70, said after hearing her last case, a gun possession.

“It’s the way I talk. I don’t pad it,” she said. “There’s a lot of crap that goes on in courtrooms.

“Lawyers not doing their job. Lawyers not ready for trial. If you have no passion for this, why do it?”

CAROL BERKMAN 32 years on bench.

Schooled at Cornell and Harvard Law, Berkman was appointed by Mayor Ed Koch in 1979.

Her big cases include the 2008 Carnegie Deli massacre trial, in which she presided over a rare double jury, and the 2007 student seduction-rape trial of Upper East Side Montessori school “beducator” Lina Sinha, at whose sentencing Berkman quoted a Shakespeare sonnet: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

She also acidly scolded Sinha’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, during a pre-trial hearing, “Don’t tell an old grandmother how to suck eggs,” meaning, don’t tellher how to do her job.

“It was one of the most uncomfortable courtrooms I’ve ever been in,” Shargel said of Berkman’s mural bedecked perch at 100 Centre St.

Lawyer Frank Rothman joked, “She struck fear in the heart of many a lawyer — myself not included.”

Berkman saved her harshest vitriol for her teen defendants.

“She would harp on them and twist them and question them to see what they were made of,” said her clerk, Pat Lawrie. “And when they finally successfully completed their program, she made sure they knew it was their accomplishment, not hers.

“She made them own what they did wrong, and then she made them own their success.”

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