When the Erie County legislature created a seventh Family Court judgeship, many in the system urged Brenda Freedman to run. After all, as an attorney referee she knows the ropes and she had flirted with the job in 2013.
“I was actually making the rounds, but I had some personal priorities that took the front seat,” Freedman said. “Today, I’m eager to run and serve the people of this county.”
Freedman has over 25 years of experience in family law. She is one of only a handful of specially selected Court Attorney Referees, and works in both NYS Supreme Court as well as Erie County Family Court. She presides over cases of divorce, custody, visitation, and domestic violence. It’s this specialized perception that qualifies her for the bench.
If Freedman could send voters one message, it might be: Family court needs some changes and I can help make it happen.
The new judgeship was created this past June by the NYS legislature to address the high volume needs of the courts. In 2013, there were 36,000 family court matters pending in Erie County. At one point, the county had the most filings of any other family court system in the state. Freedman believes the seventh seat will help meet the demand and get cases handled more quickly and efficiently.
The court also has many return customers: families unsatisfied with their results often return for the same issue. “I know we can see a reduction of these occurrences,” Freedman said.
Freedman wasn’t always a lawyer, for a period of time she was an elementary school teacher. She was eager to teach young minds, but found many students were not in a position to learn: They were unable to concentrate due to stresses at home. She remembers one of her students coming in with fleas, extremely uncomfortable and itching. Once a student came to school traumatized the day after his uncle was shot in the street - he was the only male figure in his life.
Trying to teach these stressed children led Freedman towards family law. “Kids are being raised in chaos and it gets passed on,” she said.
Freedman practiced family law for 15 years and clerked for one of her judicial role models, Hon, Vincent E. Doyle Jr., J.S.C. He was one of the most compassionate people she ever met. “Vinny really cared about people. He had been on the bench for a very long time, but never became jaded,” she said. “He deeply cared about the litigants and the lawyers. I admire that.”
When Doyle passed away, she became a Court Attorney Referee.
As family court judge, Freedman wants to deal with the underlying issues involved in family cases. She wants to address common problems like substance abuse, mental health and improper supervision, and help parents better understand parenting responsibilities.
She sees these problems every day: Freedman has presided over thousands of cases and gives people access to necessary resources. When given consent, she is able to try the case. Her experience has left her with great insight on what families need, and she knows the county can do a much better job at addressing these fundamental concerns.
People often come to court with high expectations only to see them dashed by reality. The process takes a lot longer than most expect, and she believes petitioners need more information about what their day in court will look like.
“We need to be able to invest time into each family so we can get petitions down,” Freedman said. “Access to justice is a compelling issue in family court. A vast majority qualify for free lawyers. Still, people don’t always show up, and will just file another petition.”
When asked what her biggest accomplishment in her career, she replied, “I’m proud of really trying and effectuating better solutions for families, helping them jump over their chasms and move on in a better way where the children are better supported. It gives parents the hope to be a better parent.”
Freedman has given back over the years by sitting on many legal and educational boards. “The exposure I got serving on these boards gave me a greater appreciation for the attorneys and the number of people applying for these free attorneys.”
Her mother, Maryann Saccomando Freedman, joins Judge Doyle as her role model. When I mentioned her, she lit up and said: “I would love to talk about my mother.” She’s particularly proud of the struggles her mother endured as a woman in law.
“She was a vanguard of women’s rights and a glass ceiling breaker. She faced many closed doors. She would be physically removed from court rooms on numerous occasions,” Freedman said. Her mother believed going through mainstream channels would help advance women, so she served in every position in the bar association. She was the first woman president of the Erie County Bar Association as well as the NYS Bar Association. And she made national news when she politely urged the Buffalo Club to admit women in 1982.
Freedman is a Magna cum laude graduate of the SUNY at Buffalo Law School and a Summa cum laude graduate from the SUC at Fredonia. She grew up in Buffalo and was in the first graduating class from City Honors High School.Her husband, Marty Mutka, who grew up in South Buffalo and attended Bishop Timon High School, works countless hours on her campaign. They live in Williamsville with their three children.