Judge Noach Dear Unclogs Brooklyn’s Debts One Case at a Time


noach-dearBy Samuel Newhouse

Brooklyn Civil Court is a crowded place, but one judge handles the litigation backlog by forging compromise between debtors and banks.

At a recent Tuesday morning calendar call, acting Kings County Supreme Court Justice Noach Dear kicked court into session just after 9:30 a.m. with an audience of about 100 self-represented debtors. He began with a no-nonsense, informational speech to the litigants and then got down to dispensing rapid-fire justice.

“Here, I see the big picture,” Judge Dear said of his courtroom. He said he’s helped make a two-year backlog in debtors court virtually disappear. He’s sympathetic to underprivileged debtors and impressed by those who try to take the reins of their legal case and represent themselves pro se.

“He’s alright. He has a job, you can tell,” Dear, who has a degree in social work, predicts of one debtor. About another litigant, he says, “Sometimes you can tell, if he’s taken [the case] that far, he’s probably right. All odds are he’s been shafted.”

Some pro se debtors just need a little help. At one point during the morning court session, the flow of cases is interrupted by a woman having a particularly tough time. She has two debts, and says she wants to pay off the first, but the second could bankrupt her. Judge Dear adjourns the case so that she can seek counsel, but the woman is confused and begins to cry.

“Everything will be okay,” Judge Dear says, changing his tone. “No one is hurt; everything is fine.” Beckoning a volunteer lawyer from the back of the courtroom, he tells her the attorney has now been assigned to her case and will explain everything. She dabs at her eyes, nods, and is led away.

“I feel bad for people. I could do it a lot slower [by explaining the particulars of each case], but other people are here, taking days off work to be here. I want to give everybody a fair shake,” Dear explained. “That’s just how it is! A hundred cases a day, and all that reading. I’ve been doing this a year now.”

‘Feet to the Fire’

Elected in 2008 and appointed as an acting Supreme Court justice in 2010, Dear is also a former Brooklyn politician and renowned Democratic fundraiser in national circles, earning the close friendship of former President Bill Clinton, he said.

His skills as a mediator and negotiator make him a great fit for this position, his colleagues and former supervising judge said.

“He’s amazingly efficient in that part, and I give him all the credit that I can give,” said acting Kings County Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney, who for over a year was the Brooklyn Civil Court supervising judge.

Sweeney praised Dear for holding attorneys to high standards of preparedness and for dismissing cases, when necessary, rather than letting lawyers without evidence get adjournments.

“You have to nip that in the bud; you can’t let them get away with that, and Judge Dear is firm.”

Former Judicial Hearing Officer Eileen Nadelson handled inquests and some small trials in Judge Dear’s part. She said that sometimes lawyers don’t like Judge Dear because he keeps the cases moving so fast. “He’s very rapid. He doesn’t give more than one shot. He won’t give [gratuitous] adjournments. … That holds the lawyers’ feet to the fire,” Nadelson said. “They rise or fall.”

Money and Mediation

But the cases don’t always merrily whiz along.

Half a dozen attorneys, together representing all of the banks that are suing for the debts on this particular day, each have from one to several dozen cases before Judge Dear this morning. They know Judge Dear’s style and are ready to drop debts and offer affordable payment plans in return for a settlement; in some cases they have the authority to completely drop if there’s not enough evidence for this trial-ready part.

Sometimes, it seems the money they will save their clients will be greater if they drop a case and discontinue billable hours than the amount of the original debt in question.

One attorney had garnered several quick settlements in a row on Tuesday morning, offering debts to be dropped by hundreds of dollars with affordable payment plans, so long as the litigant settles. But one debtor stops the flow:

“I think I need a lawyer,” she says. “I don’t have any money. I don’t owe [this debt].”

Judge Dear hands her a card advising her to go to the fourth floor. But the attorney persists, still reaching for a settlement. “You want a lawyer, even if we meet your numbers?” he asks.

“What? What numbers?” the woman asks, almost as if insulted, her face quivering.

That’s when Judge Dear intercedes -“Stop, stop. When they say ‘attorney’ two times, I stop. Okay?”

Scams and Slip-ups

Some debtors thought they had started paying their debts – but really, they were just giving their money away to debt settlement scams, often seen on late-night TV and internet ads.

“These debt settlers are not good people,” Dear advises several debtors before referring them to lawyers. Another problem in this court is when bills and debt claims are sent to the wrong people.

Dear and his court attorney are ready to throw out cases where debt may be fraudulent; but a debt can be difficult to prove one way or the other sometimes.

“It’s all evidence,” Dear’s court attorney said. “The judge and I have looked at books on evidence from 200 to 250 years ago.”

“That’s one aspect. You have to know it solid, back and forth,” Dear said. He recalled that one of his professors from Brooklyn Law School called him up after he was first elected and said, “Noach, if you want to make it as a judge, do whatever you can to put your head into evidence books.”

The risk is that a self-represented debtor might accidentally agree to pay a debt they don’t even owe – and potentially usurious interest rates on top of that.

“I can’t miss a day. I become petrified that if I do, I’ll miss something like that – they charged her $2,700 in interest,” Dear said after one debtor’s case.

That’s why Dear urges many debtors to visit the CLARO (Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office) clinic, which offers advice to pro se litigants. It’s open on Thursdays, along with the Volunteer Lawyer for the Day program, which links up litigants who have a complicated case with an attorney that can join them at their court date.

Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project Supervising Attorney Sidney Cherubin oversees both of them and sees numerous litigants referred by Judge Dear. He said he approves of the judge’s approach to debtors court.

“Debtors are getting a better result now; they’re not always getting the result they want,” Cherubin said. “But I think for a long time debtors were being taken advantage of. … In the past, I felt like the debtors were being burdened with that responsibility [of proving their defense]. Now the burden has been shifted back to the right person, [the banks].”

The Judicial Path, Via City Council

Dear is a lifelong Brooklynite who has followed public service for most of his career. A native of Borough Park, Dear’s parents were teachers. He’s passionate about working to help the borough he lives in. In his early 20s, Dear became district manager for Community Board 12 in Kensington and Borough Park, and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1975.

“That gave me a lot of understanding of city services,” he said.

He was later elected a member of the New York City Council, serving for 18 years representing District 44, including Bensonhurst, Midwood and Borough Park, through 2001. After that he worked for the Taxi & Limousine Commission for six years.

His successful bid for a Civil Court seat in 2007 got him to the bench, and he said he loves legal work despite the overwhelming caseloads. Nowadays Judge Dear is also presiding over foreclosure cases and afternoon jury trials.

“There’s always a nuance; there’s always something new that you have to learn,” Dear said. “I like the interactions with the public. I like to work, I like to work hard. That’s why I volunteer on weekends a lot of the time to do criminal arraignments, too.”

His midlife enrollment in Brooklyn Law School was the decision that led him to this new path of service. “In the City Council, I was surrounded by lawyers. … I was making laws, so I decided to learn the law and get a license to practice it,” Dear said. “Here are my kids, finishing school and going to college, and I was going to school again too.”

He described the study of law as “endless,” but added, “Luckily, I love to read.”

{Brooklyn Daily Eagle/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Noach Dear once took care one of my son’s pair of Tefillin lost in a taxi cab.

    Reb Noach was at that time the city commissioner for the yellow cabs in New York City.
    He took my phone call, listened to all the details & figured out that the cab had gone through the NON “E-Z Pass” lane over a minor bridge.
    This is strictly prohibited for the cabs, as they need to be officially tracked for a host of purposes.
    He ordered the surveillance camera video from that bridge, had it analysed for that pertinent time of the day & presto found the cab, as it was the only yellow cab who went through the non E-Z pass lane.
    And eventually he found the Tefillin too.

    This I call a devoted public servant!