By David Brand
Litigants might not always like the outcome, but one thing is certain in Justice Mojgan Lancman’s courtroom: everyone will understand what is happening and why a decision was made.
That’s because Lancman, a Supreme Court, Civil Term justice, champions the importance of understanding in the courtroom. It was her own experience settling in Queens after escaping religious persecution in her native Iran that informed that perspective.
“Having had the experience of being an immigrant and walking into a situation I knew nothing about where everything was different, [enables me] to have the patience to explain things to people,” Lancman said. “If [litigants] don’t have an attorney or English is their second language, I want to make sure they understand what is happening. Even if they get a result they didn’t want or they have to come back to court, they at least understand why.”
Lancman was nine years old when she and her family arrived in Rego Park. As members of Iran’s Jewish community, they were threatened during the country’s Islamic Revolution.
At a young age, she and her older brother served as family translators, a role that forced them to review leases and other documents and accompany their parents to meetings.
“Being an immigrant and coming into a new country, learning about the legal system here, that was an eye opening experience,” Lancman said.
Those early experiences helped prepare her for her career as an attorney and, starting in 2015, a Supreme Court justice. They also informed her approach to presiding over the courtroom.
“As judges, we deal with people who come into court and English is their second language. I can definitely empathize with them because of my own experiences,” she said. “Even pro se litigants who did grow up here and [for whom] english is their first language, the legal world is like a second language.”
Before being elected judge in 2014, Lancman served for nearly two decades as a court attorney, arbitrator and court referee. She also served as law clerk in civil court and in Queens County Supreme Court.
During her swearing in ceremony, U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, the president of the Queens County Democrats, said her own life helped her develop the perspective to serve the borough’s diverse communities.
“It’s that experience, someone who understands what it feels like to be a refugee, who understands that plight, someone who can connect in a very special way to the immigrant community,” Crowley said according to the Queens Tribune. “To me, that’s the light that makes Mojgan so very, very special.”
In the three and a half years since she began serving on the Supreme Court bench, Lancman said she has seen a “tremendous increase in the number of rent collection cases.” Often, she said, the parties have completed housing court proceedings and the landlords have sued their former tenant for unpaid rent.
She declined to speculate on the reason for the rise in such cases, but they may reflect the rapidly rising rents and booming housing market throughout the borough.
Another change has been the increased emphasis on technology.
Lancman said she welcomes technological innovations in the courtroom, especially e-filing.
“Technology makes things more transparent,” she said. “There is a tremendous effort to push for access to justice. I definitely think that e-filing is a big step in that direction.”
Innovations also makes it easier for attorneys to practice and enable them to better represent their clients, she said.
“If they need to pay a fee, they can do it online,” she said. “They can file from their office and not have to make a delivery in person where, for example, someone could get stuck on a train and miss a deadline. It’s easier for law firms not to expend personnel traveling to and from the courthouse and this way attorneys can focus on the real work.”
After moving to the U.S., Lancman attended Bais Yaakov Academy and then Yeshiva High School of Queens in Hollis. She later attended Queens College and earned her law degree from New York School of Law.
Jewish identity remains a vital part of Lancman’s life, as evidenced by her leadership of the Brandeis Association.
“We work on issues that are important to the Jewish community in Queens and the rest of city,” Lancman said. “We have the Holocaust memorial program we sponsor every year — we make sure programs like that are conducted every year so that we keep the public informed about history.”.”
The association connects anti-semitism to the broader rise of racist speech and hate-fueled violence across the U.S. In April, for example, the Brandeis Association partnered with the Macon B. Allen Black Bar Association for the annual Holocaust Memorial.
Lancman’s roots run deep in Queens — her husband is District 24 Council Member Rory Lancman and she raised three children in the borough — but she said Iran remains a special place for her, though she has yet to return.
“I feel a very deep connection to Iran and I would love nothing more than to visit again,” she said. “But it’s the arbitrariness of the system there keeps people from visiting.”