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Justice Karen Gopee

Bavita Gopaulchan

A Trinidadian Judge aspiring to one of the highest judicial offices in New York is hoping to empower young women to create a voice for themselves.

Justice Karen Gopee, who is now a Democratic Candidate for the Queens County Supreme Court, said being part of a minority group has forced her to witness many challenges growing up.

“We lived in a community where we were surrounded by a lot of immigrants including immigrants from Trinidad, Guyana and from Dominican Republic. We had a lot of Spanish neighbours but not so many people from Trinidad in those days,” she told Guardian Media during an interview.

Gopee and her family moved to the United States when she was only one year old with the hope of having a better life.

“My family and the community that I grew up with and seeing how they struggled and seeing how the opportunities were lost to them and how they had issues with immigration, seeing the fear that often accompanies being poor or being a minority in this country,” she said.

It was not until she saw fear in her own family’s eyes that Justice Gopee knew she wanted to help people.

“On one Divali, my dad was actually picked up by INS and almost deported and I saw how he was treated by lawyers and the fact that, at the time he wasn’t making any type of money. We were barely surviving, and he had to find the money to pay lawyers who promised everything and did nothing,” she recalled.

Gopee said she knew education was the only way out of their circumstances.

“The law was a way to give me a voice as a young female West Indian,” according to her.

She added, “I wasn’t always paid attention to, or my ideas didn’t always matter and for me, deciding to be a lawyer meant that people would have to listen and that I can help.”

Gopee’s career started at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office where she specialised in domestic violence and child abuse cases. The mother of two has been a judge for the last six years and is now aspiring to sit in the Queens County Supreme Court.

“My face is plastered all over the walls in stores in New York is amazing to me and I wasn’t even considering this,” she expressed.

“I think every company including boards are paying attention to the minority and diversity and I think our courts, almost like our juries, has to represent the communities that we serve and if we don’t represent the communities that we serve then we’re not giving them a voice or a seat at the table,” she further said.

Gopee is hoping more young women find their voices. She shared some advice for young women trying to find their voices in a crowded room.

“I would like to tell them to believe in yourself. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t. Any negative voices, use it to motivate, inspire and it doesn’t mean talking back or yelling at a person or trying to prove yourself in that moment. Take your time and prove it by your success,” she advised.

There are 10 candidates vying for a place in the Supreme Court but the top six will be selected when the election takes place on November 2.