December 2016 Alumni Highlight

Francesca E. Connolly The Honorable Francesca E. Connolly ('82) is currently an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Second Judicial Department. A question that Justice Connolly is often asked is how she became a judge in the first place. Justice Connolly attributes her success to a combination of factors including: a strong work ethic, commitment to public service, and the education she received at Pace.

After graduating from SUNY Albany in 1979, in just three years, Justice Connolly immediately enrolled in law school. "It was never really a question in my mind. I wanted to gain a legal education, have a career in litigation, and, hopefully, eventually, become a judge." While at Pace, Justice Connolly was very involved, especially in moot court competitions. "Some of my fondest memories at Pace involve the moot court competitions, from winning the Advanced Moot Court Competition to receiving the award for best oral argument." Not one to limit herself to one challenge at a time, Justice Connolly also actively represented the law school as its American Bar Association Representative at regional and national conferences. During law school, Justice Connolly worked as a law intern with the New York City Department of Probation, Office of the General Counsel.

After graduating from Pace, Justice Connolly jumped right into the legal field and continued her work with the New York City Department of Probation as Assistant General Counsel. Next, she became a Law Assistant to the Deputy Administrative Judge of Queens County Family Court. It was there that she realized the importance of the judiciary in helping families and individuals in crisis. "I saw firsthand the impact judges' decisions make on peoples' lives and knew that one day I wanted to return to the judicial system to dedicate my career to serving others."

Though Justice Connolly had nascent hopes of becoming a judge, she knew that it would take many years of hard work and dedication to the profession to achieve that goal. She felt it was important to gain substantial experience as a litigator in private practice before focusing on judicial office. In 1985, she joined the law firm of MacCartney, MacCartney, Kerrigan & MacCartney as an associate attorney and focused on civil litigation in state and federal courts. She continued her work as a trial lawyer with Gallina & Connolly, attorneys of record for Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. Finally, in 2003, she joined Malapero & Prisco LLP, and became a member of that firm.

Justice Connolly thoroughly enjoyed her 25-year career as a civil litigation attorney in private practice, where she handled all types of high exposure liability cases in state and federal courts, from case inception, through jury trial and appeal. Among the highlights of her career was representing the major contractors in the World Trade Center Disaster Litigation. "Our country had never faced an attack of this magnitude that impacted so many lives in the New York metropolitan area. Whether you represented the injured workers, the City of New York, or the contractors, we were all in uncharted territory as to legal liability. The issues were challenging, both procedurally and substantively, and the caliber of the attorneys handling these cases was exceptional."

While working full-time as a litigator, Justice Connolly raised her family, and became active in her community. She was very active in youth sports, including being a founding member of two ice hockey organizations, Ossining Youth Hockey Association and Team Westchester Hockey Association. She served as President of Ossining PTA Council and a member of the Town of Ossining Planning Board. In 2000, she was elected Ossining Town Councilmember, where she served for five years, three of which as Deputy Town Supervisor. In 2006, Justice Connolly began her judicial career when she was elected Ossining Town Justice. She also served as Acting Village Justice of the Village of Ossining and Acting City Court Judge of Mt. Vernon and Yonkers.

By 2009, Justice Connolly began her ascent into the judicial system when Governor David Paterson nominated her to fill an interim vacancy on the New York State Supreme Court. Then, in 2010, she was elected to a 14-year term as a New York State Supreme Court Justice in the Ninth Judicial District. During this time, she became the Supervising Judge of the Matrimonial Part of the Westchester County Supreme Court, and then went on to preside over an Individual Assignment Part, the Compliance Conference Part, as well as the Ninth Judicial District Environmental Claims Part. "I enjoyed all of my assignments on the trial bench-even the matrimonial part! While I never practiced matrimonial law, from my first day on the bench, I saw the profound effect a judge can make on the lives of families in crisis. I immediately immersed myself in the subject matter-- working long hours to gain a command of the law-- to do my best to provide these families with justice." After serving three years in the matrimonial part, she was assigned to a trial part where she presided over all types of civil trials, with most of her jury trials being in medical malpractice cases. "My years of experience as a civil litigator were the best training I could have had to serve as a trial judge. Most of the issues that arose during trial were familiar to me, as I had encountered them before on the opposite side of the bench, as an attorney. I think the attorneys appreciated my experience and knowledge—that I had an understanding of the trials and tribulations a trial lawyer faces in presenting a case before a jury."

Throughout her career, many have taken notice of Justice Connolly's determined work ethic and intelligence. In 2015, Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti appointed Justice Connolly as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Term of the New York Supreme Court, Second Judicial Department, where she served on a panel of judges hearing appeals from the District, City, Town, and Village courts in the seven counties of the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts. One year later, in 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed her as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Second Judicial Department. This is an intermediate appellate court, which is the second highest court in the state. "It was such an honor to be appointed to this prestigious judicial position and to be given this prodigious opportunity to serve the public in this capacity. I am humbled and grateful every day. I truly enjoy it. I can't imagine a more rewarding career for myself than I have had and continue to have."

"Pace Law has been as much a part of the fabric of my career as anything else. I enjoyed my entire law school experience. Having attended a large university for my undergraduate education, I really appreciated the personal nature of the law school experience I received at Pace. I always felt as though the professors were personally invested in each students' success. The professors were always available to answer any questions you might have and were warm and welcoming to discuss your future aspirations. Importantly, I also developed lifelong friendships with classmates, in particular Terri Giacomo ('82) and Chris Johnson ('82), who have been by my side through every one of my major life events." Justice Connolly has two Pace Law graduates working for her: Jeffrey Gasbarro (‘08), Principal Law Clerk, and Lauren Fitton ('16), Assistant Law Clerk. "In addition to Jeff and Lauren, I have had a few Pace Law graduates work for me—Denise O'Connor (‘87) and Ashley DeVito (‘12). I have found that Pace Law School does an exceptional job in preparing their students and that they graduate with outstanding research and writing skills."

In her spare time, Justice Connolly enjoys spending time with her family and traveling to exotic places, which have included Iran, Machu Picchu, and Columbia. If she could give one piece of advice to current and future law students it would be: "My dear friends and family will tell you--I can't give just one piece of advice! Here are just a few: Take the high road in everything you do. Be selfless--go out of your way to help others—it will come back to you tenfold! Practice humility. Work your hardest and always be prepared."