VADODARA: Justice Ushir Pandit-Durant spent her childhood growing up with in the bylanes of Ahmedabad. Last month, she took her oath of office as a Supreme Court judge in the state of New York, now the first South Asian – and Indian-origin – woman to to be elected to the position.
Justice Pandit-Durant immigrated to the US with her family in the 1970s, at a tender age of 11. Turning 57 next month, this Gujarati will now preside over criminal cases in Queens County. Her induction ceremony was also a first of sorts, as she took her oath on the Bhagavad Gita
As an Indian teenager in the US, her first challenge was to learn English; she was not taught the subject in her Ahmedabad public school. But she was quick to pick up the American culture and establish herself in the community and school.
After attending St John’s University for four years, where she received her bachelor’s degree, she spent three years at New York Law School. “Later, when other law graduates wanted to join big law firms, I joined the Queens district attorney’s office as an assistant district attorney. I wanted to dedicate my professional life to public service,” she told TOI.
“As a prosecutor, I tried numerous felony cases. In one notable case, during a gang shooting, an innocent child was shot by one of the gunmen. The child survived, and the gunmen were arrested,” she said. Justice Pandit-Durant, the then-lead prosecutor on the case, brought the case to trial and the gunmen were convicted of attempted murder.
She then advanced to the appeals division of the district attorney’s office. The division argues cases in the higher courts, confronting legal challenges in attempts to overturn lower court decisions. As an appellate advocate over a period of 15 years, she successfully represented the district attorney on more than 30 appellate arguments in the higher state and federal appellate courts.
Later, she left the district attorney’s office in 2015 when she was elected as a civil court judge. She presided over criminal court cases pending in Manhattan and then Queens.
While her term in the civil court was 10 years, after getting elected to the New York State Supreme Court, her term is 14 years now.