Becomes first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on Supreme Court
Family, friends, local elected officials, and other community members gathered at Queens Borough Hall last week to celebrate Karen Gopee’s induction into the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s 11th Judicial District.
Gopee ran for one of the six open seats in the district on Nov. 2, 2021, and won with 11.6 percent of the vote.
Her victory makes history for New York State, as she is the first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on the Supreme Court.
The Gopees first came to Southeast Queens in 1973 from Trinidad and Tobago, when Judge Gopee was a year old.
Her father, Prakash Gopee, said that their entire family endured many hardships, but worked tirelessly to support themselves.
“From a young age, Karen worked very hard. She went to school, and she never wanted to go out with her friends — she only liked books and studying,” Gopee said. “I am so very proud of her; I cry inside with joy today.”
Gopee went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 1997.
Prior to her appointment to the Queens County Criminal Court, Gopee worked for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and for Red Hook Community Justice Center under Alex Calabrese, Acting Supreme Court Justice.
Calabrese, along with other colleagues of Gopee’s, remarked on her character, contributions to the law field, and achievements.
“She is a natural leader and leads by example. She doesn’t see the accused in court defined solely by the charge, but takes a holistic view of that person who may be a father, mother, caregiver, or friend,” Calabrese said.
“She controls her courtroom not by yelling or cutting off attorneys, but by listening to everyone,” he continued. “Judge Karen Gopee treats people with respect, gives them a voice, listens to them, and makes sure that everyone in the courtroom understands what is happening.”
“Karen is more than just a colleague, she’s someone you can rely on and trust,” said Michelle Johnson, Justice Supreme Court – Criminal Term. “In my capacity as a supervising judge, she was the person who came as a new judge and said ‘I want to build programs for young drug offenders in Queens,’ and she did.”
Gopee also helped form the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens, where she serves as president.
Paying homage to her Indo-Caribbean roots, Gopee invited singer Evana Labban to sing Trinidad’s national anthem, 1 Taal Academy of Tassa for a musical performance, and her former intern, Shivana Subir for a traditional dance number.
“While I grew up and assimilated into the United States, the Caribbean and Trinidad is my heritage. I wanted to bring that here with me today to the individuals here who may not have ever experienced that,” Gopee said.
“Every day, I thank God for the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I am left with a loving and big family, friends, help, a happy home, and a career that is beyond anything that I ever dreamed of as a little girl,” she continued.
“This nomination is life changing for me and my family, and it is equally life changing for my community and for others who look and sound like me.”