By David Brand
There’s a whole wide world between tiny, rural Deeside, Jamaica and Jamaica High School. And by his teens, Justice Kenneth Holder had experienced a lot of it.
Holder was born in London to a Jamaican mother and Guyanese father. At 8, he moved with his family to Windsor, Ontario and then to Deeside. A few years later, Holder moved again, first to Brooklyn and then to Queens, the borough where Holder would launch his legal career.
The unique experiences have served him well as a prosecutor and as a judge in the country’s most diverse county.
“It opens your eyes to the world and the differences among people,” Holder told the Eagle. “And it gives you an appreciation for the differences and uniqueness of people . . . There are places I can drive to in Queens and for all intents and purposes its like youre in that country. Everyone is brought together in one great mosaic.”
That perspective informed one of Holder’s key achievements as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, where he worked as Bureau Chief of the Narcotics Trial Division.
Throughout the crack epidemic that devastated Queens communities through the 1980s and into the mid-90s, the narcotics bureau handled thousands of drug-related cases. Many of the same people were repeatedly tried for drug-related offenses.
“After a while, I realized that many of the individuals coming through were no longer violent per se, they were simply charged with possession or low-level sale cases. They were also severely addicted,” Holder said. “So in I found in a government handout that the Department of Justice was giving grants to so-called drug courts and I started to do some research.”
That research included studying drug courts in other parts of the country, including visits to Philadelphia’s groundbreaking treatment court. Armed with information about the model Holder began to advocate for Queens to establish the Queens Treatment Court and wrote the multi-million dollar grant that enabled the county implement the program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
As a judge, Holder has handled some of Queens’ toughest cases, including unthinkable murders and violent crimes.
But he has an array of interests and pursuits beyond the courtroom.
After graduating from Lincoln University, the oldest historically black college in the U.S., Holder worked as a photographer before attending law school. He is an avid and talented modeler — his scale models of ships and working aircraft routinely win prizes — and he plays drums.
Holder is married with three sons and he teaches a course for undergrads at St. John’s University called Interpreting Legal Documents.
Indeed, even his judicial career has been unique. Holder was elected to Queens Civil Court in 2006 and was immediately assigned to the Kings County Criminal Court. In 2008 he briefly served in Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. Later that year, he was elected a Queens Supreme Court Justice.
“Traveling around the world has opened my eyes to the uniqueness of the individual,” he said. “We can always learn so much from each other.”