By David Brand
Each day, Chief Clerk of the Queens County Supreme Court Tamara Kersh has greeted the people of Queens with respect, a kind word and an understanding attitude. Her demeanor and perspective have benefited countless New Yorkers over nearly 30 years in court.
“When people come to court, they usually come because something terrible has happened,” Kersh said. “They’re not at their best so as an employee, you need to be at your best.”
Kersh, a lifelong Queens resident, began her career as a court assistant at Family Court in Manhattan in 1991 — Jan. 17 to be exact, her grandmother’s birthday. After just six weeks on the job, she fell and broke her arm. She tried to hide the pain and returned to work immediately after her lunch break.
That same persistence and sense of duty continues to inform her deep commitment to the judicial system.
“When you start working in the court system and you realize all the information that is available to you, you realize how important it is to protect that information,” she said. “I learned a lot of respect for the judicial system and I learned the hardships that people go through.”
“But it helped me,” she continued, explaining that in her role at Family Court, she encountered people passing through dark periods in their lives. “I understand that just because someone comes to work and smiles, doesn’t mean we know what’s going on in their house. People come to work every day and there are bad things happening in their life. So I try to be helpful every day.”
After nine years in Manhattan, Kersh transitioned to a job in her native Queens in 2000, this time in the Supreme Court’s Guardianship Department.
The role suited her because she had already worked for a stint at Adult Protective Services. Meanwhile, she learned about elder law, particularly the abuse to which many older Queens residents are vulnerable.
“It showed me how wonderful some people are and how terrible others can be, when they exploit the elderly,” she said. “But you get to see them not as papers, you see them as people.”
That job demanded careful consideration of each individual’s circumstances in order to arrive at the least restrictive conditions on guardianship, she said.
“In the guardianship department, you look at all aspects of a person’s life,” she said. “It means you have to be thoroughly familiar with the law. As a clerk working in that department, you have to be sure that if papers come across your desk that are inconsistent with the law, you have to point that out to the judge.”
Kersh earned her bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and her Master's from Queens College — “I’m a Queens girl,” she said.
The court clerk has a responsibility to rigorously review an extraordinary amount of paperwork to ensure it holds up under the law. Though she is not an attorney, she has mastered the laws and statutes of New York state. She began her training as she as she found out about the test to become a court employee, she said.
Twenty years after breaking into the field, Kersh became chief clerk deputy in Queens Supreme Court in 2011. She served in that role until 2013, when the chief clerk resigned and she rose to acting chief clerk.
In 2014, the “acting” prefix was removed from her title and she was named chief clerk — though she didn’t have a deputy to assist her for a few years.
Kersh works closely with Administrative Judge Jeremy Weinstein, with whom she said she has a “wonderful relationship.” Weinstein is set to retire this summer and Kersh said she will miss their rapport, but looks forward to building a strong working relationship with the next top justice.
Kersh lives with her sister and said she plans to travel more, though Queens’ international feel is a major reason why she has remained in the borough all her life.
“Queens is a very diverse place,” she said. “You can feel like you’ve gone around the world and never leave the borough.”
Changes and new experiences in the courthouse have long appealed to Kersh. The unique encounters with Queens residents keep the job fresh, she said.
“I can tell you that, looking back at everything I’ve gone through, I don’t regret for one day that I chose a career in the court system. I have no regrets,” she said. “I work with a great bunch of people and I’m blessed to be around them.”
There is one role she wishes she had tried in the courthouse, however: court reporter. She especially values the service they provide for people with disabilities, she said.
Ultimately, though, Kersh said she treasures the path she pursued after first finding out about courthouse opportunities from a recruiter who visited Hunter College.
“When you love what you do, it makes coming to work and dealing with different things easy,” she said. “When people ask me how I’m doing, I say, ‘Just peachy.’ I don’t complain. I consider myself very fortunate.”