MINEOLA, NY – The induction ceremony at the Nassau County Supreme Court on January 25, had a decidedly Greek aspect as two Greek-American women were sworn in to their new posts, Hon. Helen Voutsinas as Justice of the Supreme Court, Nassau County, New York, and Hon. Catherine Rizzo (nee Stefanatos) as Judge of the County Court.
Among the speakers, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Nassau County Bar Association President Elena Karabatos, as well as Fr. Theofanis Papantonis, presiding priest of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Hicksville, who gave the benediction at the ceremony, also added to the Greek community’s presence.
The jury room was filled with family, friends, and colleagues for the induction of three judges, including Voutsinas and Rizzo, and Hon. Norman St. George, as Justice of the Supreme Court, Nassau County, New York, who is also the County’s new administrative judge as well.
Karabatos congratulated the three judges on behalf of the four thousand lawyers she represents in the Bar Association, noting that “we are lucky to witness the installation of three fantastic judges who are already hard at work. We’re privileged to have them.”
DA Singas congratulated the judges on their induction, noting that she only recently found out that she has something in common with Judge Rizzo, being the daughter of Greek immigrants. Singas said, “My wish to all of you is strength, the strength and perseverance to withstand the difficult days because it’s not easy, all of us see sometimes the worst of humanity and people come to the courts in desperate states and you need a lot of strength to be able to withstand that and then still go home to your families and do the amazing jobs that you do. It takes strength to constantly be apprised of the law and be curious, and always be a student because the law is always changing. And it takes strength of character to put aside public opinion and make sure that you’re doing the right thing every day for the right reasons.”
Hon. Sharon M.J. Giannelli, Justice of the Supreme Court, Nassau County, spoke about Voutsinas in the most glowing terms, highlighting her achievements as the daughter of immigrants, her father Gerasimos Voutsinas from Greece and her mother Denise from the Dominican Republic. Judge Giannelli noted that Judge Voutsinas was “the highest vote getter in the November 2018 elections,” and the first female Hispanic judge elected in Nassau County when she was elected to the District Court.
The oath of office was administered to Voutsinas by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who pointed out that she swore him in about two weeks ago and he was returning the favor.
Following the swearing in, Voustinas congratulated her fellow judges Hon. Norman St. George and Hon. Catherine Rizzo on their impressive achievements. She thanked God first of all, “for making all things possible because without God this is not achievable,” and her family, friends, colleagues, and elected officials, for their support, including her new supervising judge, Hon. Jeffrey Goodstein. Voutsinas especially thanked her immigrant parents, Gerasimos and Denise, as their first-born, fulfilling this particular American dream, and her husband Tony and their two “campaign babies” Daphne and Dean.
She said, “I was the first-born of immigrants who barely spoke the language, I still don’t grasp how they communicated with each other, my identity like everyone was nurtured by their parents, I have fond childhood memories of riding horses on a farm with my great-grandparents in the Dominican Republic and reflections of following my Yiayia and Pappou in Greece as they tended to land and picked the grapes.”
Voutsinas continued, “My parents taught me to love my culture but also to love America. It is here where my immigrant parents would become successful business owners and raise a loving family. They taught me the principles of hard work and the importance of education.”
“I will always remember the strong roots and wonderfully diverse background that enable me to understand and grapple with difficult issues to meet the standard of justice as I have done on my journey thus far. I promise to do my best and work hard for you and all the people of the state of New York as we shape our future. Thank you and God bless,” she concluded.
Nassau County Republican Committee Chairman Joseph G. Cairo, Jr. spoke about Hon. Catherine Rizzo and noted that the Republicans also want to keep good judges on the bench, referring to the cross-endorsement of St. George and Voutsinas “because you both earned it.”
He said of Rizzo, “I’m so proud of you, we’re all very proud of you, congratulations, may you have many years of success on the bench doing the right thing, let your conscience be your guide, and more importantly, may you have many, many years of good health and happiness.”
Hon. Thomas A. Adams, Presiding Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Term, 9th and 10th Judicial Districts, administered the oath of office for Judge Rizzo. In her speech, she said, “I cannot tell you how thankful and how honored I am, today, to be in this position.”
She thanked her family, friends, colleagues, and fellow inductees, noting that “it’s kind of cool that we all go around saying ‘yiayia and pappou,’” referring to the fact that St. George who is of Jamaican descent, also called Greek friends of his “yiayia and pappou.”
“Nobody gets here without the help of a village,” Rizzo said, thanking everyone who helped her along the way, especially her husband Craig for his support through their 21 years of marriage and a battle with cancer, and acknowledged the presence of her mother, sisters Mina, Rosy, and Joyce, her treasurer, and daughter Nicole, a top Lacrosse player at her school. Her late father, Michael Stefanatos, passed away over three years ago, but would undoubtedly be proud of his daughter’s achievements.
Of her new role, Rizzo said, “I will not take the responsibility lightly, and I will always be fair and just, thank you.”
A reception followed the ceremony at the North Ritz Club in Syosset.