Making Our Community Better For All of Us
JFA began as the New York affiliate of the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association. The National Bar Association was founded in the 1920’s because the American Bar Association would not allow African-Americans to join until its bylaws were changed in 1944 to admit lawyers without regard to race. One of the objectives of JFA was to recreate the Catholic Red Mass within the African-American community. The Law Sermon would serve as a celebration of African-American judges and lawyers, as well as, court officials in recognition of the spiritual commandment they all accepted in service to the African-American community. The first Law Sermon was held Sunday, March 25, 1979 at Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. The following year the Law Sermon was held on Sunday, March 9, 1980 at Salem Methodist United Church in Harlem, USA.
Today, JFA members sit on the bench at every level of the courts in New York State, adjudicating all manner of legal issues. In addition to supporting public understanding of and access to the legal system, JFA members act as mentors to law students, provide training to law interns, assist attorneys in obtaining positions as clerks with the judiciary, and train newly appointed and elected justices and judges.
One of JFA’s signature events, the Annual Toney, Rivers & Watson Dinner, is hosted by the Judicial Friends Foundation. The dinner began in 1980 to present meritorious service awards to members of the judiciary and non-judiciary for outstanding contributions to the legal community through remarkable achievements. The dinner is named in honor of three men – Francis E. Rivers, Charles E. Toney and James S. Watson. In 1930, Toney and Watson were the first African-Americans elected to the bench, in the newly created Harlem 10th Municipal Court District. In November of 1943, Rivers was elected to the old New York City Court, becoming the highest-ranking Black judge in the nation. The first dinner was held at NYU Law School and early awardees included distinguished judges such as Amalya Kearse, Constance Baker Motley, Lawrence Pierce, Robert L. Carter, Mary Johnson Lowe, Thurgood Marshall and Henry Bramwell.