OSWEGO COUNTY – Though she may be a political novice, she’s hardly that in the legal world, and with a long-range vision of her professional goals, along with considerable planning, 43-year-old Danielle Fogel will be taking on 42-year-old former Congressman Anthony Brindisi in the November election as the Republican candidate for the newly-created seat on the Fifth Judicial District’s bench as a State Supreme Court justice.
That district is comprised of Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego counties.
“I have not (ever campaigned for elected office before),” Fogel said in a recent interview. “I am a true trial lawyer. I’ve never ever done anything like this. I’ve never campaigned for anything. I’ve never done school board. So, this is my first entrance into anything political.”
Nevertheless, she is currently president of the Onondaga County Bar Association.
Detailing her professional experience, Fogel said, “I am a civil litigator. I’ve done litigation my entire life, just a variety of things. I worked in Albany for a while, and I worked in defense, civil defense, product liability, general liability across the board, municipal work. The last chunk of my career has pretty much been complex civil litigation, very complex personal injury matters. And I’ve done a sampling of other stuff in there too. I’ve done some surrogate’s litigation and some health care and a mix of a little bit of everything” including Article 78 municipal lawsuits.
“I would say most trials that I’ve handled have been the complex, because those are the ones that go to court, but I’ve handled anything related to any type of civil litigation, surrogate’s litigation, really any type of litigation.”
Furthermore, she said, her “entire practice has been in State Supreme Court. I was very lucky in my career that I got to start trying cases very early, and I enjoyed it. I gained an amazing amount of experience from just being involved in trial work. And then you have all your cases that don’t involve trial work. So, you have the millions of depositions you’ve done, the thousands of motions you’ve argued, and just too many depositions to count over the course of my very long career. It’s great. I enjoy my job. I think the best part is, over almost two decades, I got to observe a variety of judges all across New York state. And with each appearance, or each decision, or each trial, you pick up little pieces of what works, what doesn’t work, and I decided a while ago that I wanted to use my experience and be a judge. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So, I was excited when this new seat was created, and I was provided with the opportunity to go for it.”
Has she ever found herself before a judge who she feels simply got it all wrong?
“I don’t think you’ll ever find an attorney who says he never got the wrong decision out of a judge,” Fogel replied. “It’s the nature of practice. You’re not always going to agree. But you have to move forward, and you have to continue putting on your case and put your best foot forward and the best evidence to help your client in that moment in time. And then there’s other judges who just get it, and it’s fantastic. They’re familiar with the law. They’re well-versed on the papers, and they get the decision right. So, it’s definitely a mix. I’ve had the opportunity to have some great judges. I’ve also had some of the bad decisions that I wish didn’t happen. We all do.”
Fogel feels she’s well-prepared for the job on the Supreme Court.
“I see myself – obviously I have a ton of practical experience. I know the ins and outs of a courtroom,” she said. “So, I can easily rule on objections, evidentiary issues. I pride myself on being very well-prepared. So, that will come with me when I’m a judge. I will know the law that’s relevant to the case, and if I need further research, I will make sure it’s done so the parties have the fair and just, impartial decision that they’re entitled to as a litigant in my courtroom.
“And you have to be open-minded and compassionate. I understand sitting next to dozens of clients in trials. They’re emotionally charging for people. Whenever you’re involved in a courtroom, it emotionally charging. So, if anything, I can understand what it’s like for the parties that are in my courtroom.
“My goal is to listen to both sides and not make a snap judgement opinion on someone’s case before the other side has the opportunity to be heard. Everyone will be respected in my courtroom. You just want everyone treated fairly.
“The last thing you want as a judge is someone walking out of your courtroom and saying, ‘He or she didn’t understand the case. They didn’t know what I was talking about. They didn’t get it. They missed it.’ I want to make sure I’m prepared, well-versed on whatever’s in front of me, and my job is to help the parties resolve the case and what’s the best way to help the parties resolve the case. Some are going to resolve with settlement. Some can’t resolve with settlement, and that’s where I come in. That’s where I’m the decision-maker. Or, I’m instructing the jury on the relevant law that they need to then decide the issue before them. The goal is to make sure everyone has access to justice, their right to be there if they can’t come to terms on the dispute or the issue. That’s why there’s a court system. It’s their right to be there, to get a resolution on their matter.”
Has she taken cases to the Appeals Court? “Oh yes,” she said. “I’ve been there many times. I’m well-versed in the entire litigation process. I’ve had all phases of it. That skill, in and of itself, in my opinion, allows one to be an effective judge.”
Fogel graduated from Syracuse University Law School. She lives in the town of Manlius and has two boys, 13 and 10.
She decided she wanted to make her move toward becoming a judge when the next available seats became available and planned far ahead for that eventuality, testing the waters on what support she might have. While preparing, a new law was signed expanding judicial seats across New York state and the Fifth Judicial District was going to benefit by that law.
“So, on June 29th,” she explained, “when it was signed, we met the next day, and we decided, my team decided – I had already informally put a team together – life is short, there’s no time like the present, and it’s an opportunity that you need to seize. And it’s something that I’ve always wanted, and the opportunity presented itself. And I have support for it. We had the Fifth Judicial District judicial convention in August, and I was selected as the candidate.”
She said “people are responding well. I have support from all over, which is fantastic. It’s an honor to have as much support as I have. So, it’s been fantastic for a first run out there. I’ve never done it, but I’m told I’m doing a good job.”
Fogel grew up in Utica. “I lived there most of my life,” she said, “until I went and worked for the New York State Police. I worked there and then decided to go to law school.”
Her job with the State Police? Forensic scientist. “It’s not at all like CSI,” she remarked with a laugh.
“But I wanted a higher degree,” she continued, “and with a law degree there’s so many things you can do with it, and I decided that was what I wanted to pursue. Did I want to do some sort of adjunct to law enforcement? Did I want to do litigation? Did I want to teach? Did I want to do something else? It gave you an opportunity to do many things.
“I fell in love with trial practice litigation when I was in law school, and that was kind of my natural fit. I also taught constitutional law as an adjunct professor at Cayuga Community College. That was fun.
“But, my entire career has been the law. I think it’s been a great profession, and with this goal in mind, I’ve worked hard to gain the experience, the reputation, and the qualifications to be able to do this. And given the circumstances we’ve been in for the last 18 months (COVID and the legal backlog it’s caused), I know my skills and my background could have an immediate impact in the Fifth Judicial District if elected. I think I have skills, and I know the ins and outs of a courtroom. In my opinion, I could handle cases immediately.”
A State Supreme Court justice’s term is 14 years and would start in January.
And as regards her home life and children, she said her sons are “obviously very excited. I think whenever kids can see their mom chasing a dream, it’s pretty cool.”