What We Do
History of WBAOSC
The Women’s Bar Association of Orange and Sullivan Counties is one of 18 chapters that form the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, known as WBASNY. Our chapter began as the Tri-County Women’s Bar Association which included Orange, Ulster and Dutchess counties. In the early days, these women held monthly meetings at local restaurants to discuss the common issues that faced them in their practices. They usually had a speaker at their meetings, and this was before any mandatory CLE requirements were in place.
At that time, the organization’s members included Karen Peters, retired Presiding Justice for the Appellate Division, Third Department, and Judith Feichler, who played a key role in drafting the Child Support Standards Act Guidelines as the Director of the NYS Commission on Child Support, as well as our own Anne Hunter, our perpetual Chapter Historian, Becky Stage, Sheila Callahan, and the Honorable Elaine Slobod. Joan S. Posner, who practiced in Monticello with Mid-Hudson Legal Services, and as a Family Court Judge in Dutchess County, was also an early member.
Due to the geographic difficulties of maintaining an organization across three counties, Ulster and Dutchess Counties formed the Mid Hudson Women’s Bar Association and in 1979, Orange County joined with Sullivan County to form the chapter we have today. In addition to the original Orange County members, Susan Kaiser and Rose Rosen, from Sullivan County, were founding members of this chapter. Frances Bilmes, who practiced in Pine Bush with her husband, was our first president.
In the early 1980's, the Orange-Sullivan chapter was approached by Joan Ellenbogen, the first President of WBASNY, and Marcia Shapiro to join the new State-wide organization, the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York - WBASNY. At that time, our members were concerned about losing the chapter’s individual identity, but Joan convinced them that by joining a larger organization, they would have a greater voice and influence on legislation in Albany. In fact, that was the case. By 1985, our chapter was a member of WBASNY.
In 1990, after the passing of Rose Rosen, our Chapter established an award in her memory. Each year, at our Installation Dinner, the Rose Rosen award is given to an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution to the legal community. Past recipients of the Rose Rosen award include the Hon. Lila Levy-Dino, Hon. Lawrence Cooke, the Dispute Resolution Center, Hon. Aileen Gunther, Hon. Elaine Slobod, Safe Passage of Sullivan County, and Project Liberty, just to name a few.
Over the years, our membership has continued to grow. Under Maureen Crush’s leadership, who served as President from 2006-2008, membership increased by 15% to 80 members. Under the leadership of Phaedra Britt, our membership grew to 100 by January 2011, giving us an additional delegate on State Board of Directors, for a total of 2 Delegates. By May 2014, we had 125 members. As of May 2019, the chapter has 110 members.
President Rebecca Stage began the Dinner Journal in 1992, which continues to be a major fundraiser for our chapter.
In 2002, under the presidency of Jacqueline Ricciani, the Lunch with a Judge series was established. These lunches, with local and superior court judges, give our members and their guests an opportunity to meet with members of the judiciary in an informal setting to discuss courtroom practices. Over the years, this program has expanded to host a luncheon with principal court attorneys and court clerks.
In 2007, during Maureen Crush’s Presidency, the chapter began our annual Member Recognition Night to honor an Outstanding New Lawyer, Public Service Attorney and Distinguished Attorney. Past recipients of the Outstanding New Lawyer Award include Kristy Horaz, Hannah Prall, Rebecca Mantello, Elizabeth Hunter, Kelly Pressler and Milana Tepermayster. Past recipients of the Public Service Attorney award include Sharon Worthy-Spiegl, Risa Sugarman, Karen Riley, Maria Patrizio, and Ariana Antonelli. Past recipients of the Distinguished Attorney Award include Rebecca Stage, Deborah Weisman-Estis, Hon. Elaine Slobod, Maureen Crush, Hon. Sandra Sciortino, Jacqueline Ricciani, Phaedra Britt, Sarah Jo Hamilton, and Michele Babcock.
Also in 2007, our chapter had its first golf outing, led by Becky Stage and Christine Krahulik. A portion of the proceeds from this outing have been donated to breast cancer research and over the years, the chapter has donated thousands of dollars to this worthy cause.
On December 17, 2008, Debbie Estis, Maureen Crush and Jacqueline Ricciani, as past presidents of this chapter, formed the WBAOSC Foundation. The mission of this foundation is to raise money for scholarships that are awarded to women law students and for community education. Each year, we award the Rose S. Rosen Memorial Scholarship and Susan B. Kaiser Memorial Scholarship at our Annual Installation Dinner. In 2009, our first scholarships were awarded to Maria Zeno and Jessica Alessandro, both of whom are now members of our chapter.
In 2009, under the leadership of Christine Krahulik, we launched our chapter’s website. The website posts information about our chapter, as well as upcoming events and activities. The website is a valuable tool for our members and posts our event calendar. In 2017, the chapter started a Facebook page.
Since 1991, our chapter has participated in the annual Law Day Celebration in Orange County, in conjunction with the Orange County Bar Association. During this Celebration, the chapter presents the Liberty Bell Award to a person who has contributed to our legal system or helped strengthen our system of justice. Past Liberty Bell Honorees include the Hon. Elizabeth Holbrook, Andrew Kreiger, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, John Cameron, and Robert Iseeks. The ceremony takes place each year on May 1st at the Orange County Courthouse.
Our chapter participates in judicial screening for superior court candidates which includes a review of a questionnaire and other written materials submitted by the candidate, as well as an interview with the screening committee. These ratings do carry weight and are often published in the candidate’s campaign literature.
Although we are a small chapter, we have had a significant presence at the state level. Two of our member have served as President of WBASNY. Gladys LaForge from 1990-1991 and Deborah Weisman-Estis from 2010 to 2011. Risa Sugarman served at State Treasurer and Maureen Crush served as a State Officer for three years holding the positions of Treasurer and Vice President. Kelly Pressler has been serving as a WBASNY Officer since 2016 as Recording Secretary, Vice President and Treasurer. Lisa Noroian, Phaedra Britt, Kelli O’Brien, Rebecca Mantello, Jacqueline Ricciani, Maureen Crush, Christina Randazzo and Jennifer Echevarria have all served as co-chairs of WBASNY committees over the years.
On April 23, 2015, at the Falkirk Estate and Country Club, the Women’s Bar Association of Orange and Sullivan Counties celebrated its 35th year as a women’s bar association.
In 2019, the Chapter established the Honorable Elaine Slobod Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize members who have demonstrated remarkable personal and professional achievement, and to acknowledge long standing, dedicated service to the Women’s Bar Association and its mission. Judge Slobod is a founding member of the WBAOSC, the first woman to serve as Middletown City Court Judge, the first woman to be elected to a county-wide judicial office in Orange County when she was elected to the Family Court, and the first woman from Orange County to be elected to be a Justice of the Supreme Court in the Ninth Judicial District. This award was presented to the Honorable Elaine Slobod at the chapter’s Annual Dinner on April 29, 2019.