The judge presiding over the corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has spent her professional career working within the federal justice system, developing a reputation as an intelligent, firm jurist who gives lawyers the room they need to litigate complex cases.
Joan Marie Azrack, 67, who is running the trial that also includes Mangano’s wife, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, made a name for herself as a tough prosecutor in major narcotics cases. But lawyers in the defense bar say that, as a judge, they respect her fairness and courteous demeanor.
“I think she’s an amazing judge; an amazing person,” said Garden City attorney Amy Marion, who often represents people suing the government and acknowledges Azrack hasn’t always ruled in her favor.
Marion says she is particularly struck by how Azrack goes out of her way to give both sides in a trial the time they need to present their cases.
In answering questions at the Senate hearing in 2014 about her fitness to be a federal judge, Azrack said that as a magistrate, “I have always grounded my decisions in precedent and the text of the law, irrespective of any political ideology or motivation. . . . I have treated all litigants with respect and impartiality, irrespective of my personal views.”
Keisha Ann Grey, a former Eastern District prosecutor who is now a partner at Proskauer Rose in Manhattan, recalled how Azrack didn’t feel the need to sit at the head of the conference table to dominate the room. She described the judge as “brilliant,” with a personality leavened with “common sense” and an ability “to get to the heart of any issue.”
The New-Jersey-raised Azrack entered the prestigious Justice Department’s Honors program for young lawyers after graduating from Rutgers University and New York Law School, according to records from her Senate confirmation hearing. During law school, Azrack had a summer internship at the U.S. attorney’s office at the Southern District in Manhattan.
The Honors program, based at the department’s main office in Washington, D.C., was aimed at recruiting top law students to become federal prosecutors.
She went on to became an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, then deputy chief of the office’s Narcotics section, chief of Business and Securities Fraud, and deputy chief of the entire Criminal Division.
Among the cases she successfully prosecuted was that of a ring that brought 500 pounds of cocaine into the United States; a Gambino organized-crime-family ring that imported heroin and cocaine into the U.S. with the aid of a Belgian diplomat; and a drug smuggling ring involving Dominican diplomats.
Azrack also served as an instructor at Harvard Law School.
In 1990 she was appointed as a magistrate in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, rising to the position of chief magistrate from 2000 to 2005. After 24 years as a magistrate, Azrack was recommended to President Barack Obama for a federal judgeship by Sen. Kirsten Gilliband (D-N.Y.), and was confirmed by the Senate in 2014.