Breaking Barriers

Don’t allow being told “No” to keep you from reaching your goal.

That was one piece of advice Judge Paula J. Feroleto, administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial District, had for those at the Robert H. Jackson Center on Tuesday evening.

The Jamestown branch of the American Association of University Women hosted an event featuring Feroleto, who spoke about her experiences of breaking into a male-dominated field. The program was titled “Breaking Into a Man’s World.” Feroleto was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 2004. In 2009, she was appointed to the position of administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial District, which encompasses the eight counties of Western New York. The position’s oversight includes 11 city courts, and county, supreme, surrogates and family courts in each county. Feroleto is a graduate of Georgetown University and earned her J.D. at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Feroleto told four stories about women who found success practicing law despite obstacles in their way because of their gender. One story was about Katherine “Kate” Stoneman, who was born in Busti in 1841. She was the first woman admitted to practice law in New York state in 1886. She was also the first woman graduate of the Albany Law School in 1898. Even though she passed the New York state bar exam, her application to join was rejected because of her gender. She then launched a successful campaign to amend the Code of Civil Procedure to permit the admission of qualified applicants without regard to sex or race. Feroleto said she was also involved in the women suffrage movement, and was still alive when women were first allowed to vote in 1920.

“They didn’t allow ‘No’ to let them down,” she said. “Don’t let ‘No’ get you down. It is amazing how far you can get, and the people you can help.”

Feroleto was the first women partner at her law firm, where she worked for more than 20 years. She said her role model was her mother, who was a doctor, graduating from medical school in 1955.

Feroleto lives in Buffalo with her husband, John. They have three adult children: John, Joel and Kathleen, who are all lawyers. She credits her husband for encouraging her to pursue judicial status. Plus, she said her professional life never kept her from enjoy life as a mother.

“I don’t feel like I gave up a family life to practice law,” she said. “I did all the mom things.”

AAUW has been empowering women since 1881. Membership is open to anyone with a two-year degree or higher. For more information visit jamestown.aauw-nys.org or www.aauw.org.