PHOTOS BY BRODY WHEELER
Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background. Who is Julie Hahn?
I am a wife and mother of four children. I have a step-son who is 13 and triplets (two boys and a girl) who are 11 years old. My husband Greg and I have been married for twelve years. In my professional life, I am an Assistant District Attorney with the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. I have been an Assistant District Attorney for nearly 23 years. Currently, I serve as Chief of the Major Felony Bureau, which is responsible for the prosecution of violent crimes and homicides in Monroe County that are not domestic related. I have served in this role since 2016. I have been a Bureau Chief since 2008 in other bureaus within the office, and also served as Deputy Chief of the Major Felony Bureau.
Where are you from? Tell us about where you grew up and your family.
I grew up right on the border of Irondequoit and the City of Rochester. My parents divorced when I was very young, so I was raised primarily by my mother. My older brother and I lived with her and saw our dad on weekends, but she was our primary caretaker. Being a single mom, she worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. My brother and I had to learn to take care of ourselves at a young age because our mom had to work. I cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and my schoolwork. We didn’t have a lot. We lived in a small apartment and had to work together to keep the household running. My mother depended on us to help her and we did the best we could.
Where did you go to school and what made you choose your career path?
I graduated from Bishop Kearney High School in 1991. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree from St. John Fisher College in 1995. I earned my law degree from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 1998. I passed the New York State and Massachusetts bar exams in 1998 and became a licensed attorney in January of 1999, which is when I started my career at the District Attorney’s Office.
I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer. A friend of my mother was a court reporter and I recall going to court one night with her so we could meet her friend to go to dinner. As I watched the proceedings, I was impressed by the role of the attorneys in the courtroom. I was only in fourth grade, but it intrigued me. I liked that the attorneys were advocating for people and wanted a fair resolution to the case. That really drew me in and I made up my mind that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up.
I chose to be a prosecutor at a young age. I was very close with my mother and she would often comment on criminal cases happening in the news, or reports of crimes that happened in the community when I was growing up. I recall thinking who represents people who have suffered harm, or those who have been killed and don’t have a voice anymore? How do they get justice? I learned more about the role of a prosecutor and felt that was a good fit for me. I always had a sense of fairness, especially having an older brother and advocating for myself when I thought my mom wasn’t being fair. It may sound cliché, but I had a fire inside me to pursue justice and fairness at a young age and it has stayed with me to this day.
What makes you hustle and empowers you in your career?
Doing the right thing on behalf of the community makes me hustle. I take my role as a prosecutor very seriously and know my obligation is to seek justice. Justice is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Justice can mean a dismissal, treatment, community service, jail time, or sentences in state prison. I have to consider all aspects of a case: the facts, the law, safety to the community, the impact on the victim and the accused. I often make difficult decisions that take all of these aspects into account in order to serve the community the best way I possibly can while always fulfilling my obligation to seek a just result.
I am empowered by the results I achieve for people in the courtroom. The cases I personally handle involve some of the most serious and horrific crimes where people have been killed or seriously injured. Families are often devastated and going through the criminal justice process is daunting and complex. I guide them through the best way I can and strive to achieve justice for them. Many people are so appreciative and grateful for the time and effort I put into their case and made sure their voices were heard. I feel that I help make a difference in their lives by working hard on their behalf and achieving justice for them. My work is very rewarding.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities, especially when you have such a demanding career and are now running for County Court Judge.
My husband and I are truly a team. We have a big family and they are our priority. We work together to make sure they are taken care of and where they need to be with all of their activities. My husband has been very supportive throughout my career. He gives me the time and space I need to focus when I am doing murder trials. He’s also good about the late night calls I get to respond to homicide scenes. Greg is very supportive of my run for County Court Judge. He is a tremendous help in so many ways. Working together is how we balance work and life responsibilities, and he has helped me so much with the campaign.
Who inspires you to live your best life?
My children truly inspire me to live my best life. We are very fortunate to have healthy and amazing kids. The triplets were born premature at 26 weeks and spent 2 ½ months in the NICU at Strong Hospital. They had many health issues and complications that ultimately resolved. Those days were very difficult, but we had faith they would pull through and come home and they did. We are so fortunate that they do not have any health issues now. When the triplets were babies, my older son Gianni always wanted to help take care of them and look out for them. As they have grown, he has truly fulfilled his role as a big brother. The kids are a reminder to value every day and be grateful for the blessings in life.
What do you feel are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
Listening is such an important thing to do in order to be successful at anything. Taking the time to listen to others and appreciate what they are saying to you does two things: it lets people know their voices matter and it allows the listener respond in a meaningful way. I think it’s also important to be able to make decisions and give people feedback about issues or questions they have. As a Bureau Chief, I am often asked about how to handle legal issues or present evidence in court. Giving people direction about how to navigate through those things helps them learn and become even more experienced about those issues in the future. If you don’t take the time to truly listen and give people meaningful direction or feedback, nothing really gets accomplished and people walk away unsatisfied and unprepared on how to deal with their issue.
Where do you see yourself a year from now? 3 years? 5 years?
As a Monroe County Court Judge.
#8 What would you say are the top three skills needed to be powerful and empowering leader in the judicial system?
Be a good listener, have patience, and be decisive.
Who would you define as your female hero and why?
My mother is my hero. She died when I was 17 years old during my senior year of high school. We were very close and her death was devastating to me.
My mother was diagnosed with AIDS when I was 13 years old. It was 1987 and I just started high school. My brother and I were shocked by her diagnosis. I will never forget the day she told us and it literally felt like someone punched me in the stomach. There were so many things that people did not know about the disease back then, which made it even harder to process. One thing I learned quickly was there was a stigma against people with HIV and AIDS. It was seen by many as a disease affecting the gay and lesbian community or those that used intravenous drugs. People treated me different. I was called names. Those days were very tough.
My mom fought against that stigma and went out into the community to educate people about the disease. She would tell people how she did not fit into the stereotype people had about those who suffered from HIV and AIDS. Her message was for people to move past the stereotypes and realize that anyone can be infected with the disease and to view those affected by the disease as human beings; people who come from all walks of life who are deserving of kindness and compassion at a time in their lives when they are dying and the world around them is turning against them. She worked with her doctors in this endeavor, Dr. Bill Valenti and Dr. Steve Schiebel. They were early pioneers in treating HIV and AIDS in this community and trying to spread awareness and a sense of compassion. I got to know both of them well, and unfortunately Dr. Schiebel passed away a few years ago.
Despite how hard she fought, my mother succumbed to the disease. She died on December 27, 1990. She is my hero because she inspired me to be a voice for others against all odds and always have a sense of compassion for others.
Before she died, she encouraged me to be strong and stay the course to achieve my goal of becoming an attorney. Losing her was very hard for me, but I did what she told me to do, and I carried the example she set for me all along the way which brought me to where I am today.
What made you decide to want to go on the journey to become a judge especially after such a successful career in the DA’s office?
Much of my career has been focused on handling complex violent crime and homicide cases. I have gained so much knowledge in my experience with handling these types of cases, and I have worked with people from many different backgrounds throughout my career at the District Attorney’s Office. I have worked to make a difference in people’s lives. I have the opportunity now to bring my life and work experience and dedication to the County Court bench as a judge. The cases that are handled in Monroe County Court involve some of the most serious crimes that occur in the community. I have always recognized the importance of having judges in County Court who know the law, know how to handle these types of cases and make decisions that take the community into account. I’ve done that for nearly 23 years as a prosecutor and my experience makes me well suited to continue to serve the community as a County Court Judge.
What has been your biggest obstacle and your great success in your career?
The biggest obstacle for me in my career was getting people to take me seriously when I first started as an Assistant District Attorney. Some attorneys were condescending or referred to me in a derogatory way. Of course, this was very upsetting, especially since I was just starting out. I told myself the best way to prove them wrong was to be the best trial attorney I could be in the courtroom. I made sure I was always highly prepared every time I appeared in court and never missed deadlines or gave anyone a reason to think I was someone who could be taken advantage of. If I did not know something, I researched the law and asked questions of my supervisors.
I think my greatest success is that I have evolved into a strong trial attorney who handles the most serious crimes that happen in the community. I have had a very successful career and worked very hard to become the trial attorney I am today. Beyond my trial results, I have confidence in the decisions I make with respect to the cases I handle and those handled by members of my bureau and that has come from years of experience. Not every case results in a trial. Some cases result in a guilty plea, other cases may not have enough evidence to move forward, or some cases are not prosecuted because there is evidence the person charged did not commit the crime. In my experience, I have to consider all aspects of a case: the facts, the law, the impact on the community, the victim and the accused. I make often difficult decisions that take all of those aspects into account in order to serve the community the best way I can while always fulfilling my obligation to seek a just result.
What goes through your mind when you think of women who have sat on the bench before you will? What would you do the same or be different? What do you feel will make you a successful Judge?
They have all worked hard to be where they are, and I think everyone can respect that. In my experience, the best judges are the ones who listen, are patient, take the time to research issues related to a case, treat others with respect and know how to read people. I have had a lot of practice doing these things over the course of my career, and I believe these characteristics will make me a successful judge.
What do you feel are some of your greatest strengths and assets?
Paying attention to detail and multitasking. I think this holds true both in my everyday life and in my work. When I am working on case, I really focus in on the details to see how the facts all fit together. I also look to see what more I can do to add to the case. Trial work involves putting everything together from different sources: police, civilian testimony, medical testimony, forensic testimony, and so much more. You have to know how to present the case in a way that the jury can easily follow and understand. For me, I am always building from what each piece of evidence shows to a jury to give them a true picture of what happened. To do this, you have to multitask and be organized. Having four kids certainly gives me plenty of practice in my everyday life.
What motivates you to work hard?
I’m motivated to seek justice and do the right thing on behalf of the community I serve. I have never lost sight of the fact that the decisions I make have lasting impacts on the victims, the accused and the community, and if you’re not motivated to work hard to ensure you are doing the right thing then the community is not served well.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My family is my proudest accomplishment.
What has been your favorite thing about the career path you have chosen?
The work I do is interesting and exciting. Although the cases I handle are horrific, they are always interesting. I have created a niche for myself in handling cases that involve DNA and other types of forensic evidence and that has always been an interest of mine. I also work on cold case homicides, which I really enjoy. Additionally, I have on-call duties to respond to homicide scenes three months out of the year. I work along with homicide investigators at the scene and that has always been interesting.
What makes you laugh the most?
My kids! One of my boys is a serious joke teller. He comes up with his own jokes all the time. I love it when the kids are just being silly. They all make me laugh!
If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be and why?
Relax! I don’t have much time to do that at all. My life right now consists of family, work, home and campaigning. I’m always going. I would enjoy one day to just do nothing but watch my favorite movies.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Always make yourself available to those you supervise. Take the time to listen and actually help come up with solutions to problems or issues. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Work hard to overcome obstacles and show your worth to the world.
Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?
I would be able to clone myself so that I could get everything done all at once!
What is some of the advice you share with young women entering a male-dominated profession?
People may underestimate you for a variety of reasons. Be prepared and prove them wrong through the work that you do. Hard work, preparation and dedication to your craft will earn you the respect of those in the profession.
Where will we see you in the future?
As a judge in Monroe County Court.
What else would you like our audience to know about you?
My husband and I enjoy ballroom dancing when we get the opportunity to do it. He was previously a ballroom dance instructor, so we have a lot of fun when we dance! I also love rock music, football, and of course supporting my kids at their events.
What has been your most memorable case while an Assistant District Attorney and why?
The most memorable case of my career is a cold case homicide that was solved last year. It involves the death of a 14 year old girl in the City of Rochester in 1984. The case was unsolved for 36 years. I’ve been working on the case since 2011 with the Rochester Police Department and the Monroe County Crime Lab. Being able to solve that case was truly the highlight of my career.
As Chief of the Major Felony Bureau, what have you accomplished in your time there?
I have helped younger attorneys evolve into well rounded trial lawyers who are dedicated to doing the right thing and seeking justice. Some have gone on to become judges or supervisors themselves. I’m very proud of the work my bureau does on a daily basis.