A Jewish Brooklyn judicial candidate says she was deprived of victory when her Protestant opponent changed her name to Cohen to gain Jewish votes.
“It is deception,” Tehilah Berman, the 49-year-old candidate from Flatbush, said of opponent lawyer Caroline Piela’s legal name change to Caroline Cohen during the race for Civil Court judge. “It was wrong to deceive the Jewish and non-Jewish public.”
In February, the 38-year-old Democratic primary candidate changed her legal name from Caroline Helen Julia Piela to Caroline Cohen. As per the NY Post, the name Cohen belongs to her husband Steven Cohen, her high-school sweetheart whom she married in 2006. She has been known socially and professionally as Caroline Piela-Cohen, but she never officially changed her name to Cohen till only weeks before she announced her candidacy for the judgeship in Brooklyn’s 6th Municipal District. Cohen also aggressively advertised in Brooklyn’s Jewish press, with one ad featuring the name “Cohen” in jumbo-sized capital letters, with a yellow Star, along with the Hebrew biblical expression: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof”, which means “justice, justice, shalt thou follow.”
“Catering to religious groups is not proper in this democracy,” said Berman, an Orthodox Jew. “People should be proud of their religion and not make believe they are something else.” During her run for the position, Berman had said: “I want to be a judge because I love the law and I truly love people. I want to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.” Berman said. “My court experience comes from having served as a principal court attorney to a civil court judge, then as a principal law clerk to a Supreme Court Justice.”
Piela, 38, who also lives in Flatbush, wooed 43 percent of the vote, while Berman came in last of the four candidates with 14.53 percent of the votes. Cohen, a graduate of NYU and Cardoza School of Law, was rated as approved by the New York City Bar Association and by the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Cohen defended her victory and maintained that her name change was just an “administrative concern”, not intended to misrepresent her identity. “I honestly don’t think that was a consideration,” said Cohen. “I challenge anyone who would assert that people voted for me because my last name was Jewish to look at my ground game and look at my numbers.” “I know Tehilah Berman is an Orthodox woman, and I believe her name to be very identifiably Jewish, and Ms. Berman did not do nearly as well as I did.”