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The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis

Judge Ronald L. Ellis was born on July 4, 1950 in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana to Ella Mae Ellis and Herman Ellis. In search of better job prospects, Ellis’ father moved the family to New York City, where Ellis graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in 1968. Ellis earned his B.Ch.E. degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College in 1972, and entered New York University School of Law as a recipient of the prestigious Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholarship.

During his second and third years of law school, Ellis became interested in the civil rights mission of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF). After obtaining his J.D. degree, he worked briefly as a patent attorney for Exxon before joining the NAACP LDF in 1976, where he specialized in fair employment class action litigation. From 1984 to 1990, Ellis served as the organization’s Fair Employment Program director. Ellis went on to serve as the NAACP LDF’s Poverty & Justice Program director, where he worked on the landmark civil rights case Sheff v. O’Neil. In 1993, Ellis was sworn in as a magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As a magistrate judge, Ellis handled pre-trial matters, including arraignment and determining bail. Ellis drew public criticism in 2009 for deciding not to remand fraudulent investor Bernie Madoff, in light of allegations that he had violated the terms of his bail. He also ruled on the City of New York’s lawsuit against documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and refused to suppress a subpoena demanding that the BBC release unaired footage from its documentary Arafat Investigated.

In addition to his courtroom duties, Ellis mentored many law clerks, and served as an adjunct law professor at New York University School of Law, New York Law School and Columbia School of Law, often teaching courses on race and the law. He co-authored the chapter “Achieving Race and Gender Fairness in the Courtroom” in The Judge’s Book, and was a member of the Federal Bar Council and the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.

Ellis and his wife, Kathleen, have two sons, Jamil and Jelani, and a granddaughter, Alexandra.

Judge Ronald L. Ellis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 27, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.056

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/27/2016 |and| 11/11/2016

Last Name

Ellis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Louis

Schools

New York University School of Law

Manhattan College

Cardinal Spellman High School

St. Thomas the Apostle School

St. Luke School

First Name

Ronald

Birth City, State, Country

Lafourche Crossing

HM ID

ELL06

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Do The Right Thing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/4/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Judge Ronald L. Elllis (1950 - ) worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and served as a magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Employment

United States District Court

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Exxon Research & Engineering

Columbia University School of Law

New York University Law School

New York Law School

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis' interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about his parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers his childhood illnesses

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers St. Luke's Elementary School in Thibodaux, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his early relationship with his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes himself as a student

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes segregation in Thibodaux, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his father's decision to move to New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers moving to New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls attending St. Thomas the Apostle School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers attending Cardinal Spellman High School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the race relations at Cardinal Spellman High School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his early impressions of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his decision to study engineering at Manhattan College in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about his decision to attend the New York University School of Law

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers meeting and marrying his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers interning at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls working with Jack Greenberg

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes what he learned at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his judicial philosophy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls the financial limitations of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers working for Exxon Research and Engineering Company

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers his first case with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls working on hiring discrimination cases

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the settlements in his hiring discrimination suits

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about employment discrimination practices in the North

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls the federal government's reverse discrimination cases

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.'s reaction to civil rights setbacks

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the challenges concerning poverty

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers 1989 Sheff v. O'Neill case

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.'s relationship with the U.S. Congress

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls becoming a magistrate judge

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his role as a magistrate judge

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers ruling on Bernard Madoff's bail hearing

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis' interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his sudden notoriety following Bernard Madoff's trial

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about partisanship in the judicial branch

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his transition from lawyer to magistrate judge

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his philosophy as a judge, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his philosophy as a judge, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis reflects upon the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.'s influence on his judgeship

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his support staff

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the process of writing an opinion

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls his ruling on the 'Central Park Five' documentary footage

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about the impact of media attention

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls the settlement in the Central Park Five emotional distress case

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes the process of publishing case documents

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about his teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his approach to teaching about race and law, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his approach to teaching about race and law, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about how the criminal justice system disadvantages the poor

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his mentorship, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis describes his mentorship, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about stop and frisk policies

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis shares his advice for Americans, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis shares his advice for Americans, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis shares his advice for young people

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about wealth and the justice system

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis talks about technology and the law

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$3

DAStory

6$1

DATitle
The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis recalls becoming a magistrate judge
The Honorable Ronald L. Ellis remembers interning at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Transcript
The idea of, you know, the idea of going through [U.S.] Congress, you know, my, I mean, I had been very vocal on affirmative action. I--there was no way I was going to hide those--I mean, I'm in print, I'd given interviews. So, and having seen what had happened to, to people who had gone through it, it didn't seem like a viable alternative. I didn't realize that magistrate judges didn't go through Congress. I didn't really know that much about them. But at the time, in our court [U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York], we had Robert Carter [HistoryMaker Robert L. Carter] and Connie Motley [Constance Baker Motley]. And Robert Carter had said that he had been trying to, to get them to appoint a black magistrate judge and the, the response he got was, you know, "If a qualified candidate is there, then we'll consider them." So he called the director-counsel at the time, who was [HistoryMaker] Elaine Jones, and said, "Send, have somebody apply who's a qualified candidate." And so she came to me and I didn't really know that much about it. I said, "Well, you know, sure, I'll give it a shot." And so I put in my application and I put it, I actually put in the application before I found out that much about the job. And then I found out about the job and then I put in an application for the Eastern District [U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York], which also had a vacancy. I said, "Well, this looks like a very good job." And well the magistrate judges go through a merit selection panel and they evaluate the people without regard to political party or leanings; and so I got through that, and then they recommend you to the board of judges and I got selected there.$It's a four year program for your law degree [at New York University School of Law, New York, New York], correct?$$Three.$$Three, and when you come out, actually before you come out, 'cause generally you have internships while you're--$$Correct.$$--in college. What did you do as your internships?$$Well, the first internship I did was out in Minnesota. I did a summer there. It was a small firm that did criminal defense for Native Americans and African Americans. So, it was actually a criminal defense. And so that was my first internship. The program also had a requirement that you do an internship during your second year and I had gotten the opportunity to work at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund [NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.]. And that, that was one of those, I guess it was serendipity because I had not actually sought out the job there and one of the other, someone else in the program had arranged an interview at the Legal Defense Fund but then that wasn't their first choice so they got their first choice and I passed them on one day just at the law school and they said they had an interview at the Legal Defense Fund. I said I didn't know they had an opening there and so I said, "Well, you know, that sounds interesting." So I looked it up and I said--I mean, you know, despite all the work that the Legal Defense Fund was doing, you know, not necessarily everybody knows who and what they are and how they're different from the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. And so I went, I went for that interview and they, they said, okay, and so I spent my second year, during the school year, going to the Legal Defense Fund every chance I got.$$So it was different than a summer internship, this was during your--$$During the school year.$$--academic school year?$$Yes.$$And what were you doing?$$Well, interesting enough, they had me drafting legal documents. And, you know, what they call interrogatories, request for production of documents, even a few complaints. And, you know, being supervised, and they said, they--they didn't have a lot of resources and they didn't have a lot of interns back then and I was sort of like it at that point. So, I was, I was doing a lot of different things for different people who were there. If they had a little project, research, then I would do that. And so, I was mainly doing work with the people in employment discrimination but doing other things too and sort of just having a student around during the school year, gives you an opportunity to see people when there's not a lot of bodies around.