By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
Will Shanahan was inspired to enter the race for Queens Civil Court Judge when a member of the Queens GOP called him one Sunday morning in early 2021 and asked him, simply, if he wanted to run.
“I said, ‘is it going to cost me anything?’” Shanahan recalled. “He said, ‘not really.’ And I said, ‘I’m in.’”
Though he lost the election that year, Shanahan remained undeterred; this year, he’s running again, challenging Democrat attorney Evelyn Gong for a spot on the Civil Court bench in Queens’s 6th municipal district. The district includes the neighborhoods of Flushing, College Point, Bay Terrace, Auburndale, Kew Gardens and Fresh Meadows. Once appointed to their ten-year term, however, judges may find themselves serving in civil, criminal, or housing courts in districts anywhere throughout the city, depending on need.
Shanahan touts a 34-year record as an attorney, with criminal trials making up the majority of his focus throughout the years.
“If you look at what I’ve done, everything has been about public service,” Shanahan said, explaining that he tried working at a big law firm but couldn’t stand it. “All I did [there] was build so that the partners could make money. And it was so unrewarding, so I left…I’ve been in the court system, I do a lot of pro bono work, I’ve helped a lot of people. That’s what I get a kick out of, is helping people.”
Shanahan worked in the District Attorney’s office for the first ten years of his career as a prosecutor before working with Allstate Insurance, litigating in civil trials. While he thinks this allowed him to get “a good balance” of experience, he missed criminal law, and eventually founded his own private practice. Much of his work since then has been within criminal trials—he often acts as a court-appointed lawyer for defendants who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.
“I’ve been on both sides,” Shanahan said. “I used to put ‘em in jail, now I get ‘em out.”
Considering the possibility of being placed in housing court, Shanahan said “[M]y priority would be to move cases. There are landlord-tenant cases that have taken years to come to court.”
Shanahan recounted giving a lecture on the topic, titled “how to be a landlord and not get arrested.”
“So many people have come to me, and say that they are ready to pull their hair out,” he said. “I’m representing landlords, because they’re demanding that people get out and they call the cops on them, and then they get arrested for harassing the tenants.”
Shanahan emphasized that he has received approval from the New York City Bar, while his opponent, Evelyn Gong, was rated “not approved.” Gong was not alone in this—neither of her two competitors in the Democratic primary received approval either. One of them, John Ciafone, declined to participate in the rating process from the start.
“To my knowledge, [Gong] hasn’t done a trial in her life,” Shanahan said.
Gong did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
“I think there’s no better way to end your career than being a judge,” Shanah said as he reflected on the course of his work in law. “And since I’ve been on both sides, I’ve been on every side of the law—why not be on top of it now?”