For Seth Peacock ’01, winning a seat on the Ithaca City Court in the November election was the end of a long journey that began when he started watching C-SPAN at the age of thirteen.
With his mother and sister, Peacock had just moved from a public housing project in Manhattan into a mixed-income apartment building, where his family gained access to cable TV for the first time. When he tuned into C-SPAN one day, he became intrigued watching the proceedings of Congress.
“I would listen to it and then I noticed that a lot of them were attorneys,” he said. “I didn’t know if that’s what attorneys did or didn’t do. But in the back of my mind, with no proof or reason to think I could become an attorney, I said, ‘That’s cool what they did. Maybe I should do that.’”
After driving a tractor-trailer to support himself, Peacock enrolled in Queens College, earning a degree in philosophy. Graduating at the age of thirty, he returned to his interest in the law and enrolled in Cornell Law School.
One of his most memorable experiences was serving in an externship with Ithaca City Court Judge Judith Rossiter ’86, just before moving to Texas to work as a corporate attorney. Rossiter was so impressed with Peacock that she suggested that he might want to return to Ithaca and serve on the city court.
Thirteen years later, that is what happened when Peacock, then a private attorney in Ithaca, was appointed an interim city court judge after Rossiter retired. Peacock ran in the Democratic primary in 2014 to retain the seat, but narrowly lost the race.
That outcome changed in November, however, when he received 81 percent of the vote to win a ten-year term. “I don’t know if I would have become a judge if I hadn’t gone to Cornell,” he said. “I came into the law like a blank slate, not knowing the career path or how it works.”
Peacock is the first Black judge to serve not only on the Ithaca City Court but also in the Sixth Judicial District, which encompasses a ten-county area in Central New York.
Since January, when Peacock became an interim city court judge to fill another vacancy, he has presided over the newly created Ithaca Wellness and Recovery Court, which brings together housing and other specialists to work with criminal defendants who have a mental health diagnosis.
What Peacock enjoys the most is interacting with the people who appear in court and issuing fair decisions to resolve the crises they face. “It may be a run-of-the-mill case for me,” he said, “but for that individual and that family, there’s nothing more important in their lives at that point.”