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Hon. Theresa Whelan, Suffolk County Judge

Wed, 01/04/2023 - 15:23

Theresa Whelan, who had a long and distinguished law career on Long Island, "always knew she wanted to be in public service," her family wrote.

Elected in 2008 to the position of Suffolk County Family Court judge, she worked for many years in support of the well-being of children and families. She has been credited with initiating several reforms within the court system, including establishing remote access to temporary orders of protection, which allowed people to petition the court from a hospital, police precinct, or shelter. She was a catalyst of the Family Overcoming Crisis through Unified Services program, which expedites access to services that address the trauma and developmental needs of children and parents in the court system. She also served as lead judge of the Suffolk County Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, part of a statewide effort to address practices in cases where the court has removed children from their parents' care.

Ms. Whelan, who retired from her most recent post as Suffolk County Surrogate Court judge in the summer of 2022 after a total of 32 years in the state's court system, died of cancer at East End Hospice in Westhampton Beach on Dec. 26. A resident of Wading River, she was 60.

Even after her cancer diagnosis, she "continued her dedication to the public good," her family wrote. She volunteered to participate in clinical trials in hopes of helping find a cure. "Her family, friends and former colleagues remember her as someone who braved challenges with grace and compassion. She will be dearly missed by all who knew her."

She was born in Queens on Jan. 21, 1962, to John and Joan Bryant. The family moved to North Babylon and later settled in Sayville, where she graduated from high school. She earned a bachelor's degree in English and master's degree in policy analysis and public management, both from Stony Brook University, as well as a law degree from the Albany Law School.

Fresh out of law school in 1988, she took a position as an assistant county attorney in Suffolk. She entered the court system in 1990 as a senior law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Eli Wagner in Nassau County. She went on to work as a principal law clerk in Suffolk County for Supreme Court Justice Mary M. Werner and, later, Supreme Court Justice William B. Rebolini. During her 17 years with the Supreme Court, she worked in nearly every part, including civil litigation, guardianship, tax certiorari, and condemnation cases as well as matrimonial matters.

As Suffolk County Family Court judge, Ms. Whelan primarily heard child abuse and neglect cases and presided over Family Treatment Court, where she worked to safely reunite families. She became Suffolk County's Surrogate in 2019, presiding over cases involving wills, trusts, and estates, as well as guardianship matters.

In 2016, Chief Administrative Judge Larry Marks appointed Ms. Whelan to the Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee. In 2018, former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed her to the New York State Commission on Parental Representation, which is tasked with holding public hearings and reporting on the status and quality of lawyers representing parents in child welfare cases. Since 2016, Ms. Whelan had been the chair of Suffolk County's Attorneys for Children Advisory Committee, which is responsible for considering the qualifications of new applicants to the Attorneys for Children panel as well as reviewing the recertification applications for existing lawyers.

An active member of the Suffolk County Bar Association, Ms. Whelan was co-chair of the Family Court Committee from 2013 to 2016 and lectured for the association's law academy and other legal organizations. She was also a member of and past president of the Suffolk County Women's Bar Association and was the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including the Marilyn R. Menge Award at the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York 2022 convention.

In her spare time, she enjoyed hiking, kayaking, and spending time at the beach. She ran in several half marathons in recent years.

Ms. Whelan and her husband, Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan, recently celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary. He survives, as do their children, Joseph Whelan of Center Moriches and Erin Meyers of Ridge.

Ms. Whelan's mother, Joan Bryant of Sayville and Florida, also survives, as do two brothers, Jack Bryant of Bay Shore and Christopher Bryant of Sayville, and two sisters, Vaughn Bogucki of Florida and Victoria Yule of Northport. A young granddaughter, Andrea Meyers, and many nieces and nephews also survive.

Visiting hours for Ms. Whelan took place over the weekend at Alexander Rothwell Funeral Home in Wading River. A funeral service was held on Monday at Wading River Congregational Church. She is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Crematory in Center Moriches.

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