With almost 30 years in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, Jill Paperno’s legal skills have been acknowledged with job advancements and community awards. In recent months her title changed to First Assistant Public Defender, and her devotion to helping people is just as solid as it was when she graduated from SUNY Buffalo Law School in 1984, and started her career in Buffalo at Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York.
She shares her legal knowledge both in the PD’s office and via continuing education programs across the state, and she’s published a practical guide to criminal defense via Thomson-West.
She is finishing her year as president of the Greater Rochester Area Association for Women Attorneys this spring. And in her spare time, she is learning to oil paint – still life and landscapes, thus far.
In the beginning
As a child, Paperno loved to draw, and although she majored in social sciences at SUNY Albany, she fit in a couple of art courses.
Growing up in New York City and Long Island, she remembers her grandmother and aunt painting with oil but she never had any training in that medium.
“I took a pastels class at the MAG maybe 20 years ago,” Paperno recalls. “But pastels can be difficult to work with. Then a couple years ago I saw some oil painting video on the web. My husband bought me the Still Life DVD series and I have now converted a spare bedroom to an art studio.”
After enjoying some online oil painting lessons by Colorado artist named Daniel Edmondson, she became more focused on a series of DVD sessions on still life.
Since then she has also started the landscape series of DVDs, and in 2016 she began participating in a Webinar that meets every Tuesday.
“The instructor is open to different techniques, and my virtual classmates are from around the world,” she said. “We can submit paintings and hear critiques of all the students’ work via an online webinar and we can share projects in a Facebook group.”
The webinar meets four times a month, but the class is recorded in case you can’t participate live.
“In addition to assignments, the instructor gives us practice tips, motivational pointers, and suggests marketing tactics. I don’t really plan to sell my work at this point, but I do have requests from family and friends for a couple paintings,” she shared, also acknowledging the two paintings she donated to the Art of Lawyering at Volunteer Legal Services Project last year.
With oil paints, the paint needs time to dry, so that means one might have multiple canvases in progress. To accommodate this process, Paperno’s husband, retired firefighter Charles Scinta, built several shelves for his wife to set paintings on.
“He recently added a shelf to accommodate a special lamp I purchased that provides both warm and cool lighting, to allow me to paint in the evening,” Paperno noted, also explaining how he built a wooden palette holder case that allows her to preserve a color palette by putting her glass palette in the freezer for future use.
She paints on canvas and wood, and explained that a finished painting really needs to be varnished to bring up the colors in the paint.
“Oils are actually quite forgiving,” she shared. “Oils allow you to change things by painting over or scraping down.”
She says it is best to have a chunk of time to paint and often carves out a bit of her Sunday to be at the easel.
“The whole process brings me joy. Something about working with color and being absorbed by the problem-solving that art presents,” she added. “My schedule doesn’t allow me to paint every day, but I can imagine a day (sometime in the distant future) when I am retired and painting daily,” she added.
Right out of law school, Paperno joined the Buffalo office of Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York and represented state inmates. When an opportunity at the Monroe County Public Defender’s office came about in 1987, she was excited to be able to get into the courtroom more often.
For 10 years, Paperno worked as the city court supervisor, overseeing public defenders appearing in Rochester City Court for felonies and misdemeanors. During that time she collaborated with colleagues to develop more formal training for staff. She also participated in the CLE accreditation of the Public Defender’s Office.
In 2009, she became supervisor to the felony staff at the PD’s office, while handling a felony caseload. She assisted in training staff and consulting with them on their cases. During this time her title was Second Assistant. She is a major advocate of technology and uses her tablet “for everything,”
In 2010 she received the Jeffrey A. Jacobs Memorial Award and in 2011 was named a Leader in Law by The Daily Record, ultimately winning the Nathaniel Award among her peers.
She served as legislative chair for GRAWA for three years, participating as a delegate to the Women’s Bar Association of the State Of New York.
She has been active in the Monroe County Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and served on the Assigned Counsel Oversight Committee. She was also on the MCBA board of trustees for three years.
Talking about her GRAWA Presidency, she said: “I have had a fantastic board and met lots of wonderful people through GRAWA.”
Paperno’s son Alex is currently a junior in high school, and they are about to start the “college tours” checking out where Alex will go to school next. Her step-children are off on their own at ages 28 and 31.
Paperno has two dogs – Benji, a Scottish Terrier, and Lucky, a rescue dog with some Mini Pinscher mixed in.
Her other interests include bird watching, bicycling, and yoga, along with traveling with her family.
An injury ended her downhill skiing some years ago, but snowboarding is at the top of her son’s list of likes. She also enjoys hiking and photography.