James B. Kobak, Jr., Past NYCLA President, Delivers Speech Honoring Past President Klaus Eppler

James B. Kobak, Jr., Past NYCLA President,
Delivers Speech Honoring Past President Klaus Eppler

2024 Annual Meeting
NYCLA Home of Law
111 Broadway
New York, New York

May 23, 2024


Klaus Eppler was NYCLA’s president in 1995 and 1996. In 2003 he was awarded NYCLA’s highest honor, the President’s Medal, which will be awarded to another more than deserving former president, Carol Sigmond, later this evening.  Klaus was the third person to receive that honor.

During his presidency Klaus organized and led a coalition of the county bar associations in the city to organize and oversee a panel of private lawyers—what we call 18b lawyers—to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases, an aspect of  access to justice about which Klaus felt deeply and in which he was involved at the state level for many years. He had NYCLA address membership and other issues arising from his recognition of the changing demographics of the profession.  NYCLA under Klaus’ leadership took strong positions when judges, including our own former president, Judge Harold Baer, were unfairly attacked in the media and on women’s and other group’s rights.  And of course no NYCLA presidency would have been complete, without having to deal with things like installing a new phone system and trying to get the air conditioning to work at our former building.

Klaus emigrated to the united states as child from middle Europe in 1938.  He graduated from union college where he was valedictorian and Yale law school where he was on the yale law journal.  Loyalty, inclusion, the rule of law, and, as corollaries, the importance of  independent, well informed lawyers and an independent, well supported judiciary were, i think, core values for Klaus, in large part because of his own early experience. I also think they help explain why he was so devoted to NYCLA. 

And devoted Klaus certainly was. NYCLA was the one organization Klaus designated where gifts in his memory might be made.  Some of those gifts will perpetuate the Eppler prize whose winner for this year will be announced in a moment.  The prize which he funded was part and parcel of Klaus’ desire to nourish the growth and development of other dedicated lawyers and of the law itself.  It was the inspiration for the prize which i awarded a moment ago which resulted from several conversations with Klaus.

Klaus continued to play an active and inspirational role in NYCLA and beyond for the nearly thirty years between the end of his presidency and his death.  He was attending and participating in our board meetings by zoom up until a few weeks of his death—and  I mean participating:  asking questions and offering his thoughts. He served many terms on the executive committee and as a delegate to the state bar and took on other roles to numerous to mention, formally or informally, both at NYCLA and beyond, including leadership roles in statewide groups seeking reforms of the commission on judicial misconduct and removing barriers to multijurisdictional practice. 

Important as the these many activities were, what meant most to me and I think to many of us here was Klaus’ steadfast presence over those three decades as a source of wisdom, perspective and advice–always balanced and thoughtful, always respectful, supportive and encouraging even when, as sometimes happened, he expressed some reservations or disagreement. 

It seems almost quaint in this day and age but Klaus had great loyalty and affection toward his firm, Proskauer, and at the time of his death was refining remarks for an upcoming partner dinner. He was married to his wife, Joyce, for 70 years and i think anyone who saw them together during Joyce’s last years—or even before–would instantly perceive the depth of Klaus’ devotion. He had life long attachments to friends from law school and other pursuits and was deeply attached to his family. His daughters and others are attending virtually and his grandson, Elias, and his wife Emily are here with us in person

Early in my days at NYCLA, I sent Klaus a note and made the mistake of spelling his first name with a C instead of a K.  (it was probably a good thing I didn’t work at work at Proskauer.  Klaus called and among other things said the Klaus whose name began with a c was the one who lived in the north pole and that he, Klaus Eppler, was no Santa Claus.

Well, Klaus was right about most things but I’m not quite sure he was right about that.  While I am sure that in negotiations for a client Klaus never gave anything away, as a colleague and bar leader he was always generous, cheerful and benevolent. Klaus Eppler epitomized what a lawyer should be.  All of us long ago stopped believing in Santa Claus. But i don’t think anyone who dealt with him ever stopped believing in Klaus Eppler.