Remarks by Barbara Moses
President, New York County Lawyers’ Association
Annual Dinner, Waldorf Astoria
December 17, 2013
As many of you know, I was elected President of NYCLA primarily based on my pledge never to sing in public. You will be relieved to hear that I intend to uphold that pledge tonight. But I hope you will forgive me if I sing just a little bit—in a metaphorical sense—about the great bar association that I have the privilege to lead this year.
2013 has been a good year for NYCLA.
Memberhip is up, and I like to think it is not just because of the discount that NYCLA members get at Brooks Brothers. Though I must say, you all look fabulous. I like to think it is because NYCLA, like our honorees tonight, serves the bar and serves the larger community of which we are a part.
We serve the bar through our publications – one of which in particular we will hear more about this evening – our CLE programs, our library, our downtown facilities, our minority judicial internships, our public service fellowships, and of course our thriving committees, sections and Task Forces.
NYCLA also serves the community, in more ways than I can list in the time that Bob allotted to me. Here are a few: educating New York City schoolchildren about the legal system; providing thousands of hours of pro bono legal services every year; and hosting public lectures and conferences, issuing reports, and speaking out on issues that require more attention than they are getting.
Let me give you an example. In September, thanks to the work of NYCLA’s Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts, we issued a report on the devastating effects of the recent cuts— particularly sequestration—on the administration of justice. And earlier this month, NYCLA took detailed testimony from the judges, court administrators, prosecutors and public defenders who struggle with sequestration every day. We are used to having a justice system that is the envy of the world. We almost take it for granted. But now, thanks in large part to sequestration, these public servants—judges, court administrators, prosecutors, and public defenders—are trying desperately to carry out their constitutional obligations with continually shrinking headcounts, with curtailed courthouse operations, and with broken-down equipment that they cannot afford to repair, never mind upgrade. NYCLA has worked, and will continue to work, to educate the legal community and the larger community about the degree of crisis that the judicial branch is facing—and, I am sorry to say, is still facing, notwithstanding today’s Senate vote apparently clearing the way for a compromise federal budget.
It is a great privilege for me to be on the dais tonight with Attorney General Schneiderman and with our honorees. I am also happy to see so many pro bono partners and practice leaders who struggled through the snow to be with us tonight, both from law firms and from the corporate world. And I greatly appreciate, as always, the support of my colleagues at Morvillo Abramowitz, who serve both the bar and the community every day.
I am particularly honored to introduce our next speaker. Loretta Preska has served on the Southern District of New York since 1992, and has been Chief Judge since 2009. A long-time friend of NYCLA, and a past recipient of our Edward Weinfeld award, Chief Judge Preska is also a fierce advocate for the American judicial system, never more so than this year. In August, Judge Preska led a group of 87 federal chief judges who broke tradition by writing a public letter detailing the looming dangers of sequestration for the federal courts. Judge Preska has also championed the cause of the Federal Defenders’ office, pointing out that their work, like the work of the courts themselves, is not optional. In the United States, both the courts and the public defenders have constitutional obligations to fulfill and no control over the volume of incoming work.
As I mentioned a moment ago, we now have at least the outline of a federal budget deal. But the judicial system is not yet out of the woods, as Chief Judge Preska will explain.