Remarks by NYCLA President Adrienne B. Koch at NYCLA Annual Meeting May 23, 2024

Remarks by NYCLA President Adrienne B. Koch

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

May 23,2024

The Association’s full Annual Report detailing all of our activities over the past year is available on our website. I strongly urge you to take a look at it; it’s an interactive document with links to the various publications, statements, news coverage and other material it describes. Reading it made me proud.  My hope is that it will make you proud too. Because it shows the many ways in which NYCLA has been a force this year.

We’ve been a force in the courts, litigating and submitting amicus briefs on some of the hot-button issues of our time, including domestic violence, gun regulation, and access to justice through assigned counsel.

We’ve been a force through our statements and reports – scores of them – covering issues including voting rights, criminal justice, judicial ethics, and funding for civil legal services, to name only a few. 

We’ve been a force through our programs – again, scores of them – offering educational content covering cutting edge issues ranging from artificial intelligence and cybersecurity to the disproportionate impact of fines and fees on people of color.

We’ve been a force through our pro bono work.  This past year NYCLA helped thousands (thousands!) of people through our programs, which provide critical assistance to New Yorkers in matters involving their homes, families, jobs, government benefits, and more. 

We’ve been a force through our podcasts, which have covered issues ranging from ethics in the U.S. Supreme Court to mental health in the legal profession – and have featured such luminaries as former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas, First Department Presiding Justice Diane Renwick, and Former Governor David Patterson.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to Dan Wiig, whose work makes these podcasts happen. 

The breadth of NYCLA’s work and reach over the past year reflects the diversity of its Members – not only in terms of their identities, but also in terms of their talents.  There’s time for me to give you a little more detail about just a few highlights, and I want to turn to that now.

First, I want to talk about the ways NYCLA has been a leader in supporting our judiciary.

When I stood here a year ago at the threshold of my presidency, I spoke about the ways in which NYCLA has historically stood shoulder to shoulder with our judiciary.  This past year was no exception. Here are some examples.

In October, NYCLA presented detailed testimony to the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation urging a salary increase for our state judges. 

Following those hearings, our judges finally received that increase in February.  It was their first since 2019. They deserve every penny. Their work is priceless.

NYCLA also issued statements urging passage of the Judicial Security Act, to increase the safety of all judges and their families. We supported our position not only with rhetoric, but also with robust research and analysis, ably assembled through the joint efforts of our Federal Courts and Appellate Courts Committees – for which I want to thank co-chairs Scott Henney, Scott Klugman, Steve Benathen, and Michael Eisenkraft. I’m pleased to say the measure passed.

We’re now in the midst of another project, supporting legislation designed to mitigate the impact of a quirk in our state’s pension system that has the effect of penalizing judges for remaining on the bench after they are eligible to retire. I want to thank Michael Miller, who’s been instrumental in that work.

I have to tell you something about all of this. 

Everywhere I go – literally everywhere I go – people come up to me to thank NYCLA for the work it’s doing to support our judiciary.  It matters to them. It matters to us too. NYCLA will continue this work, and will side with our judges every time.

I want to turn next to the ways NYCLA continues to be a voice for diversity and inclusion. Over the past year we’ve seen tremendous backlash against historic efforts to create a more inclusive society. Perhaps the most dramatic was the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, which now limits the ways in which colleges and universities can ensure diversity in their classes. Following that decision, NYCLA spearheaded a coalition of twelve bar associations to speak out with one voice on the importance of diversity in our judiciary, and to reaffirm our commitment to maintaining a robust pipeline of qualified candidates and to working together to maximize the synergies of our numbers. A big thank you to Hank Greenberg, Michael Miller, Vince Chang, and the Honorable Rolando Acosta for their major contributions to that effort.

NYCLA has continued to support diversity in other ways as well. We’ve done that through our Special Masters program, a collaboration with the Franklin H. Williams Commission that’s now in its fourth year.  The program provides meaningful assistance to the courts while also affording attorneys from underrepresented communities an opportunity to volunteer in the court system.  This year 27 attorneys are participating. Thanks to Onya Brinson and the Honorable Austin D’Souza for their leadership on this important program.

We’ve also supported diversity through numerous statements defending affirmative action, condemning hate speech, and denouncing discrimination. 

And we’ve supported diversity through programming – focusing on issues such as implicit bias, the development of tribal land, diversity in the legal profession, and the intersection between the First Amendment and anti-discrimination laws, just to name a few. I could go on and on about this, but for now I’ll sum up by saying that over the past year NYCLA’s voice on diversity and inclusion has been loud and steady – and it has been heard. This will continue in full force.

Let me next say something about our committees and task forces. You heard a bit about the work of our ADR Committee when they received the Kobak Prize earlier this evening.  You’ll shortly hear more about the work of yet another committee when we announce the winner of the Eppler Prize. 

I want to mention just a few other things. Last month our Federal Courts Committee published a 10-year retrospective on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. It was so well-received that Chief Judge Livingston of the Second Circuit asked if NYCLA would do the same for her court. That project is now underway as a joint effort between the Federal Courts Committee and the Appellate Courts Committee, whose chairs I’ve already mentioned.

Our Reproductive Rights Task Force – which received last year’s Kobak Prize for the outstanding program it put on right after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was leaked – is hard at work on a follow-on program to take place in the fall, which will address developments since Dobbs and the effect of those developments on the political climate in this election year. They also have a few other plans in the works that we hope will provide meaningful assistance to women seeking reproductive care who need to understand their rights.  Stay tuned. A big thanks to Kate Aufses, Brittney Balser, and Meg Sanborn-Lowing for their hard work on this. And if anyone is interested in helping, please email me directly and I will get you in the loop.

The Annual Report also catalogs some of the work of our U.S. Supreme Court Task Force around the issue of a code of ethics for that Court. That Task Force is sharpening its pencils again to look more specifically at the absence of formal standards regarding recusal of Supreme Court Justices – an issue that’s obviously received quite a bit of media attention lately. This is just a small sample of the work our committees and task forces are producing.  Their contributions help NYCLA shine.

I’ve talked a lot about work.  But NYCLA isn’t all work. I have to say something about our events, because they aren’t just a way to have fun; they also embody the fellowship and collegiality that are among NYCLA’s core values.

And this year they’ve been going strong. Earlier this week we held our Law Day lunch, sponsored by our Supreme Court Committee.  We were honored to present NYCLA’s Capozzoli Gavel Award to the Honorable Andrea Masley.

In March, we held our annual gala – where we celebrated all of New York’s appellate judges; presented NYCLA’s highest honor, the William Nelson Cromwell Award, to the Honorable Rolando Acosta; and awarded an honorary membership to Governor Kathy Hochul. In October, our Federal Courts Committee held its annual luncheon at which it presented NYCLA’s Weinfeld Award to the Honorable Reena Raggi.

In between those events we held many other receptions and celebrations – including quite a few right here at our own Home of Law.  There are more in the offing: the Civil Court Practice Section is holding its annual dinner on June 6; the Asian Practice Committee is holding its awards event on June 13; and there will be more to come over the summer.  Again, stay tuned!

In talking to you tonight, I’ve tried to give you a sense not only of where we’ve been but also of where we’re going, by talking about what’s planned as well as what’s already happened. To that I want to add that we’re constantly focused on improving the experience of our Members.

We recently launched a new members-only research area on our website.  We’ve only begun to populate the content of this area; look for it to expand.  We’re also focused on enhancing our engagement with members, from substantially increased online and hybrid program offerings and virtual communities on our website, to specialized programming targeted at the various stages of a lawyer’s career. Look for more to come.  And if you have suggestions – if there’s anything more NYCLA could be doing for you – please let us know!

Before concluding, there are some people I need to thank. First, thank you to NYCLA’s officers – Richard Swanson, Ron Minkoff, David Cohn, and Jai Chandrasekhar – and to Foundation Chair Megan Davis, our Board and our Executive Committee.  I couldn’t imagine a team I’d rather be on than this one.

Thank you to NYCLA’s marvelous staff: Executive Director Sophia Gianacoplos; General Counsel and Director of Pro Bono Anthe Bova; CLE and Programming Director Bari Chase; Marketing and Membership Director Toni Valenti; and all of the others whose hard work and dedication keep NYCLA going strong. 

There’s one more thank-you – and that’s to all of NYCLA’s members.  Thank you to all who chaired Committees and Task Forces; thank you to everyone who volunteered your time in other ways; thank you to everyone who attended our events and programs, who supported our Foundation, read our reports, statements and blog posts, listened to our podcasts, or even just said “yes, I’m a member of NYCLA.” 

You are what makes NYCLA happen.  

Thank you all.