Remarks of NYCLA President Vincent T. Chang
Weinfeld Luncheon, October 25, 2022
Thanks to Scott for being the chair of this incredible event, a role which he has played for as many years as I can remember. And thanks to Scott, Michael and Caren for guiding the federal courts committee – one of NYCLA’s flagship committees — through the difficult years of the pandemic.
And finally thanks to Sophia and her staff who play an essential role in this event and so many others.
Well who would have thought when we last met in this beautiful room for this luncheon honoring Chief Judge Swain in 2019 that three long years would lapse until our next Luncheon. To put that into a scale comparable to current events, three years is nearly 25 times the tenure of the last British prime minister.
But as all of our attendees know, today’s honoree is worth the wait – we celebrate former Chief Judge McMahon, who along with Chief Judge Swaine led the Southern District of New York through the dark days of the pandemic as the court strived valiantly to maintain our justice system in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide public health crisis.
This was the Court’s finest hour.
And we’re here to celebrate Judge Weinfeld and the members of his family here today. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. described the Judge as “a day-by-day living example of what we want our judges to be.”
And decades after his death, Judge Weinfeld’s example still is a beacon to us all.
Now I know none of you are here to listen to me talk about the New York County Lawyers Association. But indulge me for just a few words. Like our courts, NYCLA has weathered the pandemic.
During the pandemic we ran an online resource center for attorneys.
During the pandemic, we scoured lower Manhattan for new a new home for our bar association and secured new space at 111 Broadway with new technology to meet modern challenges.
During the pandemic we developed a new website with enhanced capabilities to be unveiled shortly.
And during the pandemic, we took positions on an array of policy issues. We were the only bar association in New York to file an amicus brief in the landmark Bruen case in the Supreme Court on firearms and the Second Amendment. Thanks to Jackie Wolf and the Manatt Phelps firm for their work on that amicus.
We were the only bar association to support the passage of New York state voting rights legislation, landmark legislation which passed earlier this year.
And we sued and obtained injunctive relief to force the state to increase he pay scale for 18B attorneys who provide legal services to the indigent.
We thank Kramer Levin and Michael Dell for their outstanding pro bono work on behalf of NYCLA and the 18B attorneys.
And we thank Cravath, which has just authored an amicus brief on behalf of NYCLA and others in the landmark Moore v. Harper case in the Supreme Court.
But the real reason we’re here is to celebrate Judge McMahon. I will not dwell upon her many accomplishments because she will be given a proper introduction by former Chief Judge DiFiore.
But let me way that Judge DiFiore is a hero in her own right who kept our state’s system afloat during these difficult times. Chief Judge DiFiore managed 1,200 state-paid judges and approximately 15,000 nonjudicial staff in more than 300 locations around the State — a system that receives 3 million filings per year.
Remarkably our state court system did not close for a single day during the pandemic.
We admire Judge DiFiore’s work on the Excellence Initiative, which improved the efficiency of our courts in so many ways.
We admire Judge DiFiore’s work in commissioning a landmark report on racial bias in the court system that took the first steps to tackling those intractable problems.
And we admire the strides that Judge DiFiore made on improving access to justice – tens of millions of dollars of expenditures — even during difficult times.
Well, let me make one remark about Judge McMahon, secure in the knowledge that Judge DiFiore will pick up where I leave off. Judge McMahon is no stranger to NYCLA. We all remember the stirring speech she gave when she accepted NYCLA’s William Nelson Cromwell Award at our 2017 annual dinner, our 103rd Annual Dinner Celebrating Outstanding Women in the Legal Profession.
Well, history repeats itself because Chief Judge DiFiore was also a Cromwell Award recipient at that dinner. We are proud and honored to have them BOTH back with us fivc years later.
And with that, let me turn it over to Chief Judge DiFiore.