REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT: 2004-2005

NYCLA’s Bylaws require the President to report annually on the state of the Association. I take great pleasure in that responsibility this year as I can use this happy occasion to present a remarkable portrait of Association achievements. The capstone of the year is the celebration of the diamond jubilee of our magnificent landmark gem, our Cass Gilbert- designed Home of Law. This splendid event provides the punctuation mark for NYCLA’s performance that may best be described by the lyrics, widely popularized by the great crooner, Frank Sinatra: “It was a very good year.”

 

NYCLA is well on the road to an historic transformation into a modern, dynamic public service organization that affords its members a unique blend of modern technological support and a wide array of professional resources and benefits. The organization’s commitment to its core mission and principles remains as vibrant as it was on May 26, 1930, when William Nelson Cromwell dedicated the Home of Law to “noble aims and purposes and the high duties of the legal profession in the administration of justice and to all worthy concerns of a civic and patriotic nature.”

 

The past year saw the final adoption and the implementation of a bold strategic plan crafted to ensure the strength and endurance of one of the profession’s most progressive and effective bar associations for the next generation and beyond. More than two years in the making, the Final Report of the Task Force on the Future has given NYCLA a detailed roadmap to guide every aspect of the Association’s operation. Tangible results are already evident, to a degree that not even the most optimistic among us dared to predict.

 

NYCLA’s fiscal performance has improved dramatically. NYCLA is on a course that will soon lead us to the first balanced budget in more than a decade. NYCLA’s governance mechanisms now embody the best practices for not-for-profit corporations. This past year, the organization became one of the first local bar associations to formally adopt a code of conduct for its Board of Directors and staff, as well as an Association-wide antitrust policy.

 

Operationally, NYCLA is functioning at an optimal level. The highly acclaimed CLE Institute continues to produce first-rate programming, with consistently increasing attendance. Membership rolls, which stabilized last year, are showing signs of sustainable growth. The Pro Bono Department sponsors an expanding array of services our volunteer members provide to the public. The Library continues its transition into a modern, high-tech resource, while cataloguing and preserving its remarkable archival collection. NYCLA’s communications infrastructure, highlighted by a new, more attractive and expanded NewYork County Lawyer publication, is stronger than ever. Within a few months, NYCLA will launch a completely redesigned web site that will provide members with one of the most innovative and useful desktop services provided by any bar association.

 

The rejuvenation and restructuring of the NYCLA Foundation is another integral component of the strategic plan. For the first time in the Association’s history, NYCLA is now positioned to undertake a sustained effort to seek external funding for the Association’s wide range of public service projects. The Foundation will not only support NYCLA’s annual and capital campaigns to strengthen the endowment and renovate the Home of Law, but it will also work synergistically with a reinvigorated Pro Bono Department to marshal the resources of the bar in service to the community. This will enable NYCLA to fulfill one of the bedrock principles upon which the organization was founded: expanding access to justice for indigent and low-income people.

 

All that we do internally to strengthen the Association is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: the discharge of NYCLA’s mission to improve our legal system and to expand access to justice. Thanks to our incredible committees, sections and task forces, this has been an extraordinarily productive year, one in which NYCLA has undertaken a wide range of public policy initiatives in furtherance of that overarching mission. For a full compendium of these projects, members are invited to visit the NYCLA web site (www.nycla.org) or read the past year’s editions of the New York County Lawyer. Nevertheless, in order to insure scrupulous compliance with the command of the Bylaws, I wish to highlight some of the more noteworthy projects and accomplishments of the past year, all illustrative of NYCLA’s vibrant role as a leader of the profession.

 

Public Policy

NYCLA’s Justice Center, under the leadership of Dean John Feerick, Judge Joseph Kevin McKay and Professor Bruce Green, has truly blossomed. One of its earliest projects, the Criminal Court Conference, resulted in the formation of a Task Force that is now hard at work on an array of projects to implement proposals generated at the Conference Groups are working on reforms that will promote alternatives to bail to minimize the detention of poor individuals charged with petty crimes and decrease failure-to-appear rates. Another group is conducting a four-borough comparison of discovery practices and developing an “expungement project” to help minor offenders clear their records in order to facilitate employment. In addition, to encourage cooperation and understanding among all of the constituent groups in the criminal justice system, the Task Force holds regularly scheduled roundtables, bringing the various constituent groups together for a freewheeling, confidential discussion of topical issues. Finally, I am pleased to report that the proceedings of the Conference have been published in a special edition of the Fordham Urban Policy Law Journal.

 

Last fall, the Justice Center convened a Housing Court Conference, which marked the 30th anniversary of that Court with a major convocation of academics, judges, practitioners and other stakeholders. Consistent with the Justice Center mission to build bridges between the legal system and the community, the Conference was designed to develop better mechanisms for serving litigants and preventing homelessness. A number of reform initiatives emerged from the various working groups, and NYCLA will soon establish a Housing Court Task Force to pursue implementation. This summer, the Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal will publish the working papers and findings of the Housing Conference.

 

As a direct result of the Housing Court Conference, NYCLA’s Board has adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a right to counsel in Housing Court for indigent tenants in residential eviction proceedings. This policy initiative responds to the staggering fact that nearly 90 percent of tenants are not represented by counsel, while more than 90 percent of landlords are. The correlation between the lack of representation and eviction is clear, as is the correlation between eviction and homelessness. NYCLA representatives are participating on a Right to Counsel Coalition that is identifying the cost savings and social benefits to New York City of providing counsel in Housing Court for various at-risk populations.

 

The Justice Center is also seeking support for a Youth Law Education Project whose components include publishing a revised Youth Law Manual and providing training to the teachers and students in the 100 high schools with law-related curricula so that young people know their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

 

Finally, building on the enormous success of the Criminal and Housing Court Conferences, in the upcoming year I plan to ask the Justice Center to sponsor a Family Court Conference to focus on the challenges confronting our juvenile justice system.

 

NYCLA’s Task Force on Judicial Selection, under the superb leadership of Co-Chairs Susan B. Lindenauer and NYCLA Past President Rosalind S. Fink, has generated a series of NYCLA reports designed to enhance public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. In one case, NYCLA’s proposal was implemented by the Unified Court System and in another, the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted the proposal as official State Bar policy. The Task Force will remain active in the coming months, tackling virtually every aspect of the judicial selection process.

 

Separate from the work of the Task Force on Judicial Selection, NYCLA continues to speak out in support of the independence of the judiciary, responding forcefully to irresponsible attacks that undermine confidence in our legal system. In the coming months, I will appoint a special working group to develop a long-range strategy to guide the Association’s efforts to preserve judicial independence and the separation of powers.

 

Other committees, sections and task forces have also produced outstanding reports, including: the LGBT Committee report surveying the progress of New York City’s top 25 law firms on LGBT issues; testimony by the Immigration and Naturalization Law Committee on City Council legislation; testimony by the Solo and Small Firm Practice Committee before the New York State Commission to Examine Solo and Small Firm Practice; the Federal Court Committee’s report on Senate and House resolutions impinging on judicial independence; and testimony by both the Family Court and Child Welfare Committee and the Matrimonial Law Section before the New York State Matrimonial Commission.

 

NYCLA continues its historic advocacy in support of reform of New York’s system of indigent defense. NYCLA provided comprehensive recommendations to a New York State Bar Association special committee on indigent defense, most of which were adopted, and secured further modification to the State Bar report at the April meeting of the State Bar House of Delegates. In addition, NYCLA submitted both written and oral testimony to the Chief Judge’s Commission on Indigent Defense, articulating a bold plan for systemic reform. Also, in connection with indigent defense reform, as further evidence of NYCLA’s national reputation for leadership on this issue, a NYCLA representative was invited to participate in the ABA Conference on Indigent Defense, sponsored by the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Defense, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the landmark Gideon decision.

 

In furtherance of NYCLA’s historic commitment to expanding access to justice and securing equal rights for all, the Association’s advocacy was pivotal on two key fronts. NYCLA played a significant role in the effort to obtain State Bar support of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, a position that NYCLA previously adopted. Under the inspired guidance of a special Task Force, led by NYCLA Past President Michael Miller and Ivan Dominguez, NYCLA galvanized the reform efforts that resulted in the adoption of a House of Delegates proposal that would secure the right to civil unions and eliminate all legal impediments faced by same-sex couples. In conjunction with these efforts, NYCLA has filed amicus curiae briefs in two cases currently pending before the Appellate Divisions for the Second and Third Departments that will consider same-sex marriage rights.

 

The second major initiative is in the area of diversity in the legal profession. The NYCLA Diversity Statement, under which law firms pledge to quantify and disclose the level of involvement of minority lawyers on client matters, has now been adopted by more than 150 law firms, corporate legal departments and bar groups. Capped by a Diversity Breakfast on May 11, the diversity project has achieved widespread coverage both in New York and around the country. We are fortunate to have three outstanding leaders spearheading NYCLA’s Task Force to Increase Diversity in the Legal Profession: Task Force Chair, Hon. Juanita Bing Newton, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, NYCLA Vice President Catherine Christian and NYCLA Past President Robert Haig. Another important component of our diversity initiatives is our Summer Minority Judicial Internship Program, coordinated by the Committee on Minorities and the Law.

 

This year NYCLA pressed forward on other critical issues. While continuing to urge the profession to increase its pro bono commitment, NYCLA was instrumental in shaping a State Bar initiative to broaden the definition of pro bono to include the vast array of good works that expand access to justice for low-income individuals who do not meet a strict test for indigency. The expanded definition also encompasses other pro bono service in support of charitable and public benefit projects. NYCLA has also continued to advocate for its signature initiative to require the videotaping of all custodial interrogations. With the active support of State Bar President Kenneth Standard, the proposal is gaining traction in the New York State Legislature.

 

Also of note on the public policy front, NYCLA continues to lend its voice when and where it is appropriate in pending litigation. This year NYCLA filed briefs as amicus curiae inmatters involving the exercise of summary authority by the administrative arm of the court system, the availability of counsel fees for civil rights violations involving nominal damages and, as mentioned earlier, the right to marriage for same-sex couples. In addition, NYCLA plays an active role in state and national bar work through our participation on the New York State and American Bar Association House of Delegates.

 

Northeast Business Law Center

This year also saw the launch of NYCLA’s Northeast Business Law Center. This project brings together leaders of the business law bench and bar from Delaware to Massachusetts to promote ethics and the highest practice standards in that field. Initial programs conducted in New York and Delaware provided a magnificent opportunity for candid and informal exchange among prominent leaders in commercial law. Under the leadership of NYCLA Past President Arthur Norman Field, the Center plans to further its mission through sponsorship of pubic forums and CLE programs.

 

Sustaining Members

This past year, NYCLA’s Sustaining Member ranks grew to 214, by far the highest number in our history. To encourage this extra measure of support, NYCLA continues to enhance the array of benefits available to our Sustaining Members. Last fall, NYCLA held a Sustaining Member reception in conjunction with the dedication of the portrait of Past President Craig Landy. Sustaining Members were invited to participate in a special benefit for our Library that featured a talk by David Von Drehle, the noted author of a critically acclaimed book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. A principal source for Mr. Von Drehle’s book was the trial transcript discovered in the NYCLA archives.

 

Sustaining members were also invited guests at a special reception and tour of the New-York Historical Society’s Alexander Hamilton exhibit, an evening that was highlighted by an extraordinary Hamilton/Jefferson debate. Finally, NYCLA continues the tradition of inviting Sustaining Members to an Honoree Reception immediately preceding the Annual Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria.

 

Special Events

Sponsorship of special events that promote appreciation for the work of the profession is an important component of NYCLA’s program. This year was certainly no exception. The premier event of the year, NYCLA’s 90th Annual Dinner, was perhaps the most successful and highly acclaimed event of its kind. With more than 1300 dinner guests, NYCLA honored Outstanding Women of the Bar, including an amazing dais of honorees from every aspect of the profession. Remarks delivered by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who received honorary membership in NYCLA, and by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who received the William Nelson Cromwell Award, helped to make this a truly memorable evening for the New York bar.

 

Other significant special events of the past year include the Federal Courts Committee luncheon honoring United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who delivered a compelling address on the need for compassion in our justice system; the Judicial Reception featuring an eloquent plea for judicial independence by United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan; and the Law Day Luncheon, sponsored by the Supreme Court Committee, at which Kenneth Feinberg was honored for his pro bono efforts as Special Master of the 9/11 Fund and State Supreme Court Justice Helen E. Freedman received the Capozzoli Gavel Award.

 

Other notable events included the Civil Court Practice Section Dinner last June where Hon. Peter Tom of the Appellate Division, First Department, was honored and the Section’s Luncheon in March, where Civil Court Administrative Judge Fern Fisher was honored; the Criminal Justice Section Reception last June where Barry Kamins was honored; the Women’s Rights Committee Luncheon, at which the Edith I. Spivack Award was bestowed upon Edith Spivack for her lifelong dedication to advancing the cause of women’s rights; and the Matrimonial Law Section’s reception where Justice Judith J. Gische was honored. Finally, NYCLA was once again pleased to combine the Silent Auction benefiting the Summer Minority Judicial Internship Program with the conferral of the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Award. This year’s Award recipient was one of the great leaders of our profession, Kay C. Murray.

 

Our committees and sections continued to produce a fascinating array of forums and receptions. To mention a few, the Real Property Section sponsored a debate about the proposed West Side stadium; the Securities and Exchanges Committee held an event at the New York Stock Exchange; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Issues Committee sponsored a panel on the LGBT vote; the Election Law Committee sponsored a forum on electronic voting; the Foreign and International Law Committee held events on such timely topics as nuclear dangers; the Elder Law Committee presented a program on legal issues in caring for elderly relatives; the Young Lawyers’ Section held a program on career transitions; the Admiralty and Maritime Law Committee hosted guest speakers throughout the year; and the Cyberspace Law Committee held a forum on the PATRIOT ACT. The Entertainment, Media, Intellectual Property and Sports (EMIPS) Section sponsored several wine tastings and social events.

 

Special annual lectures included the Haywood Burns Lecture given by Professor Susan R. Jones of George Washington University Law School, the Ethel Danzig Lecture, which featured a film and speakers about the plight of Afghani women, and the Nanette Dembitz Lecture presented by Professor Martin Guggenheim of New York University Law School.

 

Awards

This was also a year in which NYCLA received extraordinary recognition. At its annual breakfast in January, the New York State Conference of Bar Leaders presented NYCLA with a 2004 Award of Merit for Local Bar Associations for the work of the Justice Center. And, on April 21, NYCLA was honored by the New York City Council in a ceremony in the City Council chambers for our work on access to justice.

 

So, with just these highlights, you see why I can say, “It was a very good year.”

 

If I have learned one thing in my five years as an officer and in my first year as President, it is that to accomplish anything of value, teamwork is vital. And NYCLA has a terrific team of staff and volunteers. First and foremost, NYCLA’s staff, the backbone of the Association, always strives for excellence. Led by our extraordinary Executive Director, Sophia Gianacoplos, the staff has worked tirelessly to implement the strategic plan with energy and innovation. Sophia and Membership Director Harriet Astor, Pro Bono Coordinator Lois Davis, CLE Director Douglas Guevara, Library Director Nuchine Nobari and every member of their respective teams deserve the lion’s share of the credit for a successful year.

 

Marilyn Flood, in her role as Executive Director of the Foundation, has overseen the transformation of the Foundation and has implemented a comprehensive development program with dedication and skill. The early results of these new strategies exceed all expectations and hold out the promise that NYCLA may derive ever-increasing external support for its building and programs. Marilyn has also excelled in her role as Counsel to NYCLA, overseeing NYCLA communications and public policy initiatives. Working with innovative Communications Manager Anita Aboulafia, Marilyn produces a newsletter of unprecedented quality and content. Additionally, coverage of NYCLA events and initiatives has never been more extensive, thus geometrically enhancing the Association’s capacity to influence public policy.

 

I also want to acknowledge my fellow officers for their unstinting support and commitment: President-Elect Dave Robertson, Vice President Catherine Christian, Treasurer Marjorie Gross, Secretary Ann Lesk and Immediate Past President Michael Miller. I want to express special appreciation to Marj Gross who has served us so ably as Treasurer for the past two years. Her attention to detail has kept our eyes riveted on the big picture, thus enabling us to improve our fiscal performance dramatically. And I welcome our new Treasurer, Joel Harris, a partner at Thacher Proffitt. Joel brings a keen mind and ebullient personality to NYCLA leadership and all of us are looking forward to working with him.

 

On the Foundation side, the organization is fortunate to have two of NYCLA’s most esteemed and capable leaders guiding our efforts: M. Robert Goldstein, Chair of the Foundation, and James B. Kobak Jr., President. It is impossible to catalogue the many ways in which Bob and Jim have served NYCLA over the years. Suffice it say that our Foundation could not be in better hands.

 

Always an important component of NYCLA’s leadership is our roster of past presidents. This has never been more significant than in this past year when virtually every one of these distinguished bar leaders has played an integral role in the implementation of our strategic plan. To each of them, I express deep appreciation.

 

Similarly, NYCLA’s Board of Directors is a group of some of the most talented, engaged and forward-looking lawyers ever assembled. The Board’s willingness to think creatively and act boldly keeps the organization strong and its message relevant. Special thanks are in order for the Board members and past presidents who chair our revitalized governance committees: Audit – John J. Kenney; CLE Advisory Board and Oversight Committee – Hon. Stephen G. Crane and Lucas A. Ferrara; Committee on Committees – David J. Lansner; Communications – Lucas A. Ferrara; Investment – Arthur Norman Field; Membership – M. Barry Levy and Susan J. Walsh; Pro Bono – Anthony L. Soudatt; and Research and Technology – James B. Kobak Jr.

 

Finally and most importantly, NYCLA’s stature depends to a large degree upon the energy, drive and expertise of our more than 60 committee and section chairs and the countless members who serve on those committees and sections. They are the true engineers of reform. They are the heart and soul of this extraordinary bar association.

 

So, to all who comprise this remarkable network of support for our bar association, thank you. Now let’s tackle a new year of challenges! There are plenty of them.

 

To our magnificent membership, rest assured that all of us are determined to earn your trust and confidence as we continue to serve the New NYCLA and the legal profession.