Two years ago, when I became the second person of color, first Asian American — and probably the first person born in Kansas — to serve as your President, I experienced one of the proudest moments of my life, not just as a lawyer, but as a person. For NYCLA is no ordinary bar association. Our bar association has one of the proudest legacies of any bar association in the history of our nation.
To paraphrase what’s been said of other great institutions.
NYCLA’s president serves for a year or two.
NYCLA‘s staff is here for many years, maybe for decades.
But NYCLA, NYCLA is here forever.
And we have done our best to keep the faith and to build and preserve a NYCLA that will last forever.
We’ve built up our infrastructure, with new technologically advanced space and a new website.
We’ve built up our leadership on public policy issues, particularly on issues relating to judicial independence.
We’ve built up our pro bono capabilities with new grants and enhanced programs.
And, through the great work of Sophia and Bob Haig, we brought large scale bar association functions back to life with our event at the Water Club honoring our courts and our chief judges. We celebrated newly elected and appointed judges at 583 Park with Judges Ciparick,
Cannataro, Aaron and Moses. Our Civil Court Practice Section hosted its Annual Dinner honoring Judges Oing, Richardson-Mendelson, Ally, and Adams among others.
And other than board-approved spending on the website and on our new space we launched no new spending initiatives and adhered to stringent spending guidelines.
Now, helping to preserve NYCLA for the future has not always been easy. During the two years we’ve been confronted with many surprises.
Most of you know about our real estate woes.
First surprise — When I took office, we had firm plans to move to 28 Liberty, which rapidly transformed into a search through lower Manhattan to find alternative space. Eventually we did find this space at 111 Broadway, and then surprise number two, supply chain issues delayed our move into this space for months.
Now there were more surprises, some flowing from society at large.
We were surprised at the rejection of Hector LaSalle, the Governor’s nominee for the Chief Judgeship in New York, the first such rejection in 40 years.
We were surprised by the ferocity of the unfair attacks on Judge LaSalle – attacks that were as truthful as George Santos’ resume.
We were surprised at the attempts to subject Judge LaSalle to a rigged and unfair process. When they were thwarted by the Court in
their attempt to gerrymander our Congressional elections, opponents of Judge LaSalle tried instead to gerrymander the vote on Judge LaSalle’s nomination.
As Judge Acosta put it in a recent speech to the Fund for Modern Courts, we had never before seen “a horror show where lawmakers . . . stack the judiciary committee with senators who have already publicly announced their opposition to the nominee . . . [and] refuse to bring the nominee to a floor vote in contravention of the constitution . . .”
Throughout all this, NYCLA remained steadfast in its commitment to the Rule of Law. Alone among the major bar associations, NYCLA’s officers issued statement after statement condemning these attacks on Judge LaSalle. In so doing we often had to act like journalists, certainly NOT our preferred profession, feverishly drafting statements to meet the Law Journal’s deadline. And throughout we were guided by the steady hand of our former President and former NYSBA President Michael Miller who time and time again provided us with wisdom that we literally could not have obtained elsewhere.
The fight over Judge LaSalle is over and we salute Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, Associate Judge Halligan and Administrative Judge Zayas. They are all great judges and great people.
But the fight regarding Judge LaSalle was not our only public policy stand.
We filed and won a landmark victory in support of fair compensation for 18B assigned counsel who represent the most
vulnerable in our society. We led this fight for access to justice as we did 20 years ago in winning a pay raise for 18B attorneys. Thanks to Kramer Levin and Michael Dell.
We were the only bar association to support merit selection of Court of Appeals judges and to support the Commission on Judicial Nominations which has served us so well for forty years.
We were the only New York bar association to file amicus briefs in the US Supreme Court on gun control issues in an effort to help attack the scourge of gun violence. Thanks to Jacky Wolff and Manatt.
We were the only bar association to support passage of the New York Voting Rights Act.
The only NY bar association to submit an amicus brief in the Moore v. Harper redistricting case.
We were the only NY bar association to urge that the US Supreme Court adopt a code of conduct in the midst of the ethical controversies surrounding the Court.
The only bar association to oppose legislatively mandated reporting and performance standards that would have impinged upon the independence of our judges.
Alone among NY bar associations, we defended judges such as Judge Rolando Acosta, Judge Lewis Kaplan, and Judge Juan Merchan when they were attacked unfairly. A bar association MUST defend judges when canons of judicial ethics prevent them from responding to
these baseless attacks. We’ve played this role throughout our history and will continue to do so.
All in all, we issued dozens of statements, often covered by the media. With the assistance of Toni and Azelia, our advocacy this year was among the most powerful in our storied history.
But advocacy is not all that we did.
Under Anthe’s leadership, our pro bono volunteers closed 1,567 cases in the last year. We received a grant renewal from IOLA for $225,000, and initiated a new pilot project to represent individuals in civil appeals in the First Department
We also continued our Podcast Amicus Curiae with Dan Wiig and legal newsmakers including Gloria Allred and John Sexton, Dean Emeritus of NYU Law School.
Harkening back to our Special Master’s program 20 years ago, we’ve unveiled a new version under the leadership initially of Judge DeSouza and now Onya Brinson. This program provides guidance for attorneys who hope to become judges and provides volunteer assistance to our overburdened judiciary.
As in past years, we ran a minority internship program and a high school essay context. But this year the essay contest was recognized for its work at a ceremony in the southern district of NY by Chief Judge Swain. Thanks to the Education and Law committee and Miriam Birnbaum for that great essay contest.
And let us not forget Bari Chase and the dozens of CLE programs that we’ve hosted on almost every topic imaginable. I’ve tried to attend many of them and have most of them found them compelling.
Well, I’ve attended countless bar association functions, 14 during the last month alone, attending functions in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island as well as many functions in Manhattan. Unlike the State Bar and ABA Presidents who make transcontinental flights, the longest trip I’ve made was on the Staten Island Ferry
But these trips were worth the effort. At many events, judges and attorneys expressed their thanks for NYCLA’s work, particularly on issues of judicial independence. Our work has achieved considerable recognition.
Well, the end of this speech — and the end of my presidency – draw near. But have no fear. The succession process at NYCLA is nothing like the hit Tv Show “Succession” on HBO. The Succession process on that show has been described as “vengeance-minded corporate fratricide” involving “plutocratic jerks.”
We have less drama here than on HBO. Adrienne is well equipped and well prepared to seamlessly take the helm, far better prepared than I was two years ago. She will be a great leader of our organization. And even more so than I, she is a certified bar junkie, actually having published articles on the value of bar associations.
And Adrienne is part of a leadership team that is the most talented group I’ve ever seen –Richard Swanson, Ron Minkoff, and David Cohn
and now Jai Chandrashekar. They will lead our bar association for years to come. Our officers have played such a vital role in everything that NYCLA has done the last two years. Could you give Adrienne and our other officers a round of applause?
And NYCLA’s staff fought off obstacle after obstacle to get us to this new space with a new website and new technology. They’ve kept our pro bono and CLE going through the pandemic and during years when our space was flux. Please give Sophia, Anthe, Toni, Bari, Azelia, Christina and the rest of our staff a much-deserved round of applause
It’s been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. Every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our bar association, its leaders, its members, and its staff. And now I will be honored to carry a title that some deem to be the best of all — that of former NYCLA President.
Thank you for a great two years.