Southern District of New York Chapter Vision

When considering that this post – like all FBA work – can bring me into greater proximity to the federal courts and its judges, I think of the Talmudic warning: “Do not get close to the wise for their words burn like coals.” Those federal judges can be scary. Indeed, federal courts demand excellence.

Yet, ask around about the judges. It is remarkable to hear the stories. This judge is a regular guy. This one has a heart of gold. This judge is a gentle person. Our judges do the highest caliber work of greatest importance for minimal pay. They blend decency and intelligence. Judge Preska, e.g., really goes out of her way to put people at ease.

What is going on?

Our courts are exacting because they are under tremendous pressure to do their best in administering something of the highest importance: justice. As current FBA national President, Fern Bomchill said in her inaugural remarks: “justice saves, so we should save justice.” And the driver for justice, at its heart, is mercy – to protect not just the rich and powerful but ordinary people from all walks of life from knowing or even willfully blind oppression. Our federal courts are havens for employees who suffer discrimination, and for businesses – which also translates into men, women and children drawing their collection of salaries or clipping coupons – businesses who suffer from unjust claims. They are havens for immigrants seeking asylum. They defeat the mob. They send a message to those who would commit securities fraud: think twice before you put the retirement of thousands at risk.

This pressure explains the glare of the demand for excellence here in the courts. It is important to get it right. Judges need clarity. They need well developed facts. They need the right law for the case. They need us to choose the right argument – not throw in a lot of distractions – to help them make a decision. And in each case, federal judges struggle with the tension of a dual objective – to make the correct decision for this particular case involving these parties and circumstances, and to make the right decision for the country in the context of history: past and future decisions in similar cases. They must, because they speak with and for the power of the State. Not just any State, but within the delicate balance of the federal system. So difficult a struggle, it can recall Yeats: “turning and turning in the widening gyre … the center cannot hold.” Our federal judges work to maintain that center. And we, through our professional work and through the Bar, help them do it.

We in the FBA are charged with applying polish that enhances this shine. Not for pride, but from a deep understanding of the importance of justice and the role of the courts. We lobby in DC for increasing judicial spots, for higher judicial pay, for security in the Courts. We put on CLE programs to burnish our legal skills and deepen our understanding. We hold more lively networking events – like the raucous celebration that follows this ceremony in room 850 and all the events that Ray and John have mentioned. This nourishes the human beings that we are, recognizing that we are social beings who can use a break and time for celebration; but also understanding how important it is to the growth and maintenance of our own legal practice to develop good relationships with our siblings at the Bar.

Unlike any other Bar association in the nation, the federal bar offers us the chance to develop these relationships, to burnish these skills, and to support the courts actively on both a local and a national level. Not to be unkind to the competition, but the ABA is purely national. Many of the other Bar associations here in NY are purely local. And the State Bar – which I love – is still primarily within the bounds of NY State. If you have a passion for a subject - IP, criminal justice, civil rights, or even taxation – you can develop a program here, on a local level, and do it in conjunction with a national section.

My own passion is ADR. Where the courts represent the collective voice of a free society, ADR – with arbitration as a creature of contract that permits choice of decision maker and control over some process rules, and even more so with mediation, which gives parties choice over both process and outcomes – ADR permits people to step away from the controlling court process and freely arrive at their own decision. The Apollonian myth of judicial decision making is that there is only one correct result. The pyramid of judicial decision making comes to a single point. Of course, we have areas of discretion, but this is why we have an appellate system. The perhaps Dionysian(?) myth of mediation is that there are innumerable possible and acceptable outcomes – whatever the parties decide, which can include creative business deals, apologies, and a host of approaches and agreements which are outside a court’s power or rule directed process. Our image is an open sphere of infinite possibility, for cultivation of harmonious relationships and regard for individual choice. Truth emerging from within.

Since the early 1990s, the Southern District has been at the vanguard in its use of ADR. Judge Preska and the Court’s ADR oversight group have recently looked to revitalize the ADR program and have directed that all labor and employment matters go to mediation.

Every President must select a focus for his or her term. We cannot do everything. So, for my term I will focus on two things that naturally come from my past experience. I have previously served as Chair for the FBA’s national ADR Section. This year, I hope to build the ADR Committee of the SDNY Chapter and offer to have it join others in assisting this court with its ADR panel. One of our activities will be to hold a long overdue event honoring the ADR Administrators of the Southern and Eastern district courts. In ADR style [and the spirit of federal collegiality], Judge Preska and Judge Amon have collaborated and will be holding this event at the EDNY, at 5:30 p.m. on April 26th. [Jerry, this is news – hot off the press.]

I also served as the first Chair of the DR Section of the New York State Bar. During its first year, we grew from 93 Committee members to 800 Section members and are 3,000 strong today. So, my second goal is to see dynamic growth in the SDNY Chapter. Not for growth’s sake, but because of what we offer. The FBA is here to polish excellence in the Courts, through support of the judiciary and court administrators, enhancement of the bar’s skills and knowledge through CLE programs, and development of the networks that advance lawyers’ practice.

This growth will be fostered by enlivening the unique characteristic of the FBA – a national bar organization with the warp of sections spanning the nation and the woof of local district chapters. Strengthening the interplay of our chapter with the Sections and Divisions will give NY – the district with the greatest number of federal practitioners – the national scope it deserves. We aim to have liaisons and committees for each of the FBA’s 19 sections and 5 divisions. This is an opportunity for all of you who so kindly attended today. To exhibit leadership and connect with your substantive field here and on a national level. You are all invited to participate.

Thank you.