Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers Association

2011-04-03 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Law Day 2011: The Legacy of John Adams:From Boston to Guantánamo

Since 1958, the United States has celebrated Law Day in recognition of our country's commitment to the rule of law. The theme of this year's Law Day, on May 1, is "The Legacy of John Adams: From Boston to Guantánamo," and it spotlights, in the words of ABA President Stephen N. Zack, "our nation's first lawyer-president and fosters understanding of the historical and contemporary role of lawyers in defending the principle of due process and the rights of the accused." Despite his role as a prominent leader in colonial resistance to the British and concern that his reputation would be tarnished, Adams defended a British officer and soldiers who fired into a crowd of protestors and killed five civilians in the 1770 Boston Massacre.

Andrew Hamilton: Defender of Freedom of Speech and the Press

Another patriot who represented unpopular clients in colonial America was Andrew Hamilton, brother of one of America's founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. In 1734, the 80-year-old Hamilton defended John Peter Zenger, a printer and publisher, who had been accused of criminal libel and sedition after his newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal, criticized the British royal governor. Zenger's case was a landmark victory for freedom of speech and of the press and, some 50 years later, these doctrines were incorporated in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Notably, Cass Gilbert, NYCLA's Home of Law architect, modeled the second-floor auditorium after Philadelphia's Independence Hall, which had purportedly been designed by Andrew Hamilton. In 1933, NYCLA President Charles A. Boston suggested naming the auditorium "Hamilton Hall" as a legacy to "the courage [of Andrew Hamilton] to come to the City of New York and defend Zenger in the accusations that were made against him and for his endeavor to protect the freedom of the press when two members of the New York bar had been disbarred for daring to do it...."

NYCLA's Dedication to Due Process of Law

Throughout its history, NYCLA has been dedicated to the tenets of due process - the promotion of access to justice and the active pursuit of reform in American jurisprudence.

In 1966, NYCLA became a signatory to New York City's Assigned Counsel Plan under Article 18-B of the County Law to provide representation to indigent criminal defendants and, in 2000, filed a lawsuit that helped obtain increased compensation for 18-B attorneys.

In addition, NYCLA's pro bono programs provide legal assistance to hundreds of low-income New Yorkers each year in such areas as: consumer debt, family, employment, consumer bankruptcy, landlord/tenant and tax law. Project Restore is a unique program offering pro bono representation to individuals denied employment licenses because they have criminal records. Thirty individuals have received licenses thus far and this year, I'm pleased to report that The New York Bar Foundation has given Project Restore a $5,000 grant to support its work.

Moreover, the NYCLA Justice Center, established in 2002, seeks to combine the resources, position and membership of NYCLA with those of academia, the bench and the bar, and to partner with non-lawyer community leaders and groups to identify and understand legal and social justice issues, promote access to justice and act as a catalyst for meaningful improvement in the justice system of New York State. Since its inception, the Justice Center has sponsored conferences, public fora and documentary screenings, released reports and co-sponsored programs for the Youth Law Education Project with NYCLA's Law-Related Education Committee.

This spring, NYCLA is planning a conference with two affiliate bars - the Lille (France) Bar Association and Kent (U.K.) Law Society - with a focus on civil Gideon.

As we celebrate Law Day, let's remain mindful of the principles for which John Adams and so many others have fought and sacrificed. I pledge that NYCLA will continue fulfilling its mission to preserve the precepts of due process, pioneer reforms and advocate equal access to justice for all.


James B. Kobak Jr.