Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2007-09-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

I recently spoke with a former law school classmate, whose niece, a West Point graduate, was in the Middle East on a tour of duty lasting a minimum of 15 months. Amidst expressions of concern and support for her niece and those fighting in Iraq, we talked about what lawyers have been doing since the events of September 11, 2001 to lend support to the community.

The September 11 attack in New York City occurred one block away from the Home of Law. NYCLA's building was closed for several months. However, the Association continued serving lawyers and the community from the law offices of then president, Craig Landy. Over the past six years, lawyers throughout this city have played a leading role in providing services to the victims of the attack and their families. NYCLA past president Michael Miller provided pro bono service for several months to victims and their families and recruited, trained and coordinated volunteer lawyers. He also helped establish NYCLA's Adopt-A-Family Program, where families of first responders received free legal services. The American Bar Association recognized Michael for his service with their 2002 Pro Bono Publico Award.

During a conversation with NYCLA member Debra Brown Steinberg and her husband Moshe, we spoke about pro bono service. Since 2001, Debra has provided pro bono representation to the families of World Trade Center victims. She also personally represented several families of September 11 victims and has played a leading role in the creation and development of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest 9/11 Project. Debra has drafted substantial portions of legislation to provide legal recognition and protection to family members of non-citizen victims of the attacks - known as the September 11 Family Humanitarian Relief and Patriotism Act (H.R. 1071), currently pending in the United States House of Representatives.

In addition to assisting victims of the September 11 attacks, lawyers have been involved with numerous legal issues surrounding national security. There has been tremendous tension between national security and individual rights. The issues have included: the detention of persons deemed to be "enemy combatants," expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance electronic surveillance authority and restrictions on habeas corpus relief. Many lawyers are providing representation to clients in these matters. Under our system of government, clients accused of heinous crimes, or whose causes repel or inflame, are entitled to effective and competent legal representation. Lawyers representing these clients, as well as those providing free legal services for indigent, low-income and other persons in need, do so because they believe in our Constitution. A United States Supreme Court Justice affirmed this principle 63 years ago: "All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution." Justice Frank Murphy, dissent, Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 234 (1944).

Another group in need of assistance by the organized bar are the men and women serving in the armed forces who have left their homes and families behind to defend our country. Many military personnel and their families have a myriad of civil legal needs pertaining to custody, support, employment, taxation, housing and real estate matters.

As with all public policy and legal debates, the past six years have produced arguments pro, con and indifferent. NYCLA's immediate past president, Edwin David Robertson, has been conducting research on the Association's history.Dave's exhaustive research and written work will be included in an upcoming book documenting the hundred-year history of this great democratic bar association, which has always respected different opinions and views. As stated in our mission statement, NYCLA was founded to elevate "the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession and fostering the spirit of collegiality among members of the Association and throughout the bar."We will continue to do so.


Catherine A. Christian