From Former President Steven Leventhal

Farewell To A Friend

After five years of dedicated service, Keith Soressi has accepted an offer to serve as Executive Director of the Connecticut State Bar Association. While here, Keith ushered in a new level of professionalism in management, achieving operating efficiency with limited resources and, by his unselfish example, nurtured espirit de corps among the staff. Keith’s contributions have often gone unnoticed because he did not seek recognition. However, every decision that I have made as President was made in consultation with Keith. His legacy will be a stronger foundation as we face future challenges and undertake the work ahead. We wish Keith and his family every success and happiness in the future.The task of finding a new Executive Director has begun.
Past President Marian Rice has graciously agreed to chair a search committee comprised of President-Elect Elena Karabatos, Past- Presidents Marc Gann, Peter Levy, Peter Mancuso, and John McEntee, and our delegate to the State Bar Association, Elizabeth Pessala. I will also serve on the committee. In the meantime, I am grateful to staff members Sheryl Palley-Engel and Jennifer Groh for agreeing to serve as Co-Interim Executive Directors. With their leadership, and the support of our dedicated staff, we will continue to be in good hands.

Thank You Deputy Speaker Hooper

In 1929, the Association purchased the land that is now its home for a price that consumed nearly its entire treasury, $12,050. Ground was broken the following year, and the original portion of Domus, including the Great Hall, was constructed at a cost of $52,200. The Tudor style building, based on the traditional designs of London’s “Inns of Court,” was dedicated in 1931, and the first “Toast to Domus” was delivered by future Association President, and future Presiding Justice of the Second Department, Hon. Marcus Christ. Expansion of Domus would follow.
Last year, we commenced much needed renovations to our venerable home, including replacement of the slate roof and additions to the sprinkler system. The construction was mostly funded by a loan in the amount of $1,500,000. Yet more work is needed to comply with current building and fire prevention codes, and to complete the current phase of our multi-year program of renovation and maintenance. Even with the generous contributions made to the Steven J. Eisman Memorial Building Fund, we were without the capital reserves necessary to complete the project.
I am pleased to announce that, thanks to the efforts of Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper, we have been approved for a Community Capital Assistance Program Grant from the New York State Assembly in the amount of $150,000. We are grateful to Deputy Speaker Hooper, and to her counsel, Past-President Lance Clarke, for helping to ensure that Domus will continue to be the center of the many programs and activities that increase our members’ skills and serve the community.

Advice To New Lawyers

The New Lawyers Committee continues to be a vibrant resource for the members that represent the future of the profession and of the Association. Under the leadership of Co-Chairs John Stellakis and Jamie Rosen, and Vice-Chair Steven Dalton, the committee presents programs, organizes social events, and hosts the popular judicial networking luncheons.
In considering my own professional development, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as wasted effort. Efforts that might at first seem to produce no direct benefit often prove valuable in ways that are unanticipated and at times that cannot be predicted. Each early professional experience is a deposit into an account that we draw upon for the rest of our careers. New lawyers should be sponges, soaking up experience at every opportunity. There is much to learn. There is more to the practice of law than substance and procedure. As active members of the Association, we learn from the style and professionalism of our colleagues.
The practice of law offers diverse rewards. Some lawyers seek financial gain, others intellectual stimulation or pride in public service. Whatever your personal goals may be, best wishes for a long and rewarding career.

Lincoln’s Advice To Lawyers

While we are on the subject of advice, Lincoln had the following advice for lawyers in 1850. It is still useful today.
I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful. The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence. Leave nothing for to-morrow which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done. When you bring a common-law suit, if you have the facts for doing so, write the declaration at once. If a law point be involved, examine the books, and note the authority you rely on upon the declaration itself, where you are sure to find it when wanted. The same of defenses and pleas. In business not likely to be litigated, — ordinary collection cases, foreclosures, partitions, and the like, — make all examinations of titles, and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance. This course has a triple advantage; it avoids omissions and neglect, saves your labor when once done, performs the labor out of court when you have leisure, rather than in court when you have not. Extemporaneous speaking should be practised [sic] and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. However able and faithful he may be in other respects, people are slow to bring him business if he cannot make a speech. And yet there is not a more fatal error to young lawyers than relying too much on speech-making. If any one [sic], upon his rare powers of speaking, shall claim an exemption from the drudgery of the law, his case is a failure in advance.
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.
Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. Who can be more nearly a fiend than he who habitually overhauls the register of deeds in search of defects in titles, whereon to stir up strife, and put money in his pocket? A moral tone ought to be infused into the profession which should drive such men out of it.
The matter of fees is important, far beyond the mere question of bread and butter involved. Properly attended to, fuller justice is done to both lawyer and client. An exorbitant fee should never be claimed. As a general rule never take your whole fee in advance, nor any more than a small retainer. When fully paid beforehand, you are more than a common mortal if you can feel the same interest in the case, as if something was still in prospect for you, as well as for your client. And when you lack interest in the case the job will very likely lack skill and diligence in the performance. Settle the amount of fee and take a note in advance. Then you will feel that you are working for something, and you are sure to do your work faithfully and well. Never sell a fee note — at least not before the consideration service is performed. It leads to negligence and dishonesty — negligence by losing interest in the case, and dishonesty in refusing to refund when you have allowed the consideration to fail.
There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief — resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

Equal Justice Under Law

Inscribed on the façade of the United States Supreme Court are the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” The origin of the phrase is in the 1891 decision of Chief Justice Fuller in Caldwell v. Texas,1 “… no State can deprive particular persons or classes of persons of equal and impartial justice under the law.” Fuller was influenced by the famous funeral oration of Pericles,2 delivered after the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Pericles declared that “the law secures equal justice.”
The guarantee of equal justice enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments has its source in the Magna Carta:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
New York enacted a Bill of Rights in 1787 that included a guarantee of due process. The following year, delegates from New York proposed a due process clause for the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment was ratified as a part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. The guarantee of due process, and the right of equal protection were applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868.

Remembering Linda Brown

Four score and two years later, Linda Brown was seven years old. She lived in an integrated neighborhood. Black, white and Indian children played together, but their schools were segregated. Linda’s “colored” school was adequate, but she had to walk through a rail yard and across a busy street to catch her bus for the two mile ride to school. She was frightened. In the winter, she was cold. Tears froze on her face.
Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund were looking for test cases to challenge the separate but equal doctrine announced in Plessy v. Ferguson.3 Linda’s father took her to enroll in the nearby, all white school, ironically named for Senator Charles Sumner, the radical abolitionist (it had originally been a school for African Americans). Of course, Linda was not permitted to enroll in the Sumner School, and her father became the first named plaintiff in the companion cases decided by the United States Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.4
Linda Brown passed away in March at the age of 75. Let us take a moment to remember her, and the other courageous men and women who risked their lives, and the safety of their families to realize the promise of equal justice under law. Let us contemplate how far we have come, and how much farther we must go to fully realize that promise.

For a thrilling and fascinating history of the incipient civil rights movement, the litigation that percolated in the trial and intermediate appellate courts and coalesced in the Supreme Court as Brown v. Board, and the remarkable internal politics, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, that produced the Court’s unanimous landmark decision, I recommend Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, by Richard Kluger, first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1977. I read Simple Justice in its original version. The book was later revised and expanded in 2011.
In 1961, the still segregated, state-funded University of Mississippi refused to enroll James Meredith. Represented by future United States District Judge Constance Baker Motley then of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Meredith brought an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that would ultimately desegregate higher education in the state.
In 1961, the still segregated, state-funded University of Mississippi refused to enroll James Meredith. Represented by future United States District Judge Constance Baker Motley then of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Meredith brought an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that would ultimately desegregate higher education in the state.
Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, under the leadership of Family Court Judge Linda Mejias and District Court Judge Maxine Broderick, recently staged a reenactment of the case that Meredith described as “the last battle of the Civil War.” Thank you to the Committee members for an innovative and thought provoking program.

Restoring Public Confidence

The Law is the true embodiment
Of everything that’s excellent.
It has no kind of fault or flaw,
And I, my Lords, embody the Law.
— Gilbert and Sullivan,
Iolanthe 1882
The wry wit of W.S. Gilbert and the melodic genius of Arthur Sullivan combined to humorously skewer Victorian era British pretensions including, notably, the inflated egos of self-important judges and self-interested lawyers.
Several years ago, while attending a State Bar Association conference in Washington, D.C., I was admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court. The admission ceremony was full of pomp and dignity, befitting the prestige and importance of the Court. After appearing in the highest court in the land, I returned home that evening to preside in the lowest, my local village court, where I serve as Associate Justice.
I open each session of court by stating, among other things, that:
Everyone in this courtroom is entitled to be treated with respect. You showed respect for me by standing when I entered the room. The best way that I can show respect for you is by pronouncing your name correctly. If I mispronounce your name, please let me know. I don’t mind being corrected. I want to get it right.
This simple acknowledgement of the personal dignity of the mostly pro se litigants appearing before the court never fails to produce smiles and put the audience at ease.
Socrates said that there are four things that a judge must do, listen patiently, speak wisely, deliberate soberly, and decide impartially. To that ancient but still relevant list, I would add one more. A judge should promote civic education and, in so doing, encourage public confidence in our legal system.
As lawyers and judges, we are uniquely able to advance the cause of civic education. Every case handled by a lawyer, and every court session presided over by a judge, is a teaching opportunity. Our Community Relations and Public Education Committee provides speakers to schools, libraries and community organizations; conducts the annual high school mock trial competition and promotes Law Day. In this way, we advance our mission to “inspire among all citizens respect for the law and the governing principles of our democracy, by personal and professional example and by public education.”

Thank You

My term will end on May 31, and my friend and colleague, Elena Karabatos will be installed as President. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve. I am grateful to the Association’s officers and directors, committee chairs and volunteers, who so generously contributed their time and effort to accomplish all of the great work that we have done together, and that we will continue to do under Elena’s leadership. I am particularly grateful to the staff, for their encouragement, advice and support, each and every day. Thank you all.
1. 137 U.S. 692 (1891).
2. Pericles’ great funeral oration was also a source of inspiration for Lincoln at Gettysburg.
3. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
4. 347 U.S. 483 (1954).