Jeffrey S. Trachtman was presented with the Arthur S. Leonard Award for distinguished service on behalf of the LGBT Community at the City Bar Association’s annual reception celebrating LGBT Pride Month on June 24, 2014. The Award, named for the distinguished law professor and scholar of LGBT rights, is given annually to two members of the bar selected by the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights. The event was co-sponsored by the City Bar Justice Center, The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.
Mr. Trachtman, a partner in the Litigation Department who specializes in bankruptcy and mass tort cases, served for 17 years as chair of Kramer Levin’s Pro Bono Committee and has maintained an active pro bono practice since joining the firm in 1986. The City Bar award recognizes his work in the area of LGBT rights dating back nearly 20 years.
Most notably, Mr. Trachtman served as lead co-counsel with Lambda Legal Defense in Hernandez v. Robles, the historic 2006 case seeking equal marriage rights under the New York constitution. The case resulted in one of the first decisions upholding marriage equality, and while that decision did not survive appeal, the public education impact of the case encouraged the New York Assembly to pass a marriage equality bill within a year, an important step towards full passage in 2011. In related work, Mr. Trachtman led a Kramer Levin team that co-counseled with Lambda Legal in a series of cases establishing recognition under New York law for the valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples – precedent that established standing as a surviving spouse for Edie Windsor, plaintiff in the case striking down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.
Mr. Trachtman also led Kramer Levin teams that submitted important amicus briefs in a series of historic Supreme Court cases, including Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, Lawrence v. Texas, Windsor v. United States, and Perry v. Hollingsworth. Kramer Levin has submitted an updated version of the Perry and Windsor briefs – addressing the growing support for marriage equality among mainstream religions – in several of the marriage cases now pending in federal appellate courts across the country. Earlier, Mr. Trachtman represented the lesbian survivor of a 9/11 victim in establishing her right to share in her partner’s Victims’ Compensation Fund award. He also serves as point person for Kramer Levin’s pro bono general counsel relationships with the LGBT Community Center and Freedom to Marry.
On June 23, 2014, at Legal Services NYC’s Jazz for Justice benefit, Kramer Levin received the Pro Bono Leadership Award for being one of Legal Services NYC’s top 15 pro bono partners in 2013. Kramer Levin’s partnership has helped enable LSNYC to assist more than 70,500 New Yorkers in securing the essentials of life: food, shelter and subsistence income. Legal Services NYC fights poverty and seeks justice for low‑income New Yorkers. Legal Services NYC is the largest civil legal services provider in the country that for more than 45 years has challenged systemic injustice and helped clients meet basic needs for housing, access to high-quality education, healthcare, family stability, and income and economic security.
On February 6, 2014, litigation partner and pro bono co-chair Eric A. Tirschwell received the Partner Award at Her Justice’s 2014 Commitment to Justice Awards, which honors volunteers who provide legal assistance to Her Justice clients. Her Justice provides free legal services to families in need of family, divorce and immigration law assistance.
On November 13, 2013, litigation associate Peggy J. Farber was honored by the Brooklyn Family Defense Practice for her pro bono work with the organization and commitment to its mission of helping to protect the due process rights of low-income families and helping access the benefits and services families need to remain safe and stable.
On April 1, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the conviction of Kramer Levin client Todd Johnson. Mr. Johnson’s conviction hinged on whether the People, at a suppression hearing, established that the police had probable cause to arrest Mr. Johnson for disorderly conduct. According to the police, Mr. Johnson stood with three other men, reputed to be gang members, on a street corner down the block from his home and did not “move on” when asked to do so by the police. The People argued that the request to move on and the arrest for failure to obey were justified in part by the background of Mr. Johnson’s neighborhood and companions. Kramer Levin argued that sustaining Mr. Johnson’s conviction would gut the statutory requirement that a disorderly conduct arrest be based on actual or threatened public harm, and encourage the use of the disorderly conduct statute as a vehicle for making arbitrary, warrantless arrests. The Court of Appeals concluded: “It is not disorderly conduct . . . for a small group of people, even people of bad reputation, to stand peaceably on a street corner.”
Litigation partner Stephen M. Sinaiko argued the appeal. The Kramer Levin team included litigation associates Scott Ruskay-Kidd, Nicole Foley, Theodore S. Hertzberg, and Megan Ryan, and intellectual property associate Shannon H. Hedvat. The Legal Aid Society referred the matter to Kramer Levin and served as co-counsel.
Kramer Levin has filed an amicus brief in two potentially historic cases seeking marriage equality for same-sex couples. The brief was filed in Kitchen, et al. v. Herbert, et al. and Bishop, et al. v. Smith, et al., the two lawsuits pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit challenging Utah’s and Oklahoma’s laws banning same-sex couples from marrying. Much like Kramer Levin’s amicus briefs in Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry, the duo of Supreme Court marriage equality cases decided last year, the brief in Kitchen and Bishop was filed on behalf of a broad range of mainstream religious organizations favoring marriage equality, as well as a number of prominent congregations and nearly 100 faith leaders in Utah and Oklahoma. The broad-based coalition of religious organizations are united in the belief that particular religious views or definitions of marriage should not be permitted to influence who the state permits to marry.
The brief documents the growing range of religious traditions that respect the dignity of lesbian and gay people and their families; solemnize or otherwise honor their relationships; and support civil marriage equality. The brief also makes clear that respecting the marriage rights of same-sex couples will not impinge upon religious beliefs, practices, or operations, but rather will prevent one set of religious beliefs from being imposed through civil law.
The Kramer Levin team that drafted the brief includes litigation partners Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon and litigation associates Kurt M. Denk, Jason Moff and Jessica N. Witte.
On February 21, 2014, Kramer Levin helped a young mother obtain a final order in Queens County Family Court granting her sole legal custody of her two children. The client was referred to the firm by Her Justice, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to families in need of family, divorce, and immigration law assistance. Though Kramer Levin was retained as pro bono counsel only two weeks prior to the client’s court date, litigation associates Theodore S. Hertzberg and Sarah C. White quickly interviewed the client and drafted an agreement between the parties that the Family Court incorporated into its final order in full.
After more than five and a half years of fighting with the Department of Veterans Affairs (with the case having been remanded four times by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals [BVA] in Washington, DC to the VA Regional Office having jurisdiction over the matter), and after the fifth and most recent appeal, the BVA issued a decision finally granting Kramer Levin’s client’s claims for military service-connected disabilities. The BVA largely adopted Kramer Levin’s analysis and reasoning in its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Because of the decision, the veteran will receive a significant tax-free lump sum payment (due to back payments owed to the veteran), with monthly tax-free payments thereafter. The representation was handled by special counsel Mark F. Parise.