A New Leader Assumes The Baton At Citibar

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Barry Kamins, Partner, Flamhaft Levy Kamins Hirsch & Rendeiro LLP, and President, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

Editor: Would you give us some background on your legal career?

Kamins: I am a graduate of Columbia College and Rutgers University Law School. Following law school, I served in the King's County District Attorney's office under Eugene Gold. I became head of the Criminal Court Bureau, remaining in that post for four years. After that assignment, I went into private practice in a small criminal defense firm, Flamhaft Levy Kamins, where I have remained ever since. The firm has five partners and two offices: one in Brooklyn Heights and one in Mineola, Long Island covering geographically most of New York City and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. We handle all areas of criminal defense on state and federal levels-both appellate and trial work. I also represent attorneys who have professional discipline problems before grievance committees, and judges before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Editor: How did you first become involved with the Association of the Bar of the City of New York ("Citibar") and what sections have you been active in?

Kamins: Back in the early '90s, I got a call from Robert Haig of Kelley Drye, who asked me to join the Judiciary Committee. I was honored because I think it's one of the most important committees in the Citibar. Eventually, Judge Hellerstein became the Chair and asked me to be the Vice Chair. Ultimately, when Michael Cooper was President of the Citibar, he asked me to chair the Committee. I was on the Counsel of Judicial Administration and the Counsel of Criminal Justice Committees. Then, I was elected to the Executive Committee. I became chair of the Executive Committee and, then, recently was nominated and elected as President.

Editor: What initiatives do you plan to undertake as president?

Kamins: I want to continue and expand upon the initiatives of Betsy Plevan, former president, and those of prior presidents in the areas of pro bono work, and diversity. Regarding pro bono, I spoke to someone recently about an interesting plan to have attorneys who are about to retire stay on at their firms and work on pro bono matters. I think mandatory retirement for lawyers and judges is ridiculous.

Other initiatives have to do with the criminal justice field. Some of my initiatives are new to the Citibar because most Presidents have not come from the area of criminal justice. One has to do with collateral consequences of convictions. When someone takes a guilty plea in a criminal matter, the obvious consequence is sentencing. There are also hidden consequences. If someone is not a citizen of the U.S. and pleads guilty, that person might face deportation. He or she may not have been advised by his attorney of that consequence. One can lose public housing, federal funding for student loans, be rejected for a license or lose a job. For example, two convictions for turnstile jumping (theft of services) make a lawful permanent resident deportable. Some judges, prosecutors and even defense attorneys do not fully appreciate the possible repercussions of a conviction for a felony, misdemeanor, or even a non-criminal offense. We need to educate the practitioners so that they can advise the defendants of the hidden consequences.

The Citibar can serve as a resource center for individuals who need to locate the appropriate agency to deal with adverse consequences of a conviction. I hope to build on the effort started by Judge Judith Kaye last year when she brought judges, practitioners and academics to a forum at the Judicial Institute to begin a dialog on this subject.

The parole system in New York State is another area I am going to focus on. It is in shambles. The courts have found with increased frequency that the parole board has not applied the appropriate statutory criteria for releasing inmates. Thirteen years ago, 62 percent of inmates coming before the board were released, while last year the number was 38 percent.

I also would like to address the mandatory retirement of judges. There are many fine judges who could stay on for a number of years beyond the mandatory retirement age of 70. This is one issue that renders the judiciary a less than equal branch of government because legislators and the executive have no mandatory retirement age.

One key area that requires our attention is that of professional responsibility. I have seen an alarming increase in the number of young attorneys who are receiving complaints from grievance committees. There seems to be a disconnect between the ethics courses taught in law school and the predicaments young attorneys find themselves in soon after they are admitted to practice.

Editor: Will these initiatives call for setting up of any special committees or study groups?

Kamins: Yes. Right now I'm planning on creating a task force on the consequences of criminal convictions. I also will probably set up a task force to examine the area of parole. On the issue of professional responsibility, I will ask our committees to review the lack of uniformity among the four judicial departments as to the sanctions imposed by the eight state grievance committees. A lot of these areas involve people from various committees. I also want to bring in people from outside the Citibar who are experts.

Editor: Please give us an overview of some of the most important committees of the Citibar and their agendas?

Kamins: The Citibar has 160 committees. I'm meeting with all of the chairs. One of the most important areas that the Citibar is addressing is civil rights. There has to be a proper balance between civil rights and national security. One thing that concerns me is whether wiretapping of telephones and electronic surveillance without proper court order is legal.

The other issue that is very important is the selection of judges. Right now there is a task force on the selection of judges that Betsy Plevan created, which will continue to work until it completes its report. Because of Judge Gleeson's decision in the Eastern District, which overturned the manner in which Supreme Court judges are selected and is now before the Second Circuit, the Second Circuit will have to decide whether to scrap the current system. Our position at the Citibar has always been merit selection. Our goal is to recommend a system that provides a higher caliber bench independent of political influence and that is perceived by the public as being independent of that influence. Short of a constitutional amendment required to institute merit selection, we have to think of some short term solution.

Editor: Within the Citibar are various pro bono services, diversity initiatives, ongoing services, training programs, and other outreach programs. How many full time staff do you have overseeing these various groups?

Kamins: The Citibar has about 140 employees. About a third work on the projects that you mentioned. The Citibar Justice Center has many programs that reach out to people who cannot afford counsel.

Editor: Last year, we interviewed Meredith Moore, Director of the Office of Diversity at the City Bar. At that time she was coming up with some recommendations. Has that report been issued?

Kamins: She'll be issuing a report soon tracking the progress of how the firms who have signed on to this program are doing in the area of diversity. My sense from speaking with her is that the firms are doing better with gender diversity than they are with racial diversity. Trying to effect improvements in racial diversity is our focus this year. She is also doing a report on legal departments and their diversity initiatives.

Editor: Has the study of corporate governance been concluded?

Kamins: Betsy began this study with a corporate governance task force about a year ago, but it has not yet been completed. I anticipate that the draft will be completed during the summer and then distributed to certain committees. My sense is that there may be some committees that will have some comments, which will require further drafting.

Editor: Criminal law is now a hot subject in corporate America. Is Citibar focusing on what is happening in the area of white collar crime?

Kamins: There is no question that since the WorldCom and Enron scandals, we see that certain actions by corporations and their officers have touched many lives. As I said, the task force on corporate governance soon will issue a report on the conduct of corporate counsel. It will deal with what attorneys should do. It will focus on whether attorneys should be reporting certain things that up until now they haven't been obligated to report.

Editor: Would you also comment on the erosion of the attorney/client privilege as a result of prosecutors asking for a waiver in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement? As a result of this prosecutorial initiative, the desire to cooperate may bring about the erosion of traditional legal protection for directors. It may erode the privilege and also affect the corporation's commitment to indemnify employees and officers and directors.

Kamins: In my judgment, and the Citibar and State Bar have been on record on this issue as well, the privilege is being eroded every day. To force the attorney/client privilege to be waived in the name of a settlement is outrageous.

Editor: Is the program with the Martin Luther King High School still working? It contemplated that members of the Citibar would mentor students at that High School who were interested in the law.

Kamins: I am happy to say that the program is still functioning. The chair of the committee who runs that program told me yesterday that it is doing very well. I would like to institute other programs like it in other schools. Students are our future leaders and attorneys. If you reach some of these students at a certain age, I am sure this program will have a profound impact.

Editor: What committees are of particular interest to in-house counsel?

Kamins: The Securities Regulation Committee and the Committee on Financial Reporting are the two main committees. There are many others, including the Corporation Law, Project Finance, and the Special Committee on International Commercial Disputes.

Editor: What goals do you hope to have accomplished at the end of your two-year term?

Kamins: No matter how many presidents come through this office, there can never be enough done in the areas of pro bono and diversity. My other major goals deal with professionalism, ethics, and criminal justice. Hopefully, I can accomplish some of these goals I have set for the Association.