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

2013-08-20 10:33

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

As attorneys, we all understand the value of an independent judiciary. At the New York County Lawyers’ Association, we have made it a part of our mission statement – literally – to protect and defend what Alexander Hamilton described as “beyond comparison the weakest” of the three branches, lacking both the power of the sword and the power of the purse. Hamilton went on, in Federalist No. 78, to caution that “all possible care is requisite” to defend the judiciary against attacks, lest the courts be “overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches.”

NYCLA’s first line of defense against improper attacks on our courts is our Rapid Response Task Force, which does just what its name suggests: responds rapidly, usually within a single news cycle, to ad hominim or otherwise improper attacks on judges. While judge-bashing is hardly a new phenomenon, it is troubling when attacks by politicians or editorialists cross the line from substantive criticism – which is every citizen’s right – to name-calling or personal attacks on a judge’s character or integrity. Controversial cases, of course, provoke the most extreme responses, and the problem is compounded by the fact that sitting judges cannot call press conferences to defend their opinions. Most recently, NYCLA’s Rapid Response Team has been busy in the wake of the recent “stop-and-frisk” decision in Floyd v. City of New York, and has been widely quoted rebuking some of the more heated charges leveled against the federal judge who decided that case.

Public insults are not the only danger to the judiciary. Lacking the power of the purse, the courts are dependent upon the legislative branch to fund their constitutional responsibilities. Two years ago, NYCLA’s Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts, chaired by Past President Michael Miller and the Honorable Stephen Crane, looked at the real-world impact of recent budget cuts on both the state and federal courts. The same group is now re-examining the long-term impact of flat funding on the state side and sequestration on the federal side. Its next report, due out this fall, paints a distressing picture of a federal court system on the brink of crisis.

In these and many other endeavors designed to strengthen and protect the judicial system, NYCLA depends heavily on its court committees and sections, including the Appellate Courts Committee, the Civil Court Practice Section, the Federal Courts Committee, and the Supreme Court Committee. These hard-working groups also analyze court rules and regulations, publish courthouse guides, sponsor CLE programs and public fora, and celebrate the role of the judiciary at popular events such as the annual Law Day Luncheon in May and the Luncheon Honoring the Federal Courts (better known as the Weinfeld Lunch) in October.

Our vibrant Judicial Section, composed of current and former judges, also helps to keep NYCLA focused on issues implicating judicial independence and access to the courts. The Section, often working closely with the Task Force on Judicial Selection, addresses policy issues including court administration, funding, and judicial selection, retention, and assignment. The Section also sponsors cutting-edge CLE programs, including “the Role of Empathy of Judicial Decision Making” which was held last May. The members of NYCLA’s Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, work to maintain and protect the high standards for admission to the judiciary by evaluating candidates for judicial office at all levels of the New York courts.  

As always, NYCLA’s leadership welcomes input on all of the issues important to this Association, including judicial independence. If you have ideas for how we can better protect and defend the independence of the courts, tweet me @nyclapres or send me an email at bmoses@maglaw.com.


Barbara Moses