To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
On April 26, NYCLA was honored by the New York City Council at a reception at City Hall. The Proclamation presented by Council Speaker Gifford Miller stated (in part) "The Council of the City of New York is pleased and proud to honor the New York County Lawyers' Association ... [for] ensuring access to justice of all, advocating for a strong and independent judiciary, maintaining high ethical standards for the bench and bar and promoting the administration of justice and the public interest." The occasion was a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the law as instrument of reform. I am pleased to share my remarks with the readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel .
I am so pleased that our City Council has chosen to recognize the work of NYCLA and, through us, the legal profession, especially at this troubled time in our national history. Our profession, our judiciary, indeed, our system of checks and balances and separation of powers is under an attack such as we have not seen in our modern history. All of us who care about the strength of American democracy have a special duty to stand firm against this assault. I urge this Body and its members, in whatever ways you deem appropriate, to vigorously support the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.
That the most distinguished local legislature in the nation would celebrate the achievements of lawyers is a tonic for the spirit of all lawyers and a tribute to this Council's commitment to social justice. We lawyers take a lot of hits, but when you look back on the arc of civil justice in the past century, it has been lawyers - often New York lawyers - who have led the way.
NYCLA was founded 97 years ago as a home for lawyers who were excluded from other bar groups. Our Founding Mission was to expand access to justice for those who could not afford it. We were the first major bar association to welcome all lawyers, regardless of religion, race, gender or ethnicity. We were the bar association that stood up to the ABA over the issue of discrimination. Our library was where Thurgood Marshall researched his briefs in Brown v. the Board of Education because we were the only ones who would admit him. We helped to form the first lawyers' group in the City to provide free counsel for the accused - decades before the Supreme Court recognized that right in Gideon.
In recent months, we have led the struggle for equal rights for same-sex couples.
We have spoken with vigor and determination to preserve an independent judiciary and support reforms to enhance the integrity of the profession. Our Pro Bono Program is expanding to provide an ever-greater network of services for the poor and lower-middle class for whom the cost of justice is simply too high.
And, we have continued to advocate for quality services for the indigent accused - a cause for which this Council has been a leader, sometimes despite great unpopularity. It has taken courage and commitment. Your determination to adequately fund indigent-defense services is a great achievement for which I express my profound gratitude as a lawyer, bar leader and, most importantly, as a citizen.
The Council and NYCLA share a common passion for social justice at a time when that agenda is not in vogue in this country. Here in New York City, all of us, regardless of party or philosophy, can take pride in the fact that the City Council is one of the most engaged and effective legislative bodies in the country - leading the way on so many issues.