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PRO BONO BARRISTER: Sen. Schumer makes history, visits Bay Ridge, makes more history

At the Bay Ridge Council’s Presidents Luncheon with Sen. Schumer, fourth from left, are, left-right: Republican County Leader Craig Eaton, Kings County Attorney Charles J. Hynes, BRCC Exec. Secretary Arlene Keating, Maryann Walsh, Eagle executive Marc Hibsher and attorney Robert Howe. Photo courtesy of Chuck Otey's Bay Ridge Blog

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Sen. Chuck Schumer starred at President Barack Obama's Inaugural where he deftly performed as master of ceremonies and a few days later stopped off at the Bay Ridge Manor for the Bay Ridge Community Council's Presidents Luncheon. Within 48 hours of that Brooklyn journey, he led a group of prominent U.S senators as they announced an historic, bipartisan proposal for legalizing immigration for millions.  

• • •

Gozo Sets Busy Agenda For Catholic Lawyers Guild

The Kings County Chapter of the Catholic Lawyers Guild, Diocese of Brooklyn, is planning a busy 2013 schedule with a special focus on its Fourth Annual St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph celebration set for March 4.

The gathering, to start 6 p.m. that day at the Marco Polo Restaurant on Court Street, will pay homage to those of Irish and Italian heritage, and is unique in blending these observances dear to the hearts of many barristers here in Brooklyn.
The Catholic Lawyers Guild has prospered due to a positive tradition of collegiality and the leadership, most recently of President Sara J. Gozo, a youthful and dynamic performer on the Kings legal scene.

Coming up soon for the Guild is its Feb. 8 Pre-Lenten Mass, commencing shortly after noon at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Brooklyn Heights, to be followed by a luncheon at the Brooklyn Bar Association, 123 Remsen St.
President Gozo and her team have already planned a busy, productive year for the Guild and it will be our duty – and pleasure – to report on their doings that really are the "good things that lawyers do.”

• • •

Will Brooklyn Bar Have New ‘Dress Code’?

BBA members took note when they received an upcoming CLE-session notice with the provocative headline: "Following the Dress Code: Fundamentals of Fashion Law with BK Style."

First we asked, does this mean we’ll all have to dress in black suits and white shirts as barristers do in India? Will traditionalists push adoption of the wigs long worn by English barristers? What about stilletto heels( for lady barristers mainly, of course)?

Our fears were allayed via a quick phone conversation with Meredith Symonds, the talented lawyer-to-be who is the new director of the BBA’s very popular CLE Program. I had neglected to read the entire notice, she politely responded.
"We did want to attract some attention to this particular ‘Fashion’ CLE program,” she coyly confessed, while encouraging me to read the rest of the notice.

I read it, and indeed and the new, eye-pleasing format helped make it even more clear that the course description for the session starting at 6 p.m. on February 13 at BBA headquarters, was as follows: “The panel of lawyers and fashion experts will present an overview of the fundamental legal issues that confront every member of the fashion community, including: intellectual property matters, labor law issues, incorporation and other concerns of the emerging fashion designer.”

Featured speakers include Barbara Kolsun, general counsel for Stuart Weitzman, LLC; Amy Melican of Proskauer Rose; Steven Gursky with the firm of Olshan, Frome, Wolosky; Trudy Miller. a fashion designer with Trudy Miller Layers; and Sekoya Isaac, makeup artist. Presenting yet another view of the fashion industry will be Gail Stairs, a model. The moderator will be Barrister Allegra Selvaggio.

Credit new CLE Director Symonds for coming up with such an innovative topic, assisted we are sure by BBA President Domenick Napoletano and Executive Director Avery Okin. Sponsoring the event are the BBA’s Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Committee chaired by Sanaa Z. Harris and the Brooklyn Style Foundation.

• • •

Mark, Ross, Arthur, Jim, et al.: How’s ‘No Fault’ Working?

It’s just over 40 years since a Republican-led state legislature and governor, Nelson Rockefeller--fortified by a fortune in lobbying money from the Insurance Industry--pushed for and won legislation creating a ‘No Fault” system that they hoped would stem the flow of negligence cases growing out of automobile accident cases.

Trial lawyers–plaintiffs and defendants–opposed “No Fault” which, in one form, or another has been the rule in New York state up to this day. Rather than go on and on about this with my hazy recollections, I’d like to elicit comments from other lawyers.

Four decades later, there's been lots of time to study and contemplate. What do they think about No Fault? Does it work, or not? Has it reduced auto insurance rates as promised?

So I’m reaching out to trial bar colleagues such as Mark Longo, Irv Kosover, Ross D’Apice, Mike Russo, Arthur Hill, Jim Ross, Ray Ferrier (who made the trip to Albany as well) John Bonina, Jr., Andrea Bonina, John Lonuzzi, Davy Feldman, Rich Neimark, Steve Harkavy, Steve Harrison and George Coffinas. Of course all PBB readers are welcome to put in their two cents.

The question: Has ‘No Fault’ been a boom or a bust for trial lawyers and/or the insurance industry?

• • •

Did Democrat Albanese inspire GOP Golden’s career?

Shortly after then-Democratic City Councilman Sal Albanese (second from left) was elected in 1983, he located his office in the Bay Ridge Manor, owned by Civic Leader Marty Golden (left).  Some say that dealing with tenant Albanese influenced – maybe even inspired -- Golden in his decision to seek public office.  First he won the seat vacated (in 1998) by Albanese, and a few years later ousted Democratic State Sen. Vincent Gentile and is still serving in Albany. Albanese, now a mayoral candidate, and Golden were with opposing political parties, but they often joined together in local improvement efforts, such as the Greater Bay Ridge Cleanup back in the 1990s (above) where Councilman Albanese holds animated conversation with City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern.

• • •

Forum Chair Justice Kurtz to ‘introduce’ new Admin. Chief Justice Knipel

When Justice Donald Scott Kurtz gavels in the next Supreme Court Civil Forum, the event will serve to “introduce” a man who really needs no introduction to those in the legal community -- Justice Lawrence Knipel, who very recently has been designated chief administrative judge for civil matters in Kings County, succeeding the very popular Justice Sylvia-Hinds Radix, now serving in the Appellate Division. .

The Aronin-Goldberg Forum officially gets underway at 9 a.m. in the hallowed eleventh floor boardroom of 360 Adams St. It continues a modern tradition instituted back in the 1990s by then Administrative Judge Michael Pesce.  Handled under rules Justice Kurtz deems appropriate, this conclave allows justices, administrators and lawyers an opportunity to meet informally and discuss procedural and other problems of the day.

Back in the 1990s, when the Civil Forum started, there were two defining issues:   Overwhelmingly congested court calendars, and the desire of defense attorney Irwin Kosover et al. to reach an agreement on “dates certain” for the brief summertime suspension of trials so that lawyers and witnesses could actually plan a vacation. 

Without this trial suspension, attorneys argued—and the judiciary largely agreed–it was literally impossible to schedule trials involving expensive and essential witnesses, e.g. neurologists.  Such complex matters, could not go ahead at all after June.

So most of them were pushed over to September, creating a fall crush. Kosover raised this critical issue at several of the first forums presided over by Justice Pesce. He persuasively argued that the uncertainty was costly and demoralizing for hundreds of trial lawyers.  It wasn’t long before the court and administrators such as Chief Clerk Tom Kilfoyle saw the wisdom of date certain ‘hiatus’ which, over the years, has become known as the “Summer Kosover.” 
Due to its informality and the skills of later Forum chairs, e.g. now retired  Jutices Joseph Levine and Abraham Gerges and the late Justices Richard Goldberg and Irving Aronin–for whom the unique convocation is named–the brief, but candid exchange of ideas and views has been responsible for scores of :understandings.”

Matters dealing with motion calendars, jury selection priorities and a myriad of other day-to-day challenges were dealt with and resolved.

• • •

Meeting the challenge of economic necessity

It will be a far different judicial landscape in place when new Administrative Justice Knipel and Forum Chair Justice Kurtz exchange ideas within a boardroom  packed with jurists, administrators and lawyers.  Front and center will drastic and relentless reductions in court funding. 

“Adding more personnel” is not an option readily available in these courts.  Workloads remain demanding and are made even more so with rigid restrictions on overtime.  For the first time since the 1970s financial crisis, the lights go out at 360 Adams St., which means that professional organizations such as the Kings County Inn of Court can no longer stage its CLE–accredited dramas in a real setting.

Scores of other civic and cultural groups have been shut out from this once very busy venue and forced to hold their gatherings and ceremonies elsewhere. Justice Knipel has been a leader and a worker in his 15 years on the bench.  Every lawyer who has ever appeared before him knows he will approach these problems diligently and with an abiding respect for the laws and those laboring daily in the halls of justice.

• • •

Republicans have 'plan' to win mayoralty 

While front-running GOP candidate Joe Lhota may not have Mayor Mike Bloomberg's billions, Democrats would be foolish to write him off as quickly as they did our outgoing mayor almost 12 years ago.  By the paper count -- Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two to one -- Lhota seems the true underdog.  Yet, with no clear Democratic front-runner, the list of aspiring candidates grows and now includes one-time Democratic Bay Ridge Councilman Sal Albanese.

Some Lhota backers clearly if quietly welcomed the Albanese entry.  Why? Because they believe some of the leading Democrats--Albanese and others-- will end up on the ballot as candidates of the Working Family or Independence parties even if they lose the Democratic lines in the September party primary.

Albanese has a lot of experience and is a very savvy, hard-nosed campaigner. He may be the only councilman to serve that chamber by day and attend law school at night and pass the Bar.  Political historic trivia note: Then-Councilman Albanese maintained his Bay Ridge office at the Bay Ridge Manor, where his landlord was then Civic Leader Marty Golden, the same guy who, as a Republican-Conservative, went on to succeed Albanese in the City Council. Golden later won a state Senate seat, beating Democratic Sen. Vincent Gentile who, later in the same year, ran for and  won Golden's council position, a job he still holds.

• • •

Prof. Jeffrey O’Connell: The author of ‘no fault’

The New York Times recently ran a substantial story on the passing of noted law professor Jeffrey O'Connell.  He’s easily recalled by veteran barrister as a scholar whose writings and lectures in the early 1960's had a long and dramatic impact on the trial bar.

According to Times writer Douglas Martin, Prof. O. Connell co-authored a tome entitled “Basic Protection for the Traffic Victim: A Blueprint for Reforming Automobile Insurance.” 

Essentially it outlined a new system where certain special damages would be paid to the victim(s) instantly by one’s own insurer regardless of fault. Hence, the ominous term "No Fault Insurance." 

Put simply, the "blueprint" was the framework and most vital tool utilized by the state's insurance industry in its battle to eliminate court actions in auto cases.  Prof. O’Connell’s work was championed by the big carriers who sold it to the public by negative propaganda phrases such as “You No Longer Need A Lawyer To Recover Money!”

• • •

Trial lawyers true target of ‘no fault’ statutes

In reality, their true and immediate target was pesky trial lawyers who could work on the legitimate cases of the poorest and middle-class victims because their fee was contingent on their ability to obtain a settlement or verdict on behalf of their client.  “Why should the poor and needy have a right to their day in court?” the carriers, in effect, asked.
           
The ultimate aim of the big insurance of course, was to earn more money by paying out less, much less to auto victims.  Through the new laws, they employed various devices calculated to bar such personal injury actions unless a "serious" or monetary threshold was met.  (This ‘test’ started out requiring a plaintiff to sustain a loss of $500 or more in medical and hospital expenses.  It didn’t last too long, but that’s another story.)

Interest of the entire bar was so intense that organizations like the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, then led by top lawyers like the late John Bonina Sr. and Frank Maher, chartered buses to take lawyers, including this writer, to Albany.  Once there we were to roam the halls of the assembly and senate ‘cornering’ our own representatives and make the case against No Fault.

So, at the instance of my firm’s boss, trial attorney Ira Gammerman -- yes, he was later Justice Ira Gammerman -- I happily took the day off to bus with my fellow Bay Ridge Lawyers to Albany.  There I was to lobby my senator, Bill Conklin, and an assemblyman, Dominick Di Carlo.  Both were influential: Sen. Conklin was Deputy GOP Leader, Assemblyman DiCarlo led the Codes Committee.  To be continued! 

PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to COTEYESQ@aol.com.

February 10, 2013 - 5:04am


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