Pro Bono Barrister: Inn Members Will Learn How To Elicit Expert Testimony

January 20, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Charles F. Otey, Esq.

Most lawyers will never lay out $5,000 or more to put an expert witness on the stand — or even have the opportunity to cross-examine one.  Cross-examination in particular becomes a do-or-die matter when convincing testimony of an opposing expert threatens to destroy your case.

These are courtroom challenges that are usually the bailiwick of experienced trial lawyers. But the Kings County Inn of Court, aptly led this year by highly skilled litigator President Ross D’Apice, will give all their members an opportunity to learn the invaluable skills the evening of Jan. 24, in a program titled “Staring Down the hired gun: How To Examine and Cross-Examine the Expert Witness.”

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Leading the CLE-qualifying panel will be Judge Miriam Cyrulnik, who has presided over hundreds of trials, and the irrepressible President-elect  Marc Dittenhoefer, who’s put the fear of the righteous into scores of physicians, engineers and actuarial “experts” during his distinguished career.

In keeping with the collegial spirit that has characterized the Ancient English Inns of Court the past 800 years, a buffet dinner will be offered to members beforehand. Inn Administrator Marie Lattanzi and Executive Director Jeff Feldman are advising Inn members that the pre-seminar repast will be offered promptly at 5:30 p.m. that day in Brooklyn Bar Headquarters at 123 Remsen St.  (Reservations would be the right thing to make to enable an accurate head count for the delicious buffet!)

Inn officers include Counselor Justice Ellen Spodek, Treasurer David M. Chidekel and Secretary Justice Arthur Schack.

Another aspect  of  Inn tradition is that each chapter is governed by a group of Law Masters, which this year includes Immediate Past President Hon. Gerard H. Rosenberg, Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, Jon Besunder, Judge Cyrulnik, Lawrence DiGiovanna, Steve Finkelstein, Steven Goolnick, Kings Administrative Justice for Civil Matters Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Kings Administrative Justice for Criminal Matters Barry Kamins, Federal Judge William Kuntz, Justice Carl Landicino, Mark Longo, Judge Joanne Quinones and Paul Weitz.    

The Inn continues to recognize those responsible for its founding 11 years ago who are Justice Marsha Steinhardt, retired Justices Abe Gerges and Hon. Rosenberg and former Justice Edward Rappaport, the president emeritus.

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BBA Volunteer Fund-Raiser
Will Be in Very Good Taste!

One of the most significant achievements of the Brooklyn Bar Association was the establishment, two decades ago, of the very successful and vital BBA Volunteer Lawyers Program.

Heading the VLP the past 15 years is James Slattery who, with Executive Director Jeannie Costello and their staff, face exceptional financial challenges as the nation battles its way out of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Some people might use these dire economic times as an excuse to drink! But the VLP has put a positive turn on the alcohol  alternative with  a benefit wine tasting to take place February 9, 6 p.m., at The Brooklyn Wine Exchange at 138 Court St.

Thanks to an initiative launched some years back by then BBA President Diana Szochet, benefit wine-tasting events have become a viable fund-raising vehicle as this latest venture, titled “Old World vs. New World Wines,” certainly will be.  It also features a “Sit Down Class With The Sommelier.”

Fern Finkel is donating tasty hors d’oeuvres, while raffle items are provided by the firms of Antonelli & Antonelli; Hua & Murga and, of course Diana Szochet.

This will be a limited-attendance event, co-sponsored by the BBA Young Lawyers Section and The Pro Bono Committee. Since there’s only space for 40 guests we advise immediate communication with BBA Executive Director Avery Okin at [email protected].   Heading the BBA this year is President Ethan Gerber.

 The Brooklyn VLP is one of the finest-and largest — in the nation! Legally it’s a  501(c)(3) non-profit “dedicated to providing civil legal assistance to those Brooklyn residents who need it most,” according to its mission statement. It’s one of the only legal services organizations that operates borough-wide in Brooklyn. Our borough, you probably know, has a population of 2.7 million people which makes it larger than all but a few American cities!

The  VLP recruits, trains and supports volunteer attorneys from the private bar and matches them up with programs designed to meet critical legal needs in our community, also a tribute to Executive Director Jeannie Costello and very talented  staffers such as Jaime Lathrop, the Foreclosure Intervention Director.

Since 1990, attorneys from the private bar have provided critical pro bono assistance through the BBA VLP to thousands of individuals and families from Brooklyn’s neediest neighborhoods. The goal of each VLP volunteer attorney is to “use the legal system to help people regain dignity and control over their lives.”

Originally  funded under the auspices of the Brooklyn Bar  through a demonstration grant from the New York State IOLA Fund and the New York Bar Foundation, our VLP  continues to receive funding from IOLA and NYBF, as well as from private foundations and individual donors.

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Why Lawyers Should Read
‘The Law Is a Ass’

A trusted friend, who is not a lawyer, gave me a book with a provocative, yet notable, title “The Law Is a Ass,” compiled by British author Ronald Irving, which is based on a delightful exchange between Dickensian characters “Mr. Brownlow” and “Mr. Bumble” in Oliver Twist. We gratefully quote from the Irving’s book’s preface:

‘That is no excuse’, replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.’
‘If the law supposes that,’ said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, ‘the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.’

Though, as Irving explains, the law was earlier  labeled “a ass” (in 1654) in George’s Chapman’s play, Revenge for Honor, it was Charles Dickens, in his 1838 classic, who put the allegation in proper perspective.  
Irving’s delightful work lives up to its provocative title as well as  the back-page blurb which notes contain “witty and profound quotations from a distinguished array of individuals, from Aristotle to Rabelais, Oscar Wilde to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and not forgetting Groucho Marx and Woody Allen.

The founding brief, or mission statement, of Pro Bono Barrister is to tell about the good that lawyers do and maybe it’s a bit counter-intuitive, but I recommend it to my colleagues. Readers of The Law Is a Ass just may come away with a little more sympathy for our profession.

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Murphy Faces Many Hurdles
In Challenge to Grimm

No sooner had this column gone to press containing an item on Congressman Mike Grimm — we said he was just about unopposed this election year — than the news broke that Democrat Mark Murphy would  try to unseat Grimm in the 13th C.D. which includes all of Staten Island and a swath of Bay Ridge/Bensonhurst in  Brooklyn. R-C Grimm remains the odds-on favorite to win his second term for a number of reasons. Even though Murphy, as son of one-time Staten Island-Brooklyn-Manhattan Congressman Jack Murphy, has a still well-known political name around here, it’s not likely the Democratic Congressional Committee will put much money into winning a seat which has trended Republican for the last three decades.

Jack Murphy succeeded the late Congressman Hugh Carey (who later became governor) in southwest Brooklyn following a series of redistricting ventures. Murphy’s painfully gerrymandered district was spread-eagled from Staten Island to Bay Ridge to lower Manhattan. In short, it covered a lot of water!

A popular and respected member of Congress, Jack Murphy got caught up in the ABSCAM scandal. His involvement was only incidental but it ended his career. His departure was viewed by knowledgeable observers as gratuitous collateral damage.

Mark Murphy worked for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio until he recently resigned in anticipation of a campaign against the very visible and vocal Michael Grimm, who has become a regular fixture on a number of cable television news channels. He’s articulate, looks like a TV anchor and he can get aggressive without starting a shouting match.

Much the same could be said of former Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon, who lost narrowly to Grimm last election but is, wisely, sitting this one out. Initially a Tea Party favorite, Grimm has tacked nicely right of center as a loyal ally of House Leader John Boehner. The congressional district is structured for a moderate Democrat — like McMahon  — or a center-hugging Republican — which is the best way to describe former Republican/Conservative Congressman Vito Fossella, who got embroiled in a domestic crisis and did not seek re-election.

The biggest electoral factor in the 13th C.D. will probably be the top of the Democratic ticket headed by President Barack Obama. Some Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — a true Southerner — have been enraged by the very fact of the Obama presidency. And with the Great Recession slowly receding, the economic crisis will be blamed on President Obama and translate into his losing the 13th C.D. by a substantial margin. This top of the ticket will produce negative coattails for Democrats, like Murphy, farther down the ballot. As a result, if he does wage an all-out campaign, Democrat Murphy will find it just about impossible to bring at least part of a congressional seat back into the family.

Nevertheless, a positive race on his part would likely provide a bit of deserved vindication for his dad, Jack, who remains highly regarded by all who knew him when he served in Congress.

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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 [email protected].

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