Pro Bono Barrister President Marc Dittenhoefer takes reins at Kings Inn of Court

July 27, 2012 By Charles Otey, Esq. For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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When the Kings County Inn of Court was founded back in 2000 — by Justice Marsha Steinhardt and now former Justices Gerard Rosenberg, Abraham Gerges and Edward Rappaport — these jurists and a dedicated group of practicing attorneys became part of an ancient tradition some 800 years old which originated in England.

One of the many benefits inuring to the Kings Inn — led this coming year by President Marc Dittenhoefer — is its highly respected national Inn publication known as “The Bencher.” Given its nationwide perspective Bencher editors have focused on a number of problems especially the effectiveness of our laws and our system of justice which is key to our democratic government.

In that regard, it’s disturbing to note that The Bencher editors have come up with some solid yet disturbing research revealing how little many citizens know about our government and a growing disrespect for our legal system and those who make it run.

This “disrespect”, The Bencher found, was not based on fact. Rather it has grown out of ignorance of the law and an abysmal lack of knowledge as to our nation’s origin which is rooted in the law.

The survey, commissioned by the Florida Bar and carried out by the Harris Interactive Poll of Florida, focused on Florida adults. Ominously, considering it was the state which launched the presidency of George W. Bush along with the U.S. Supreme Court, the results (released a few years ago) indicate that voters in the Sunshine State could use a little enlightening.

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What’s the matter with voters in Florida?
For instance, wrote Richard H. Levenstein recently in The Bencher, “Less than 6 in 10 adult Floridians could correctly identify the 3 branches of government — 18 percent incorrectly said that ‘local, state and federal’; 16 percent said incorrectly (the three branches were) ’Republican, Democrat and independent.'”

Perhaps as shocking, the Harris Poll found that “More than half of adult Floridians could not define the term ‘separation of powers’.”

If anyone thinks the foregoing survey might have overstated the case, another, later Florida poll taken by the National Center for State Courts “revealed that only 21 percent of adults polled could correctly name all three branches of government and 40 percent of adults polled could not name any branches of government.’”

Is this ignorance of the law and of our government limited to Florida? One can only hope, but one would suspect that Florida’s voter awareness may be at — maybe above — the national average.

We thank The Bencher for sharing these disconcerting political realities and can take comfort that incoming Kings County Inn President Marc Dittenhoefer will do all he can — short of visiting Florida — to spread the light of truth during his tenure.

“The American Inns of Court is a renowned and prestigious institution and our chapter here in Kings is active, collegial, informative, energized and highly enjoyable,” he informed members in his first official communique.

President Dittenhoefer — who succeeds outgoing President Ross D’Apice, one of the state’s top trial lawyers — promised yet another busy, worthwhile year. “The programs we present are insightful, timely and cover a broad spectrum of legal topics and interests…” he wrote his colleagues, while adding a personal reminder that annual dues “also entitle you to attend both the year-end Holiday Party and the end-of-Spring Gala.”

Other Inn officers inducted at this year’s “End Of Spring Gala” are President-Elect Justice Ellen Spodek, Counselor Dave Chidekel, Treasurer Justice Arthur M. Schack and Secretary Judge Miriam Cryrulnik.

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President ‘Pat’ Russo ready for BRLA gavel

Succeeding the talented Helen Galette as president of the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association will be Pasqualino Russo, an excellent attorney whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with on a number of occasions. “Pat,” as he is better known, will become president officially in September at the BRLA’S traditional “Passing of the Gavel” ceremony, a practice which has symbolized the high standards of this association for many years. Since March, Pat has been with Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf as Special Counsel in their corporate department. His quiet, personable style complements his deep, probative intellect which he previously put to good use for five years as Inspector General of the NYC Department of Investigation.

His impressive “skill sets” aside, many of his colleagues believe that, what will ultimately propel President Russo to some very high position in government, is his patience and ability to communicate. I couldn’t say this with the same confidence if I didn’t know him — personally and professionally — for several years.

During that time I’ve had an opportunity to test both his patience and communication talents, especially a few years back when we were both Administrative Judges at the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission.

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A.J. Russo eases shock of digital age at TLC

Pat, who would very soon rise to become TLC’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, joined our Long Island City staff shortly after the powers-that-were had caused quite a kerfuffle in our daily procedure: they directed all AJ’s to abandon the traditional practice of writing out our decisions totally by hand, with ink pens, on multi-layered forms with carbon paper.
Instead, by direction of then Commissioner Matt Daus, all decisions, communications, even hours worked–had to be to be entered in excruciating detail on computers!!! Using a brand-new system!

This meant that after holding a hearing involving a summons an illegal “pickup” or even more serious charges brought against drivers and/or owners, each judge — unassisted by a secretary or court reporter — (1) had to take note of the appropriate testimony — which involved questioning from both sides — (2) reach a fair & equitable decision and (3) record all the pertinent facts and details, conclusions on the TLC ‘system’!

Many of us “veteran” judges were flummoxed by the challenge of going digital after decades of writing our rulings by hand. New Judge Russo not only took the challenge in stride — he graciously shared his advanced insights with the rest of us–notably those who had enough difficulty merely entering into the myriad ‘programs’ we had to master within a few weeks.

My case was typical: On a Monday I asked him for help as I labored to “enter” my first decision; very patiently — unlike some of my other advisors who blythly told me the entire digital system was logical and “intuitive” — he guided me toward each step without labeling me a troglodyte from another, primitive age.

Without my request, 24 hours later, on Tuesday, he had prepared for me a 1,000 word memo with plain-language directions on how to perform each and every task required!! Thanks to A.J. Russo, I eagerly entered the 21st Century Digital Age!

Before long the TLC “suits” recognized his potential and he was named Chief Administrative Judge. Significantly, Pat Russo has been an Adjunct Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice since January of 2001 and also spent three years as an associate in the Cullen and Dykman Corporate Department.

Like this writer Pat Russo is also a graduate of Brooklyn Law. I enjoy telling later BLS grads that I was fortunate enough to have the legendary Dean and Author Jerome Prince as my instructor in Evidence. Some look at me quizzically. Others take appropriate note. Paraphrasing Pat’s response: “Wow. Dean Prince! The guy who ‘wrote’ Richardson on Evidence! You are so lucky, Chuck!”

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How political correctors killed the ERA and…

Every once in a while the face of extreme political correctness rears its unattractive mug to cause confusion and harm to well-intentioned endeavors. A major case in point was the irritating insistence of some during the vital fight for the Equal Rights Amendment to rise up at meetings and “correct” anyone who dared refer to a guy running a meeting as the “chairman”.

“It’s chairPERSON!” exclaimed the inevitable, righteous corrector — confident that they alone were quested with the holy grail of women’s progress back in the distant 1970’s.

Despite its great merit, ERA went down to defeat in no small part due to the political correctors who never let common sense prevent them displaying their purity of purpose and destroying a good discussion — on the ERA, the Vietnam War, integration, segregation, voting rights.

Many still cling nostalgically to the understandable yet affected habit of referring to a male as “chairMAN” and a female as ‘chairWOMAN”
Phillipa Morrish an impressive and charming woman and has established a deserved reputation as an excellent, tactful instructor, especially in matters of interest to women.
It was sad to see the Political Correctors raise such a fuss over one phrase in the event’s literature–which promised to help women “walk like a model’. As usual some Political Correctors in The Press–spurred on by Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger–a vehement political foe of Sen. Golden in Albany–bought into the faux argument that suggesting a woman “walk like a model” is sexist!

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…Now, correctors deal blow to hopes of women

Ms. Morrish’s event was postponed. Before the New Dems crow and pat their own backs over the cancellation they should realize that the only losers here are the scores or more of women anxious to became gainfully employed!
If this painfully transparent political ploy, which demeans a valued endeavor aimed at helping women improve their lives is what the Bay Ridge Democrats are about I suggest a redirection of course.

As to the corrosive political correctness which engendered this folly, such rhetoric is a turn-off to adults who understand that many women who want to get into the marketplace need some stylistic help getting there! Men too — maybe even more.
When Ms. Morrish does hold her next session, someone, less tactful than she, should point out that grunge– dirty sneakers, slouching, shuffling, tattoo, tongue rings, pierced noses, foul language, will stop a job-seeker at an employer’s door!!

Can’t wait for Phillipa to do her wonderful thing at the Bay Ridge Manor and that women who need her advice show up and move ahead with their lives!

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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]. Notice: Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.


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