Pro Bono Barrister: It’s Steve’s big pumpkin party, Charlie Brown!

October 15, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Hundreds of Brooklyn and city leaders will walk out onto Flatbush Ave the morning of Nov. 2 wearing big smiles and carrying Junior’s prize Pumpkin Cheesecake. They’ll be the special guests who just enjoyed one of modern Brooklyn’s great traditions — Steve Cohn’s big pre-election breakfast party.

As we’ve said here before, Steve Cohn really knows how to throw a party – and he’s also been a major long time force in the Democratic Party. He’s one of the most recognized figures in legal, civic and business circles. So it comes as no surprise that this quiet, bespectacled attorney is the genial centerpiece of this unique happening.

Granted, there may be a soft underlying political theme — Steve and son Warren are, after all, prime movers in the 111-year-old Seneca Democratic Club. So we can expect all of next year’s leading mayoral candidates trooping into Junior’s as early as 8 a.m., such as former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Comptroller John Liu.

They, and scores of candidates appearing on the November 6 ballot, know that others they’ll meet at Junior’s that morning are leaders in education and business arenas as well. They will all be there to network with folk they seldom see but want to know.

The legal community will be there in strength recognizing Steve’s special status as a Brooklyn Bar Association past president and an unselfish barrister who lent his skills and reputation to the founding of the very successful Brooklyn Lawyers Volunteer Project. The BBA is currently headed by President Domenick Napoletano.

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Law groups get together to celebrate `Red Mass’

Another of the year’s most anticipated events is the celebration of the Red Mass, to be conducted on Thursday, Oct. 25 by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn.

Attended by notables of all faiths, this touching observance will be held at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James at Jay Street and Cathedral Place – one block north of Tillary Street – beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Sara Gozo currently leads the Guild as president and, at least by appearance, she is one of the youngest and most accomplished to hold that position.

The Festival of the Red Mass was observed in many countries in Europe and originated in about the 13th century. It was brought back to prominence in the United States by then-Cardinal Hayes, who expanded it to include Protestants and Jews and “people of good faith” and employed then to bless the approaching court sessions.

The Brooklyn Red Mass will once again convoke all “people of good faith” and is regularly attended by a great number of Kings jurists.

Enduring and flourishing in isolated splendor more recently, the St. James Cathedral descends directly from St. James Church and stands on that same land today. It became a cathedral in 1853, when the Diocese of Brooklyn was established through the offices of Bishop John Loughlin whose name and memory are commemorated on many schools and religious buildings in the city.

Since its founding, scores of barristers have led the Guild over the years, to name only a few – they are Annalise Cottone, Greg Cerchione, Kevin Fogarty, Kenny Nolan, Joe Farrell, Greg Hesterberg, (now Justice) Anthony Cutrona (1983-84), and Justice William Bellard (1975-76).

Many other outstanding barristers have led the Guild, but one name may surprise some who mistakenly believe he practiced in Queens – the Hon. Mario Cuomo, whose term ran from 1966-67. He is, of course, the one-time Court Street lawyer who became governor of New York.

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Obama’s reticence keyed by a deeper drama?

Years ago  – in fact way back in 1962 — Tom Courtnay played the role of a classically conflicted young man in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” In that widely acclaimed British film the main character’s running ability catapults him from working-class obscurity to the top of British marathon ranks.

Yet in his really big race, a much heralded event that would put him at a new pinnacle — and in which he leads the field on the final lap — the agonizing Courtnay character abruptly stops running! He quits! To the shock and dismay of thousands of onlookers! Why? Based on other events portrayed earlier, some kind of inner class conflict is suspected.

He seems to feel that winning this race amounts to little more than posturing for the upper classes and some of his new “friends” who may be more interested in his fame than anything else. We’re led to believe that his dramatic stop is his way of thumbing his nose at his alleged “betters.”

As so many of us search to explain President Barack Obama’s puzzling refusal to actually engage Mitt Romney in their first debate, his reluctance to take part reminded this writer of “The Loneliness” movie of a half century ago. More specifically, is there some tortuous way to find an informative comparison between the marathoner who quits on the brink of victory and President Barack Obama, who virtually failed to show up for his debate against GOP former Gov. George Romney?

Obama is notoriously private, yet greatly gifted as a thinker and public speaker, and — until the Denver disaster – the confident leader of the free world.

Is he finally tired of the incessant, baseless attacks on his character? Can he no longer tolerate the gratuitous insults of those like Sen. Mitch McConnell who, two years ago, called on his Republican cohorts to forget about the people’s agenda and instead dedicate themselves wholly to defeating President Obama in November?

No president in our memory – going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt – has had to endure the endless spew of hatred and vitriol which has been mercilessly slung at this president. Even President Richard Nixon was accorded a modicum of respect, although he resigned in disgrace.

But as the much-maligned President Harry Truman, speaking from the Oval Office, told us: “The buck stops here!”

Mr. Obama and his supporters will have to come up with a better explanation – if there is any – to his almost historic reluctance to take on his suddenly energized opponent other than the debate was held at a place so high (Denver’s altitude is about 5,000 feet) that he was oxygen deprived.

Blaming Moderator Jim Lehrer for letting Romney bully the PBS veteran all night will not work. A quick, clear-thinking Barack Obama would have seized the moment, reprimanded his opponent and scored political points in the process.

Is it possible this non-debate will go down in history as the most identifiable (70-minute) moment when the leading and favored candidate lost a debate and an election because of what he didn’t say! The Romney people hope so, because their candidate was plummeting in the polls prior to this almost unbelievable encounter.

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As underdog, Biden made a ‘tie’ into a victory

Obama supporters believe the President is returning to his usual confident, articulate self, with a sound grasp of the issues. Several TV appearances since show him moving on nicely by what happened in Denver. And, in this writer’s view, the Obama-Biden ticket was aided immensely by the gutsy show of Vice President Joe Biden against GOP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan.

Biden was feisty, argumentative and took no guff from anyone even the moderator Martha Raddix. Maybe he over-emoted for the camera when Ryan was speaking but this was a much better image than President Obama biting his lip and staring at the floor. And he interrupted – much to the consternation of Meet The Press host David Gregory who somehow sees himself as the voice of reason these days! But Biden’s interruptions were most appreciated by those who were upset by those who were upset by the president’s unwillingness to do verbal combat.

As every trial lawyer knows, one of the best ways to slow down and maybe distract your opponent, is to rise and stop her line of question claiming “Objection!” It helps to have a basis for the objection, of course and Biden did looking righteously at Ryan and stating: “He took all of the four minutes!!!”

Most importantly, Joe Biden came out swinging and didn’t stop until the encounter ended. His performance will remind the “undecideds” (who probably never were–undecided, that is) that Democratic leaders aren’t necessarily agonizing and introspective.

To his credit, Rep. Ryan more than held his own but Ryan was, according to the polls, was the heavy favorite to carry the night.

Just by breaking even, Biden did his job and might have resurrected a ticket that seemed to be flailing into embarrassing oblivion after the Obama-Romney match.

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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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