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Chuck Otey’s Pro Bono Barrister for May 13

May 13, 2013 By Charles F. Otey Esq Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Seddio’s BBA Appearance Underscores New Transparency

The main message in this week’s Pro Bono Barrister is about some dramatic changes that have, slowly but surely taken place in our legal and political communities in the past few decades.

Specifically it reflects on the significance of an upcoming Brooklyn Bar CLE lecture which will be part of a Brooklyn Bar Association program set for the evening of May 21. Why is a presentation entitled “Getting the Gavel: How To Become A Judge” so meaningful or symbolic or worthy of any particular interest?

First, dear readers, forgive this writer as we take a brief but informative foray into the past to examine a slice of the Kings Legal Community as it existed back in the ’60s or ’70s. Some of the changes have been dramatic.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Lawyer advertising was forbidden. The rules on “How to Become a Judge” were essentially unknowable except for a few insiders. How were these two situations related? Please read on.

Considering the fact that today’s Yellow Pages which run more than 50 pages of lawyer advertisements, many don’t recall that not so long ago, lawyers couldn’t advertise. There were even guidelines as to the size of their own office shingles! As a result, many in the profession — especially those with new practices to launch — sought out recognition and clients by going into politics so they could announce their possible candidacies and their profession at public meetings.

Today, it’s hard for the emerging generations to conceive how rigorously some practitioners were punished for transgressing the prevalent anti-advertising strictures.
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Lawyer’s 8-Inch Shingle Cost Him a Reprimand

Case in point: One bar association actually reprimanded a respected colleague and member who dared to emblazon his name on his new office at the unthinkable size of eight inches in height!  He was two inches over the limit the agreed-upon size those days was six inches. As part of the “investigation,” one of his best friends got on a ladder with a tape measure. Regretfully he delivered the verdict, which resulted in a written reprimand.

It should come as no surprise that in those pre-advertising days, many new lawyers opted to join their local political clubhouses (most of which no longer exist) to gain professional exposure.

Is the “legalization” of advertising in any way responsible for the comparative dearth of lawyers in politics these days? I think so. In the interests of full disclosure, I was once asked by County Leader Meade Esposito to seek the Democratic Assembly nomination in the then 50th A.D.  It was a seemingly thankless task. The Republican-Conservative assemblyman was Chris Mega, a good friend and an excellent representative.

“The Chief” didn’t ask me directly. The request came through Democratic County Secretary Bill Garry, years before he became a Supreme Court Justice. When Meade Esposito invited a new practitioner to do something political in those days, especially through the highly regarded Bill Garry, it was hard the say no.

My friends, especially those who knew little about politics, were sure I was on my way to Albany. I knew differently. So did “The Chief” and Bill Garry. But they needed a serviceable candidate, and running for office was viewed as a very good first step for a new barrister.

Even my Manhattan law office associates were impressed, among them my boss, Ira Gammerman, later a New York Supreme Court County Justice. He showed new respect when I announced that “The Chief” had asked me to carry the “regular” Democratic banner into the primary fray against a reformer named George Alwon.

I lost that race, but that’s not the point here (in fact, I privately welcomed the loss since I was spared the task of running against my good friend Chris Mega).

Would Meade Esposito Speak on Judicial Elections?

What strikes this writer as just short of amazing is that the upcoming Brooklyn Bar Association, CLE Session, titled “Getting The Gavel: How to Become a Judge” is being chaired by none other than the Hon. Frank Seddio.

A former assemblyman and one-time Kings County surrogate, the Hon. Seddio is also the chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. Politically he is a direct successor, four or five times removed, of the aforementioned Meade Esposito.

This is not only a moment of irony, it’s also a symbol of how much more transparent judicial politics has become. Any Kings lawyer in her 50s with the slightest familiarity with the reign of the dapper, cigar-chewing “Chief,” whose public throne was the window-side table at Foffe’s on Montague Street, has to be amused and even a little bit amazed at the very suggestion that Meade Esposito would ever ascend a public podium to lecture eager lawyers about “How To Become A Judge.”

Yet, this writer’s historical wanderings aside, on May 21 at 6 p.m. the Hon. Frank Seddio will indeed preside over a distinguished panel as they review the requirements, professional and political, which must be met by anyone who would become a judge.
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May 21 Program Displays A Welcome Transparency

The Hon. Seddio will be assisted by Acting Supreme Court Justice Miriam Cyrulnik, Justice Sylvia G. Ash; Housing Court Judge Gary F. Morton; Assistant District Attorney Rachel Nash and Lara Genovesi, court attorney to Justice Jeffrey Sunshine.

There are those — mainly in the media — who reflexively look with disdain on the judiciary. But we can rest assured that none will appreciate or publicly acknowledge the true significance of having an open and candid Democratic Party Leader share his own knowledge and insights with the goal of educating those who would aspire to the most honored positions in the legal profession.

As one who enjoyed a few dinners in Foffe’s window with “The Chief” in those now-halcyon times, the May 21 session would be a delight to personally take part in. I wish I could be there. But, as I informed the BBA’s astute CLE Director Meredith Symonds, Verena and I will be flying back from Vienna that very day.

Unwittingly or not, Ms. Symonds, who works regularly with BAA Executive Director Avery Okin, has helped set the stage for a precedent-setting evening that is calculated to bring in some of the best and the brightest who aspire to the judiciary.

Word to the wise: don’t refer to Hon. Frank Seddio that night as “Chief.”
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Fallek Center Stage At Brooklyn Bar

Barrister Andy Fallek, noted for his scholarship, wit and presentation skills, may not be a judge (even though he may play one at the Kings County Inn of Court).  But he is the new president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.

This means the new president, along with new treasurer, Dave Chidekel, are ‘known thespians’ as they are often regarded at the Inns of Court where they are inexorably drawn to center stage to render dramatic legal tutorials that have become emerged as one of the most popular CLE programs in Brooklyn.

The new officers’ slate includes another “performer,” Rebecca Woodland, who has now become president elect, her former position as first vice president assumed aptly by Arthur Aidala.

Wending his way up the ranks very democratically is the BBA’s new second vice president, the above-named Hon. Frank Seddio. The very capable Aimee Richter is now Secretary. All are blessed with the continuing guidance of Avery Okin, executive director.

Outgoing president Domenick Napoletano deserves a round of applause for being a part of – and lending his talents to — the growth of the state’s “best county bar association!”

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