Honorees talk about giving back to the community at annual Brooklyn Bar Association dinner
The Brooklyn legal community’s version of the Oscars took place on Monday as the Brooklyn Bar Association packed nearly 1,000 people into the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge for its annual Foundation Awards dinner.
There were a total of 10 people honored at the black-tie event, including Alphonso David, counsel to the governor; Hon. Frank Seddio, chairman of the Kings County Democratic Party; and Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres, a judge in the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court.
Five others were given the Vivian H. Agress Trailblazer Award, including past president Aimee Richter, Hon. Joanne D. Quinones, Hon. Marsha Steinhardt, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Hon. Larry L. Martin, Chief Clerk Charles Small and Hon. William Miller.
“The BBA is a family, and, like a family, it nurtures, supports, encourages and mentors its siblings, its children, its members,” said David Chidekel, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Though there was no official theme for the event, the honorees all spoke about the unique chance lawyers have to give back to the public, help communities under attack and protect the rule of law and the constitution.
David, who was introduced and presented with his award by Hon. Alan D. Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, set the tone early by describing changes he’s seen in the country over the last two years. He challenged the lawyers in the room to step up to help restore order.
“We have seen this movie before. I have seen this movie before. I lived in a democracy that shifted to a dictatorship in the span of 24 hours,” David said. “We should do everything in our power to make sure that the core values and principals that we care about — the values that are enshrined in our constitution and our court decisions — actually mean something.”
Seddio, a former judge in the Surrogate’s Court, spoke about his decision to go to law school at the age of 40 and explained that it allowed him to join Brooklyn’s unique legal community.
“There is such a congenial atmosphere when you practice law in Brooklyn,” Seddio said. “In the courtroom we might do battle, but when you walk out you say, ‘Where are you going for lunch?’ We are people who have a job to do. We advocate for our clients, but we do so in a way where we ensure that we never cross that line that takes us from professionalism to personal.”
Justice Lopez Torres explained that she opens her courtroom every day by reading the court calendar in 18 different languages, including sign language. She explained that she does this as a way to provide courteous and competent service to everyone who walks into the Surrogate’s Court, then challenged others to make sure they are providing a positive impact.
“The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are the core principles of our judicial system,” Justice Lopez Torres said. “You are the warriors who on a daily basis ensure that the rights of your kind are safeguarded. You are members of a profession that has responded to the clarion call to ensure that vulnerable persons are protected by our judicial system. Some of you have done this by volunteering to represent children who have been snatched from the arms of their parents.
“Justice cannot take root amid rage,” Lopez Torres continued. “We can only obtain freedom when we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same.”
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