South Asian Bar Association hosts former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for book talk
As the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara is one of the most important South Asian members of the legal community, which is why members of the South Asian Bar Association of New York knew that when he wrote a book they had to have an event for him to discuss it.
“Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law” was released in March, and it took a few months to organize, but SABANY hosted Bharara for a discussion about the book and his thoughts on the law with Anjan Sahni at WilmerHale in Manhattan on Tuesday Aug. 6.
“Obviously Preet is, within our community, one of the highest-stature individuals,” said SABANY President Ryan Budhu. “He is an original trailblazer and been most prominent in giving back to SABANY and the New York legal community in general. When he decided to put out a book, it was clear that we wanted to have an event to talk about the book, to talk about his tenure at the Southern District.
“We wanted to combine that with Anjan Sahni, who is also South Asian and one of our brightest legal stars and partner-in-charge at WilmerHale here,” Budhu continued. “It was something that fit perfectly together.”
The event featured a reception, followed by a one-hour discussion about various topics in the book and afterward SABANY members got an opportunity to meet and chat with Bharara.
“Preet has been a consistent and longtime supporter of SABANY,” Budhu said. “We’ve frequently honored him, and he is often a guest at our events. To get the selfie with Preet is almost a rite of passage.”
Bharara was U.S. attorney for the Southern District from 2009 until March 2017. In a discussion with Sahni, who worked alongside him for seven years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, they talked about some of the biggest cases of his career.
“He headed the crown jewel of the Department of Justice, the Southern District of New York,” said vice president Austin D’Souza. “As U.S. attorney from 2009 to 2017, he prosecuted the most high-profile cases in federal court including the Times Square bomber, the New York organized crime bosses, the four largest banks in the U.S., and who could forget the Bernie Madoff investigation?”
The back-and-forth between Bharara and Sahni was smooth as might be expected between two prosecutors who worked beside each other for so long. While the topics could get serious at times, the conversation was very light-hearted in tone overall.
“I remember the first time I came to a SABANY event with Preet,” Sahni recalled. “It was in 2012, and he was just listed as No. 17 in Vanity Fair’s ‘New Establishment’ list behind Lady Gaga at No. 16, but ahead of the Olsen twins who were collectively No. 25. Crowds of people would flock to him with random requests such as ‘My uncle needs a visa can you help?’ Or ‘I have a 16-year-old brother in high school, can he be an AUSA for you?’ Or ‘Preet, the 4 Train kinda sucks.’”
Bharara joked that his parents expected him to become a doctor or to marry a doctor, or at least help his brother become a doctor, and that they all let his parents down by becoming lawyers instead. He said that he was just bad at chemistry before revealing his true reason for becoming a prosecutor.
“At some point in high school, having read `Inherit the Wind,’ something about that moved me and made me think that there is a way to have a career that is exciting, interesting, but also meaningful in a particular way,” Bharara said.
“I realized [at Columbia Law School] in just doing the exercise of trying a case and the various components of a trial, including opening statements, closing arguments, cross examinations, that as a matter of craft there is nothing more exhilarating, exciting and cool than doing a criminal trial,” Bharara said.
He later added, “And unlike defense lawyers, you never have to make an argument that you don’t believe is right and you don’t believe is true. You are not zealously representing an individual, but instead thinking about how you can serve the public and make the community a little bit better.”
SABANY has two big events planned for September and October. The first is its Public Interest Reception that will take place at Milbank in Manhattan on Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m. with keynote speaker Asha Rangappa, from Yale University.
It will also host its 12th annual Leadership Awards gala on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Guastavino’s, where U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) will be the keynote speaker
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