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Moving on from the Brooklyn Bar Association: Thanks to the Legal Community

June 21, 2022 Robert Abruzzese, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Brooklyn Bar Association has made incredible strides over the last two years since its darkest days during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was capped off two weeks ago during the association’s largest in-person event since December 2019 — the 150th Anniversary Dinner.

There were nearly 350 people in attendance on Thursday, June 2 at El Caribe in Mill Basin to celebrate the association’s milestone. Many were also there to acknowledge the honorees — Avery Eli Okin, the long-time executive director who has now retired after 36 years; past president Steven Cohn; and all of the association’s living past presidents.

Since the Brooklyn Bar Association Foundation had not been able to host its usual annual dinner over the past two years, this event was imperative to keep the association alive and thriving.

Past President Gregory Cerchione (right) presents Avery Eli Okin with a Distinguished Service Award after he served the BBA as executive director for 36 years at the association’s 150th Anniversary dinner on June 2, 2022.
Eagle photo by Mario Belluomo

The turnout at the event was a sign that the legal community still relies upon, and rallies around the Brooklyn Bar Association. There were over 50 judges in attendance, including Hon. Hector LaSalle, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department; at least half of the other Appellate Division, Second Department judges; and Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix, a retired Appellate Division judge who now serves as NYC Corporation Counsel.

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Over 15 past presidents were in attendance. Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, who was the youngest-ever president when she served, spoke on behalf of the group and helped to hand out medallions to each past president marking the occasion.

Gregory Cerchione presented Avery Eli Okin with the Distinguished Service Award, and Richard Klass presented Steven Cohn with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

It was a dramatic evening that showed how far the bar association had come. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was the last person who had organized an event at 123 Remsen St. prior to the pandemic. When I took over the position of director of member services full-time in January 2021, there was very little going on at the BBA at all.

Christina Golkin, President Anthony Lamberti and the rest of the officers helped to organize a virtual yoga event in February in an attempt to rally the association. That was followed up by a committee meeting led by Golkin and Anthony Vaughn to try to re-energize the committee chairs.

Those moves worked out as the Family Law Section, the Elder Law Committee, and the Trusts & Estates Section and the Surrogate’s Court Committee all held meetings that were free and open to everyone. Immediately, attendance shot up as members who normally didn’t participate in committees were suddenly very interested to hear day-to-day updates of the courts during a confusing period.

That was enough to get momentum going for a bar association that was previously hosting no in-person meetings, and hardly any virtual meetings for months. Suddenly continuing legal education started to come back, and a Lunch and Learn event with Bankruptcy Judge Hon. Elizabeth Stong was held in March. While it was still slow, there were regular events again.

Hon. Frank Seddio and President Armena Gayle were two of the key leaders in 2021-2022 as the Brooklyn Bar Association returned from a slow period during the pandemic. Here they are pictured at the BBA’s first holiday party in 15 years on Dec. 16, 2021.
Eagle photo by Robert Abruzzese

That spring was big for the BBA. Armena Gayle, the second Black president in the association’s history, was installed, and two in-person events were held.

The first in-person event was a small event that was held with the NYS Bar Association where outgoing President Anthony Lamberti and incoming President Armena Gayle welcomed Andrew Brown, president of the NYSBA, and Hon. Hector LaSalle, who had just been freshly named presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department at the time.

There were 35 people at that event, which was held on the third floor at the Brooklyn Bar Association in May. Mostly just BBA officers and administrative and supervising judges. It set the stage for the in-person wine tasting event that was to come.

Approximately 100 people showed up to the wine tasting, which was held at Giando on the Water in Williamsburg and was the first official in-person event in 15 months at the time. There was no dinner, no awards, just friends and colleagues who hadn’t seen each other in over a year getting together again. For those who were there it meant a lot.

The Brooklyn Bar Association sponsored a spectacular in-person outdoor wine-tasting event at Giando on the Water on June 8, 2021. It was the Association’s first in-person event since COVID-19.
Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo

After a quiet summer, the BBA was ready to roll in September 2021 and began to host weekly continuing legal education seminars. It also continued its regular committee meetings that were open to the membership. Virtual Sitdowns with judges also became a regular, monthly event with judges including Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Hon. Reginald Boddie, Hon. Rosemarie Montalbano, Hon. Cheryl Gonzales, and a few others sitting down and taking questions from BBA members.

While all of this was happening, the BBA finally got its annual Justice Ted Jones Memorial Golf Outing back running following a two-year hiatus. To make up for lost time, one was held in October and another this past May. Having two in just seven months didn’t hinder attendance, as there were more golfers at the May 2022 outing than any other since Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor participated when Arthur Aidala was president.

COVID, of course, slowed things down a little bit in the winter of 2021/2022, and kept the association from returning to hosting its annual dinner in December. Instead, it managed a smaller party — the BBA’s first holiday party in more than 50 years.

That holiday party was the first in-person event at 123 Remsen St. that was open to the membership at large in almost two years, and more than 100 people attended the catered event that featured Hon. Lawrence Knipel on the stage playing the guitar with fellow members Bruno Codispoti and Kwok Kei Ng.

Things have been steady for the BBA since that holiday party. It has continued to hold regular virtual events, but many offer a hybrid option now, and there are in-person meetings happening regularly.

While that is going on, the BBA is able to maintain its Part 137 Fee Dispute program, host regular committee meetings, CLEs, virtual sitdowns, run a mentorship program, and maintain its Lawyer Referral Service.

The BBA continues to be a pillar of the legal community and one that hardly any attorneys could do without. Which is why I’m very proud of my time service as director of member services. As of this month, I have resigned from my position to seek a position where I, a second-year law school student at Touro Law Center, can better learn to become an attorney.

The Brooklyn Bar Association is in good hands with newly installed President Richard Klass. It will continue to thrive for another 150 years and beyond. Thank you for showing me the best side of the legal profession.

Robert Abruzzese is the former Legal Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and former Director of Member Services at the Brooklyn Bar Association. Now as a legal columnist for the Eagle, Abruzzese writes about the BBA and the local legal community. You can reach him via email at [email protected].

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