Inside NACDL: Let the Journey Begin

Let the Journey Begin

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

I am honored to have been selected as NACDL’s executive director. This is a unique opportunity to support the work of the preeminent national organization dedicated to the pursuit of justice and due process for all. NACDL’s members and affiliates, all of whom share this dedication, deserve to know the background and priorities of the person who will be entrusted with this important responsibility.

I come to this position after 28 years as a criminal defense lawyer, practicing in both state and federal courts and on both the trial and appellate levels. My career as a defense lawyer literally began in my third year of law school at NYU, where I practiced under supervision in one of the profession’s first criminal defense clinics. I was fortunate to transition immediately from law school into private practice as a defense attorney. I have a career-long, passionate commitment to criminal defense practice. The defense lawyer, in my view, is the most vital component of our system of justice and the most essential guarantor of liberty — not just for the accused but for everyone in our society.

Owing to my experience as a practitioner, I bring a keen awareness of the myriad legal and practical issues that are a daily concern for America’s defense bar. I know firsthand the obstacles and frustrations that criminal defense lawyers must confront in our state and federal courtrooms and in the management of our law offices. I also recognize the many challenges emanating from overly aggressive prosecutors and regulators, and other external entities, including court administrators and short-sighted legislators. I stand ready to do everything in my power to enable NACDL to remain sensitive to these multi-faceted challenges and to support an ambitious reform agenda.

In addition to my criminal defense practice, I recently had the opportunity to serve as president of a prominent local bar association, the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA). From my years in NYCLA’s leadership ranks, I learned that when we harness the talents and resources of the organized bar, there is limitless potential to foster reform and promote justice. For example, NYCLA, a mainstream bar association comprised overwhelmingly of civil practitioners, embraced the cause of indigent defense reform. Confronting a crisis in New York’s indigent defense system that stemmed directly from the failure of the state to raise assigned counsel rates for more than a generation, NYCLA sued the state and achieved a landmark victory for the indigent accused. NACDL recognized my role in this project by honoring me with its Champion of Indigent Defense Award in 2003.

What I learned about the potential for a great bar association to promote reform is well known to NACDL’s magnificent volunteer leaders and outstanding professional staff. Whether it is in the struggle for indigent defense reform, in the effort to rein in government overreaching in the white collar crime area, or in confronting the unprecedented threat to fundamental liberties from the government’s anti-terrorism initiatives, NACDL has been a stalwart defender of justice. Challenging though they may be, these difficult times present a singular opportunity to galvanize public appreciation for the causes championed by NACDL.

For me, assuming the executive director position is an opportunity to transition from the representation of individual clients to the representation of courageous defense lawyers everywhere who struggle to preserve justice and due process. I salute the work of my predecessor, Ralph Grunewald, for his outstanding stewardship, and I am eager to do my part to implement the initiatives of our terrific president, Martin Pinales, and the other dedicated officers who will follow in his footsteps.

Especially at this time in history, NACDL plays a vital role in safeguarding the values enshrined in our Bill of Rights. There is no higher calling than to champion liberty and to pursue a rational and humane criminal justice policy for America. For nearly half a century, NACDL has zealously pursued this mission. I am an enthusiastic conscript in this cause. Above all, I relish the opportunity to do what I can to support each and every one of you in your daily determination to remain “Liberty’s Last Champion.”

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible, hopefully at our upcoming meeting in San Diego. In the meantime, and for as long as I am privileged to serve as executive director, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions about the organization’s activities or how you can play a more active role.

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