Awards Season at the City Bar – by John S. Kiernan

John S. Kiernan

President’s Column, July 2016

Late Spring at the New York City Bar Association is awards season.  In the course of a few weeks, the City Bar annually honors stars of the Family Court system with its Kathryn A. McDonald Award, providers of critical services to the indigent with the Legal Services Awards, federal prosecutors with the Henry L. Stimson Medal, Assistant Corporation Counsel with the Municipal Affairs Awards, lawyers who have advanced the cause of diversity and inclusion with the Diversity Champions Awards, and lawyers who have advanced LGBT rights with the Arthur S. Leonard award. 

The effect of these awards, individually and collectively, is dazzling.  The honorees are extraordinary personally, and the aggregate message they convey about the state of our profession is especially impressive.  Each year, the City Bar and its committees receive many nominations for these awards.  Honors committees study these nominations and try to select a mix of particularly deserving honorees.  Each nomination form provides a narrative of exemplary service, dedication and achievement.  While nominees have particularly outstanding records of dedication and achievement, they broadly tend to consider themselves illustrative of the organizations where they work, which in most cases employ only lawyers who have chosen a career path marked by the most remarkably unselfish purposes of advancing the interests of the poor and under-protected or otherwise advancing the public good. 

The audiences at these events – filled with prior honorees, co-workers, families, leaders in the practice area and boosters for the particular form of self-sacrifice being showcased – provide their own reason to celebrate.  Night after night, the City Bar fills its rooms with different cadres of the most praise-worthy members of our profession. 

This year’s winners of the Kathryn A. McDonald Award for Family Court all-stars were Jo Ann Douglas, a longtime advocate for and protector of children’s rights, teacher and counselor as a law guardian and Attorney for Children; and Michael McLoughlin, First Deputy Clerk who for over 30 years has played a major role in making the Family Court more technologically and logistically effective, and in humanizing the process for litigants facing the otherwise potentially overwhelming experience of court hearings over life-shaping family matters. 

The Legal Services Awards went to Donna Chiu of Asian Americans for Equality, for her protection of poor Chinese clients; Adam Halper of the Legal Wellness Institute at the Family Center, for his service to low-income New Yorkers affected by serious illness or other life-altering challenges; Lucy Newman of the Legal Aid Society, for her career-long service to public housing residents; Runa Rajagopal of the Civil Action Practice at Bronx Defenders, for her representation of families facing terrible collateral consequences (including removal of children) as a result of arrests or convictions; and Brian  Sullivan of MFY Legal Services, for his service of tenants in single room occupancy (SRO) units. 

The Association awarded the Stimson Medal to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Morris, for his work in pursuing asset forfeitures with the E.D.N.Y.’s Civil Division; John J. Durham, for his work in dismantling the most locally and internationally dangerous and harmful gang on Long Island and prosecution of corrupt officials with the E.D.N.Y.’s Criminal Division; Lara K. Eshkenazi, for her protection of sensitive information, recovery of funds from wrongdoers and pursuit of civil rights violations with the S.D.N.Y.’s Civil Division; and Margaret M. Garnett, for her prosecution of fraudulent schemes and violent crimes and her appellate work with the S.D.N.Y.’s Criminal Division. 

Municipal Affairs Awards this year went to Nicole Aldridge-Henry (torts defense, particularly Bronx trials), Megan Churnetski (economic development, particularly Hudson Yards, and initiatives to encourage post-secondary education), Devon Goodrich (environmental law, particularly protection of NYC drinking water and clean-up of the Gowanus Canal); Emily Krueger (Family Courts work, particularly regarding juvenile delinquency); Daniel Lim (e-discovery and other technical work); Suzanna Mettham (federal litigation, particularly regarding police stop and frisk practices and alleged improper setting of quotas for issuing summonses); and Susan Turk (particularly regarding pension withdrawal liability and insurance obligations). 

This year’s Diversity Champions were Conway S. Ekpo and Joseph A. Tillman, co-founders of 1844 (a convening and mentoring organization for Black male lawyers practicing in large NYC law firms or legal departments), Dennis C. Hopkins, a Perkins Coie LLP partner with a distinguished record of leadership in mentoring and fostering opportunities for lawyers of color, and Hon. Rosalyn Richter, Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, a longtime leader of efforts to protect and advance the rights of the LGBT community and the disabled. 

Recipients of the Arthur S. Leonard Award at this year’s Pride celebration were Michael Silverman, particularly for his leading work in advancing the interests of transgender clients, and Allen Drexel, particularly for his work in advancing marriage equality and related rights. 

The range of contributions by these honorees is enormous.  Their common denominator is their career-long selfless devotion of time, energy, wisdom and passion to protecting and improving the lives of people who otherwise would likely go unprotected.  It is a source of pride for the City Bar to be able to gather their colleagues, supporters and fans to celebrate their individual accomplishments, the vision of dedicated professional service they represent and, by extension, the profession to which they (and we) happily belong. 

John S. Kiernan is President of the New York City Bar Association