Five attorneys who help make the words of the Constitution’s preamble come alive, as Chief Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. put it, were honored Wednesday at the 25th annual Western District of New York Federal Court dinner.
Judge Geraci recognized the judges, lawyers, civil and criminal practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law clerks and bar leaders who work toward the common goal to assure the legal profession holds true to the principles of the preamble. But the night was to recognize five as among the best in the profession: David Rothenberg, Paul Leclair, Jeremy Sher, Stephanie Joy Calhoun and Jodyann Galvin.
Judge Geraci said the words to the preamble are so critical they should be committed to memory, but not in the way Deputy Barney Fife tried, as seen in a clip played from “The Andy Griffith Show” in which Don Knotts, playing Fife, tells Griffith, as Sheriff Andy Taylor, how he had to memorize the preamble.
Taylor waits to hear, but there is nothing.
“Just give me the first word and I’ll know the rest,” Fife says.
“We,” replies Taylor.
“We … We? Are you sure?”
“I’m looking right at it,” the sheriff says.
“Weeeee …” Fife stretches the word as he tries to recall the next one which Taylor supplies.
“We the,” Fife says, pronouncing the words as if they rhyme.
The hysterical exchange continues through the end when Taylor asks, “You want to run through that again or you think you got it?”
“I got it,” Fife says. “You learn something, you learn it.”
Judge Geraci then told a story about recently “filming” a pro se case before Judge William M. Skretny and showed a courtroom clip of Woody Allen as Fielding Mellish in the comedy flick “Bananas.”
“I don’t know how Judge Skretny kept a straight face through that trial,” Judge Geraci quipped, then recognized Judge Skretny and Judge Richard J. Arcara, who both assumed senior status earlier this year, for continuing to provide “outstanding, invaluable service” to the court.
He gave an individual shout out to many judges and attorneys in the audience with special recognition for the law clerks whom he said make judges look good.
He then turned to Judge Skretny and reminded him of something he said at the 2014 dinner in Rochester about Buffalo attorney Lawrence Vilardo, who was recommended the previous August by Sen. Charles Schumer to fill one of what at that time were two upcoming vacancies on the court in Buffalo.
“Judge Skretny stated — and I quote — ‘at the risk of jinxing him, I would like you to recognize Larry Vilardo who we hope will soon join us on the federal bench,’” Judge Geraci said. “Nice going Bill.”
Vilardo was nominated by President Barack Obama in February, had a hearing in June before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reported the nomination to the full Senate, which has yet to take a vote.
“We’re very hopeful, obviously, that he’ll join our court soon,” Judge Geraci said of Vilardo. “He’ll be a tremendous addition.
“In addition to that, I’m going to exercise my First Amendment right and say to the United States Congress, ‘Enough already. Just do it. Get this vote over with.’ It really is an atrocity that the city of Buffalo, one of the largest cities in our country, currently sits with no active United States District Court judges. That really needs to change and, as I said, thank God for our senior judges and our magistrate judges that help carry the day.”
The annual dinner, Judge Geraci said, was established 25 years ago by District Judge Michael Telesca to recognize those in the legal profession who do outstanding work and give members an opportunity to socialize which, this year, was done at the Lexus Club in the First Niagara Center, overlooking the Buffalo River in an area where a lot of waterfront development is occurring, just beyond the shores of Lake Erie.
The first honor, the 2015 Criminal Justice Act Award, was presented by Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman to Rochester attorney David Rothenberg, a founder of the Geiger and Rothenberg LLP law firm who has served as chair of the Criminal Justice Act Committee since its founding 20 years ago.
Other awards presented included:
- 2015 Pro Bono Award to Rochester attorneys Paul Leclair and Jeremy Sher, of the firm Leclair Korona Giordano Cole LLP, for their vigorous representation of a state inmate in a federal court civil rights case. The award was presented by Judge Geraci.
- 2015 Pro Bono Award to Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Joy Calhoun, in an unusual move, given to a prosecutor who showed “empathy, respect and understanding” to an “often brash and accusatory,” defendant in a civil rights matter, “assuring equal justice for all, rarely seen in an adversary,” said Judge Skretny who presented the award.
- 2015 Special Service Award presented by Judge Skretny to Jodyann Galvin, a partner in the Buffalo office of Hodgson Russ LLP, who is founder and president of the Western New York Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, for her work to promote justice and the quality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.
In coming to the podium to present awards, Judge Skretny said he first wanted to address two questions he had been asked earlier in the evening: What is the new chief judge like and why were all the federal judges late to the event? Both, he said, had one answer.
“We were at a judges’ meeting and he made us stay there until we finished watching ‘Abbott and Costello’ and ‘The Jeffersons,’” Judge Skretny joked, referring to Judge Geraci who succeeded him as chief judge in March.
In closing, Judge Geraci referred to an earlier video clip shown of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, talking about the importance of the preamble, noting the Constitution was established an ordained, by “We the people, not the forefathers,” or any politician.
“That preamble is the most concise statement of public purpose and public policy that you could ever hope to read,” says Humphrey who died in 1978.
“As Hubert Humphrey said, ‘Justice does not just happen, you have to work at it,’” Judge Geraci said.
The event was sponsored by The Daily Record, Counsel Press and Paramount Settlement Planning LLC in conjunction with the Bar Association of Erie County and the Monroe County Bar Association.
“We welcome all our friends from Rochester, all those from Buffalo,” said BAEC President Kevin Spitler. “We’re very happy with this venue because it gives you an opportunity to see all the great things that are happening along the water here in Buffalo. We’re very excited about it. A lot of our attorneys have been involved in a lot of the development here, representing and advising.”
MCBA President Neil J. Rowe thanked the hosts and remarked how the collaboration is a great example of how the two bar associations have worked together over the years.