By: Fern Sidman
Several hundred people gathered at The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday evening, December 2nd, to honor Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the State of New York and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals at the 2010 Pursuit of Justice Awards dinner, sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.
Founded in 1983 as the national affiliate of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the AAJLJ represents the American Jewish legal community through its courageous work in safeguarding the civil and human rights of Jews and others in the U.S. and abroad. The AAJLJ fulfills its mission through the establishment of multifarious programs which include the sponsorship of regular events featuring speakers and discussions on topical legal issues, the promotion of the study of Jewish law and ethics through law school courses, seminars and publications, assisting the IAJLJ in utilizing its official international status as a United Nations Non-governmental Organization (NGO) to provide diplomatic and legal assistance to Jews around the world, its publication of the AAJLJ newsletter designed to keep members abreast of the Association’s activities and topical legal subjects, and through organizing law oriented missions to Israel.
Moreover, the AAJLJ participates in triennial world Jewish legal congresses in Jerusalem and in annual congresses abroad and conducts special Jewish content continuing legal education and other programs including special events at annual American Bar Association meetings. Stephen Greenwald, the president of the AAJLJ, described his organization as a “stand alone advocacy group dedicated to defending Israel in the court of public opinion and challenging manifestations of intolerance.”
Introducing the 2010 Pursuit of Justice awardee, Mr. Greenwald said of Jonathan Lippman, “he exemplifies and personifies the very best among us and is part of a seasoned and august group of judicial practitioners,”
Born on the lower east side of Manhattan in 1945, Jonathan Lippman was appointed Chief Judge of the State of New York by Governor David A. Patterson in January of 2009 and was confirmed by the New York State Senate in February of 2009. His career in the court system has spanned four decades. Starting as an entry level court attorney in the Supreme Court in Manhattan, Judge Lippman worked his way up the ladder through perseverance and a dedication to the improvement of the court system.
He was first appointed to the bench in 1995 by then Governor George Pataki as a Judge of the New York Court of Claims and from 1996 to 2007, he served as the Chief Administrative Judge of all New York State Courts – the longest tenured person ever to serve in that position. In 2005, he was elected as a Justice of the Supreme Court for the Ninth Judicial District and went on to serve as an Associate Justice of the Appellate Term for the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts.
Chief Judge Lippman is a product of the New York City public school system and received his B.A. in Government and International Relations in 1965 from New York University where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and cum laude. In 1968, he received his J.D. from NYU School of Law; the same year he was admitted to the New York Bar. Among the numerous awards and honors presented to Chief Judge Lippman are the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence from the National Center for State Courts and the Cyrus R. Vance Tribute of the Fund for Modern Courts.
As the 2010 recipient of the AAJLJ Pursuit of Justice Award, Chief Judge Lippman joins the ranks of a distinguished group of jurists who have previously received this auspicious honor including United States Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both Clinton appointees, his predecessor as Chief Judge of the State of New York, the Honorable Judith S. Kaye who was the first woman to hold this position, Aharon Barak, the former president of the Supreme court of Israel, Nat Lewin, the legendary champion of First Amendment rights and civil liberties and Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Introducing Chief Judge Lippman was Harvard Law School graduate and retired Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, Albert M. Rosenblatt. Judge Rosenblatt previously served as the District Attorney for Dutchess County from 1969-1975 and was a Dutchess County judge from 1976-1981. “Chief Judge Lippman is not only a true legal scholar and an astute analyst of the law, but he is someone who lives and breathes the words of the timeless and eternal biblical mandate, ‘Justice, Justice, thou shalt pursue’. This commandment enjoins us to zealously reach the pinnacle of justice and Judge Lippman has been in the forefront of spearheading of efforts to improve access to the courts for the general public and has aggressively sought out justice through his dedication to the reformation of the local court systems,” he said. He added that Judge Lippman is “someone who will not rest until the system is open and readily available to the poor and oppressed. And that means legal matters pertaining to a civil dispute, child support, foreclosures, debt and family oriented issues.”
Also addressing the gathering was Nathan Lewin, an attorney whose name is synonymous with Jewish causes and is the doyen of American Orthodox attorneys. Mr. Lewin has served as President of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington and for more than 30 years he served as the national vice president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA). He is currently the Honorary President of The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and was president of the American Section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists from 1992-1997. Mr. Lewin’s clients include Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach political party in Israel, former President Richard Nixon, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and actress Jodie Foster.
“There is no time in history where the pursuit of justice is more important than today,” intoned Mr. Lewin. “It is the obligation and duty of judges to decide legal matters based on what is right and not render decisions based on public opinion. Judge Lippman exemplifies such jurisprudence and for that and much more, he is most deserving of this award,” said Mr. Lewin.
During his acceptance speech, Chief Judge Lippman spoke of his humble roots as “a young Jewish kid growing up on Manhattan’s lower east side,” recalling that as a youngster he remembered the local Jewish judges such as Sam Spiegel and Jack Markowitz. He went on to say that his first legal job, over 40 years ago, was as a legal assistant to the principal court attorney at 60 Center Street. “It is my firm belief that justice and fairness begins at home and it is incumbent on our court system to make sense of the law for all people, irrespective of background and income. We must take upon ourselves what G-d has laid out for us as our mission and that is to help both rich and poor, both high and low, and to provide access to the justice system for everyone, especially the working poor who cannot afford legal counsel.”
Speaking of the paramount importance of civil legal services, Chief Judge Lippman noted that the Legal Aid system’s efficacy is sorely lacking. “For every case that Legal Aid takes, they turn away eight or nine equally valid cases,” he said. “It is our constitutional responsibility to provide justice for the most vulnerable among us and for that reason I have called for $25 million in legal funding from the state. For every dollar that we spend in legal services, we will also be helping the state,” he said. Citing the economic downturn and its deleterious effects on the poor, Judge Lippman said, “Today, those whose income levels have dropped dramatically are facing real concerns about fundamental necessities such as keeping the roof over their heads and we cannot allow these people to fall off the cliff,” he ruefully observed.
“The courts are the glue that hold our system together and for that I take my role as Chief Judge very seriously,” said Judge Lippman. “We must dedicate our lives to the lofty concept of ‘tikkun olam’ of healing the world and we do that by making our obligation to perform good deeds and enact mitzvos as our number one priority. Working together to pursue true justice must be our common objective as we actualize the Biblical mandate of “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof” which translates into “Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue.”
The magnificently crafted glass plaque with this biblical verse along with Judge Lippman’s name was designed specifically for this event and was made in Israel.