Thanks to the legal community
The BBA celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2022 and kicked off the year with a flag raising ceremony. Eagle photo by Robert Abruzzese
The Brooklyn Bar Association has made incredible progress over the past two years since its darkest days at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was capped off two weeks ago at the association’s biggest in-person event since December 2019 – the 150th anniversary dinner.
There were nearly 350 people in attendance Thursday, June 2 at El Caribe at Mill Basin to celebrate the association’s milestone. Many were also there to recognize the winners – Avery Eli Okin, the longtime executive director who has now retired after 36 years; former President Steven Cohn; and all living past presidents of the association.
Since the Brooklyn Bar Association Foundation had been unable to hold its usual annual dinner for the past two years, this event was imperative to keeping the association alive and thriving.
Attendance at the event was a sign the legal community still relies on and rallies around the Brooklyn Bar Association. There were over 50 judges present, including the Hon. Hector LaSalle, presiding judge of the Appeals Division, second judicial department; at least half of the other judges of the Second Department Appellate Division; and the Hon. Retired Appellate Division judge Sylvia Hinds-Radix, who is now an attorney for NYC Corporation.
More than 15 former presidents were present. Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, who was the youngest president when she served, spoke on behalf of the group and helped distribute 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 just how far the bar association has come. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was the last person to host an event at 123 Remsen St. before the pandemic hit. When I took on the role of Director of Member Services full-time in January 2021, there was very little going on at the BBA.
Christina Golkin, President Anthony Lamberti and the rest of the officers helped organize a virtual yoga event in February in an attempt to rally the association. This was followed by a committee meeting led by Golkin and Anthony Vaughn to try to reinvigorate the committee chairs.
These changes materialized when the Family Law Section, the Elder Law Committee, the Trusts and Estates Section and the Surrogate Court Committee all held free and open meetings. Immediately, attendance skyrocketed, as members who don’t normally attend committees were suddenly very interested in hearing the daily updates from the courts during a confusing time.
That was enough to add momentum to a bar association that previously held no in-person meetings and virtually no virtual meetings for months. Suddenly, Continuing Legal Education started coming back, and a lunchtime chat with Bankruptcy Judge Hon. Elizabeth Stong took place in March. While it was still slow, there were regular events again.
This spring has been important 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 hosted with the NYS Bar Association where outgoing President Anthony Lamberti and incoming President Armena Gayle welcomed NYSBA President Andrew Brown and the Hon. Hector LaSalle, who had just been appointed presiding judge of the Appeal Division, second department at the time.
There were 35 people at the event, held on the third floor of the Brooklyn Bar Association in May. Mostly BBA officers and administrative and supervisory judges. This set the stage for the in-person wine tasting event that was to come.
About 100 people showed up for the wine tasting, which took place 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. For those who were there, it meant a lot.
After a quiet summer, the BBA was ready to kick off in September 2021 and began hosting weekly continuing legal education seminars. It also continued its regular committee meetings open to members. Virtual meet-and-greets with judges have also become a regular monthly event with judges including the Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Hon. Reginald Boddie, the Hon. Rosemarie Montalbano, Hon. Cheryl Gonzales and a few others sat down and answered questions from BBA members.
While all of this was going on, the BBA finally regained its annual Judge Ted Jones Memorial Golf Outing after a two-year hiatus. To make up for lost time, one took place in October and another last May. Having two in just seven months hasn’t hurt attendance, as there were more golfers coming out of May 2022 than any other since Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor attended when Arthur Aidala was president.
COVID, of course, slowed things down a bit in the winter of 2021/2022, and prevented the association from resuming its annual dinner in December. Instead, he managed a small party – the BBA’s first Christmas party in over 50 years.
This holiday party was the first in-person event at 123 Remsen St. that was open to all members in nearly two years, and over 100 people attended the catered event featuring the Hon. Lawrence Knipel on stage playing 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 now offer a hybrid option, and in-person meetings are taking place regularly.
During this time, the BBA is able to maintain its Part 137 Fee Dispute program, hold regular committee meetings, CLEs, virtual meetups, run a mentorship program, and maintain its attorney referral service.
The BBA continues to be a pillar of the legal community and a pillar that almost no lawyer could live without. That’s why I’m very proud of my service time as Director of Membership Services. As of this month, I resigned from my position to seek a position where I, a second-year law student at the Touro Law Center, can better learn how to be a lawyer.
The Brooklyn Bar Association is in good hands with new 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 for 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 by email at [email protected]