60d Making a Real Difference in Criminal Law 1000
Cathy Potler Marc L. Mukasey
Making a Real Difference in Criminal Law
Jeff Storey '01
Jorge Santos Daniel M. Felber

Rookies at big law firms may be pulling down six-figure salaries in posh surroundings, but many graduates of Cardozo opt instead for the grittier, less remunerative career of the criminal lawyer. They are holding demanding jobs where they are convinced they can "make a real difference."

Hundreds of graduates work as prosecutors and defense attorneys in a system committed both to individual rights and to the safety of society. Ethical prosecutors strive to "do justice." Think Law and Order. Zealous defense attorneys work to protect their clients against the overwhelming power of the state. Think The Practice.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys sometimes disparage each other, but they have a lot in common, not least a bedrock idealism. They also frequently share a zest for courtroom competition, the thrill of going toe to toe with an adversary. And they take intense satisfaction from a calling that permits them to share the drama of people's lives.

The "right result" in this system is supposed to emerge from lawyerly battles of wits and facts, but the performance of the attorneys does not always approximate this high ideal. Cardozo is committed to the encouragement of high-quality criminal advocacy. With its extensive clinical program, the School seeks to inculcate both the dedication and the practical skills that students will need to survive in the high-stakes, high-pressure world of criminal law. For example, students in the Criminal Law Clinic represent clients in Manhattan Criminal Court. Those in the appeals clinic write briefs for incarcerated inmates. Others sign up for internships at local and federal prosecutors' offices. An intense trial advocacy program gives students an opportunity to learn from real attorneys. Trial team competitions allow students to experiment with their techniques.

Following are examples of how some alumni are using their skills and how they regard their vocation.

Marc L. Mukasey Marc L. Mukasey '93 guesses that only one percent of law school graduates ever get to try a case in court. But the self-proclaimed "adrenalin junkie" has tried seven cases, six resulting in guilty verdicts, during his three and a half years as an assistant US attorney in the Southern District in New York. In Cardozo's Criminal Law Clinic, the future prosecutor frequently disagreed with professors with a criminal defense bent, but "Barry [Scheck] and Ellen [Yaroshefsky] introduced me to how much fun it was standing in a courtroom arguing for your side." They also "taught me a lot" about how to make those arguments - sharing skills from the advocates' tool kit such as how to tell a story effectively, use body language, and cross-examine witnesses.

"Cardozo turns out lawyers ready to go into the courtoom," Mukasey says. While growing up, Mukasey, 33, also had a mentor close to home. His father, Hon. Michael B. Mukasey, served in the US Attorney's Office with Rudolph Giuliani, for whom Marc campaigned in 1989. Michael Mukasey became a US district judge in 1988 and was named the chief judge of the Southern District this year. His son turns aside questions about following in his father's footsteps. "I'm not smart enough," he 1000 jokes.

Before joining the US Attorney's Office, Marc Mukasey was a staff attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission and served as a law clerk for I. Leo Glasser, a district judge in New York's Eastern District. As an assistant US attorney, he started in the General Crimes Unit before moving to Narcotics, where, among other cases, he prosecuted a ring that was allegedly dispatching sleek black limousines to deliver cocaine to professional offices and exclusive apartments.

Mukasey, who now prosecutes violent gangs, says he has "the best job in the country." Surrounded by dedicated and intelligent lawyers and agents, he loves the work so much that he says he would do it for free.

"Where else can you argue for the right cause every single time?" Mukasey says. But he insists that his job is to "do justice" rather than to pile up convictions. Justice Sutherland, in a 1935 US Supreme Court decision, said that a US attorney "may strike hard blows" but not "foul ones." Mukasey says that "it is a beautiful thing to live by that credo." He gets great satisfaction from getting "bad guys" off the streets, but he says he also is happy when he can exonerate a suspect.

The courtroom is a competitive arena, and Mukasey enjoys the competition. However, he adds, "I wouldn't get into the arena unless I was confident the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and I had the evidence to prove it."

Attorneys like Gary G. Becker '83 are often asked how they can defend guilty people. To Becker, the question isn't relevant. To him, the job of the defense attorney is to ensure that the defendant is treated fairly in an arena where the odds are stacked against him or her. "I stand up for principles," he says. Becker, 46, learned how to structure a legal argument in Cardozo's Criminal Law Clinic. He also discovered that "I identified more with the individual than with the state." Today, he works with Gerald Lefcourt, a prominent Manhattan defense attorney. A self-described "true believer," he says he could never be a prosecutor.

Renato C. Stabile and Gary G. Becker
Renato C. Stabile and Gary G. Becker

"I'm not someone who gets up in the morning and assigns blame," he says. "Prosecutors get to assign blame." Prosecutors may get satisfaction from getting "bad guys" off the street, but Becker says that their definition of "bad guys" includes "everybody from people who blow up the World Trade Center to those who smoke marijuana in the privacy of their own homes."

Becker believes that the line between "criminals and people like you and me is extremely blurry," a position he illustrates by recounting an overheard conversation in which a presumably law-abiding woman told a companion that she had registered her car in Texas, where the rates are lower than in New York. That's a crime, Becker says.

Butting heads with prosecutors who refuse to give an inch can be frustrating, but Becker enjoys the courtroom battle. He has deployed his advocate's skills for a wide variety of clients, including a "human fly" who climbed the World Trade Center, a small-time bookmaker arrested under a big-time money-laundering statute that could have brought him a 20-year prison sentence, and a woman whose settlement from a former husband the government sought to seize because the money allegedly had been earned through a crime. The question in such cases frequently is not one of out-and-out guilt or innocence but whether the draconian penalties sought by prosecutors represent "an appropriate use of the system."

In one particularly "righteous cause," Becker represented a former lawyer who had served a six-year prison sentence for dealing drugs. Becker persuaded a state court to restore the man's right to practice law by telling a "story of redemption."

"It was one of those cases where I felt like I made a difference," he says. Becke 1000 r says that the financial rewards of his calling are not great. A first-year associate on Wall Street frequently earns as much as a veteran defense attorney. But Renato C. Stabile '97 was glad to get a job at the Lefcourt offices. The office gets great cases, and "you really get to work with people in a personal way," says Stabile, 29.

Stabile was a biology major in college and expected to study environmental law when he entered Cardozo. But he soon became fascinated with criminal law. He had several internships in the field and became a member of the school's trial team. "You learned how to try a case," he says. "You felt free to experiment because nobody's liberty was at stake."

Laurie MacLeod lives on a farm in northwestern Massachusetts, two hours from Boston. But this beautiful rural area has its share of criminal violence. "You'd never imagine what goes on at night," says Ms. MacLeod '84, who runs a five-attorney state prosecutor's office in Franklin County.

Barry Scheck and Laurie MacLeod
Barry Scheck and Laurie MacLeod

MacLeod, 45, grew up in Delaware and went to college in Massachusetts. After graduation and before enrolling in law school, she ran a restaurant and music hall in Northampton. She met her husband, Mark H. Bluver, at one of his performances as a professional clown, his business at the time. Bluver also went to law school at Cardozo, graduating a year after his wife. He works at a law firm in Springfield. "I don't know whether it's a step up or a step down" from his previous career, his wife jokes.

MacLeod participated in Cardozo's Criminal Law Clinic but handled civil cases for several years after she graduated. A clerkship with a New York State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn reawakened her interest in criminal law. When she and her husband returned to Massachusetts, she signed up with a prosecutor's office. She has worked there for eight years, spending much of her time handling cases of domestic violence.

The job does not pay big-city wages - the current starting salary for a Franklin County prosecutor is $35,000 - but MacLeod loves the work. She likes being involved in "the drama of people's lives" and enjoys the feeling of "doing good." She treats every case very seriously and won't go forward unless there is sufficient guilt to support a conviction. "That's an honorable position to be in," she says. However, she is occasionally frustrated by skeptical judges and juries. Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is "a very, very high hurdle."

Many prosecutors eventually become defense attorneys, but MacLeod says she would have a hard time defending people like the ones she has prosecuted. She recalls one case in which a husband viciously beat his wife while their young children (8, 5, and 2) looked on. He hit her with a beer bottle and banged her head on the dashboard of their car before throwing her and the kids from the vehicle. "She couldn't forgive herself because the kids saw it all happen," MacLeod says.

On the day of his scheduled trial, the husband bolted from the courtroom. By the time he was apprehended, the victim had moved to Florida, one witness had died, and another could not be found. Still, MacLeod secured a conviction. "I couldn't even tell the victim how it turned out," the prosecutor says. "But I felt like I did right for her."

Jorge Santos Defense attorney Jorge Santos '89 says prosecutors have a tough job and he won't criticize them. But he doesn't think he could do the job, either. He sometimes imagines himself in the role of a prosecutor listening to a defense attorney argue for low or no bail. "I can see myself saying to the judge, 'you know, he's right,'" he says.

Santos, the son of Cuban immigrants w 1000 ho grew up in Queens, became interested in the law when he wandered into the courthouse during the Howard Beach bias murder trial. After a few years with Legal Aid, he started a solo practice, sharing space with a few other attorneys. He does cases in Manhattan and Brooklyn in addition to Queens. Most of his clients are Hispanic. They range from serious drug dealers to businessmen harassed by the city's quality-of-life campaign; he recently journeyed to Washington to participate in a federal death penalty case.

Santos's own parents had a small clothing business in their home and were sometimes bothered by police, he says. That sealed his intention to become a lawyer and "to go up against the system." Santos, 38, says he still is passionate about people's rights, but he has become more realistic. His clients certainly have a pragmatic attitude. "They want to know how they can get off," he says.

Facing powerful prosecutors and judges, "you have to make concessions to get what you want," Santos adds.

Marcy Chelmow '97 showed up wearing sensible pumps for her first arraignment shift as a prosecutor in Manhattan night court. Before too long, however, pain was shooting up her legs. By the end of the evening, after eight hours on her feet, "I was draped over the podium," she says.

Working as an assistant district attorney in New York County has been a revelation for Chelmow. She discovered that the job can be very tiring and that it is hard to stop people from lying. Occasional discomfort notwithstanding, Chelmow loves her job. She has finished her initial three-year commitment but doesn't have any plans to take another job. Anything else would be too dull, she says.

Chelmow, 43, worked in the data processing department of an insurance company before going to law school. At Cardozo, she had an internship with the United States Attorney's Office and participated in the School's mediation clinic. Even as a young prosecutor, Chelmow has a lot of power and responsibility. She sometimes feels bad when her actions give somebody a felony record. "But then I start thinking, Wait a minute - I'm not the one who sold the drugs." All in all, she believes that "doing justice is a better goal than the defense attorneys' goal of 'getting my guy off.' "

Daniel M. Felber At first, Daniel M. Felber '82 wasn't sure he wanted to go to law school. He worried that its formalistic, fact-driven reasoning "tends to inhibit the creative process." But there are compensations. For one thing, Felber found, "Goliath can be slain in a court of law." And Cardozo helped teach him how to bring down the giants.

One of the "Goliaths" slain by Felber and his partner Robert Balsam was the Chicago-based legal behemoth Baker & McKenzie. After several very lean years, during which Felber and Balsam devoted most of their resources to the case, they convinced the state Division of Human Rights that the firm had fired Geoffrey F. Bowers '82, a well-regarded legal associate, because he had AIDS. Bowers died in 1987, shortly after testifying at administrative hearings, but the state agency awarded his estate compensatory damages of $500,000. The law firm eventually dropped its appeal after negotiating a confidential settlement with the Bowers family. A confidential settlement was also reached in the Bowers family's suit against the creators of Philadelphia, a hit movie starring Tom Hanks that resembled Bowers's real-life story.

Felber honed his advocacy skills under the tutelage of Barry Scheck at Cardozo's Criminal Law Clinic; he continued to work with the Clinic for several years following his graduation. Today, he is the litigation specialist in the four-lawyer "boutique" firm of Balsam, Felber & Goldfeld. His cases range from criminal to contract law, and he has started dabbling in personal injury law, which employs the same basic trial concepts as criminal la 1000 w. The only difference is that the winner in a criminal trial gets a not-guilty verdict, whereas the winner in a personal-injury case gets a lot of money.

Most of his clients still are "Davids" like Geoffrey Bowers; Felber frequently takes on megafirms that have virtually unlimited resources. His own resources are not unlimited, so he has to be pragmatic in the way he approaches cases. That only makes "the victory all the sweeter." However, after 18 years of courtroom battles, Felber says that confrontation no longer holds the allure it once did, so he has become more interested in mediation. Whatever the method, he says that it is an honor and a privilege to defend people whose rights are threatened.

The biggest Goliath of them all is the US Department of Justice. The government was Felber's adversary when he was assigned to represent one of the confederates of Sheik Abdul Rahman, who was charged with conspiring to blow up public buildings. Felber, who had to leave the case when his client decided to cooperate with the prosecution, says that "allegations were horrific," but he never really believed in the conspiracy. Still, he found the atmosphere of the trial, with its grim prosecutors and tight security, to be somewhat intimidating.

"I felt in many respects that I was trying this case in some other country," Felber says.

To succeed, a defense lawyer like Stacey Richman '91 must be ready to go to trial. But an attorney's work frequently is done far from the courtroom. Richman worked for a year to convince a prosecutor to reduce a misdemeanor charge against a client to a violation. A criminal conviction would have cost the man, a banker, his career.

"That's a great day," says Richman. "That guy is very happy, and I am very happy."

Richman, 34, also has represented more glamorous clients. After graduating from Cardozo, the daughter of Bronx attorney Murray Richman wanted to go to a place "where nobody knew me and I got treated like everybody else." In Los Angeles, she worked as an entertainment lawyer, representing, among others clients, Jon Voight and Ivana Trump.

But she loves New York and always planned to come back and work with her father. She recently was mentioned in a New York Post article about hot new attorneys. According to the Post, she and a colleague, St. John's Law School graduate Renee Hill (pictured at left), have handled high-profile cases involving the rap and hiphop artists Jay-Z, DMX, and Shyne, the alleged gunman in the nightclub shooting that involved Sean "Puffy" Combs. Her father was quoted as saying that the two are "the Dream Team of the Future."

Renee Hill and Stacey Richman
Renee Hill and Stacey Richman

Stacey Richman jokes that "entertainers are often criminal and criminals are often entertaining." But she says that each and every case, whether or not it involves a celebrity, is challenging because "you get so involved with people's lives." Moreover, criminal law is one of the few fields in which you can still experience victory. "It's very powerful," Richman says.

Richman works with two other Cardozo graduates at her father's office.

Andrew M. Horn '92 gets 75 percent of his business from criminal law cases. A lawyer can make more money writing contracts or shepherding mergers and acquisitions, but to Horn, "it seemed more appealing to do something involved with people's liberty." Not to mention the visceral excitement trial work produces.

Adam M. Jaffe '97, who was a debater at Syracuse University, likes that excitement; he has done 12 trials since January 1998. "I'm not defending my clients," he says. "I'm defending their rights." Horn agrees that "guilt really isn't the issue at all." He says that we have a good system because "it is tested every day."

Richman does not approve of crime either, but s 1000 he says it is not her job to judge her clients. She says many prosecutors, with their holier-than-thou attitudes, don't see defendants as individuals and frequently overcharge them. Once suspected criminals are in the correctional system, "they are treated like animals," Richman adds.

For the solo practitioner trying to make a living, criminal law involves a lot of hustle. Richman, who is frequently in court all day, often meets clients at night. "You must meet clients when they are available," she says. Jaffe is frustrated that some judges are openly critical of attorneys. "They don't understand that we are trying to build a business and the way we are treated in front of the client is very important."

A good defense attorney must be well prepared and pro-active. Winning is all in the details, Richman says. In one recent murder case, a witness insisted he had seen one of Richman's clients fleeing the scene. Furthermore, he said he had been only 15 feet away. She measured the area and found that he could not have been closer than 300 feet. "Juries want to do a good job," she says. "They're paying attention, so you'd better be paying attention."

Cathy Potler Cathy Potler '81 was touring an upstate prison in the early 1980s when she encountered a closed and locked door. "You don't want to go in there," her guide said.

The room was being used to isolate prisoners with AIDS from other inmates and prison staff members. Inside, Potler found emaciated men who were receiving little medical treatment; they had, in fact, been abandoned by the criminal justice system. "Nobody was really focusing on medical care in the way this population needed," says Potler, who helped to change that by researching and writing one of the first studies of AIDS in New York State prisons.

Today, Potler, 47, uses her legal training to address issues at the back end of the criminal justice system, focusing on what happens after the other lawyers have done their work. "We live in such a punitive society," she says. "All we hear about is locking people up and throwing away the key. Our public officials forget that people are coming out of prisons daily, often less prepared to take on the hardships of life than before they were locked up."

Potler studied anthropology and archaeology in college. She then got a job monitoring police patrols in Philadelphia and New York, where she saw "all sorts of illegal activities." That eye-opening experience convinced her to attend law school. "I wanted to know more about criminal law and the US Constitution," she says. After graduating from Cardozo, she was hired by Nassau County Legal Aid to fight sex discrimination at the county jail.

Although she participated in Cardozo's Criminal Law Clinic and loved going into the courtroom, Potler turned to policy because litigation seemed to take so long. But law school provided a jump start for her policy efforts. Moreover, she found that she could combine her legal training with her anthropology background to conduct investigations.

Potler worked for the not-for-profit Correctional Association of New York for eight years, focusing on issues like the care of prisoners with AIDS, mental illness, and other conditions. She currently is the deputy executive director of the New York Board of Correction, a non-mayoral city agency independent of the Department of Corrections that writes legal standards and monitors conditions at 15 city jails currently holding about 15,000 inmates. One of Potler's jobs is to investigate all suicides and unusual deaths to identify problems that need to be corrected.

The small agency, which the Giuliani administration unsuccessfully sought to abolish a few years ago, recently determined that inmates were not receiving proper medical care under an HMO-type contract that gave the health care provider a flat fee for each prisoner. Prodded by the Board, the city eventually tightened its o 2f6 versight. It soon will shift to a new jail health contract with a new vendor using a fee-for-services approach. "Until the city gets it right, it is difficult to walk away from this kind of work," Potler says.

Potler likes her work, and she is hopeful that officials eventually will conduct a serious public debate about alternatives to incarceration and the social conditions - such as poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness - that produce crime. For the moment, however, few people are aware of what goes on inside jails and prisons. "When I bring people into jails, it really changes their attitudes," she says. "People don't understand what deprivation of liberty means until they walk out and the gates clang shut behind them." 0