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Public Service of Lawyers and Social Workers

The following remarks were given by Hon. Jack B. Weinstein, Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, upon his acceptance of the Fordham-Stein Prize.


Father McShane, Dean Martin, Dear Friends:

Thank you for this overly generous award.

It is accepted on behalf of all our judges and other members of our great legal profession—a calling whose watchwords are service to the individual and community.

Last year Hurricane Sandy washed out this event, but I had the pleasure of an intimate dinner with Father McShane and the Dean at their most charming. So, as Yogi Berra put it, "Tonight, it's déjà vu all over again—but even better."

It is particularly gratifying to receive this honor at Fordham Law School. So many of the lectures and seminars I attended here clarified the law. So many scholarly works written here have provided vital help to our court.

I will touch upon three points.

First, help from others: If any of us accomplish anything useful in the public interest it is with the assistance of others.

Second, help from other disciplines: Given the serious societal challenges of today and tomorrow, the law must have help from other disciplines.

Third, help from great universities like Fordham is essential to our well being.

First, the days of a single Hercules clearing the Augean stables by moving rivers into them are gone. Even your great Dean, John Feerick, a master of ethics, could not turn the Hudson River into Albany. In any event, this ancient remedy is outlawed by our environmental regulations.

Instances of important current legal reforms include that of Robert Katzman, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, insisting that immigrants threatened with deportation receive a proper legal defense; the projects of two Chief Judges of New York—Judith Kaye and Jonathan Lippman—to provide local comprehensive service courts and better representation for the poor; and the dedication of Judges like Dora Irizarry, and John Gleeson and some of the magistrate Judges in our court in closely supervising and supporting drug addicted defendants so they can hold jobs. Each of these initiatives requires support from many lawyers and institutions.

Cooperation among many is a watchword for progress in the law.

Second, the law is not an intellectual island. We depend upon statistics, sociology, biology (DNA), philosophy, economics, and other disciplines supported by our universities.

Years of pillow talk with my late wife, Evelyn—a distinguished social worker and ombudsperson trained at Columbia University—convinced me of the necessary close relationship between our two fields: social work and law. Guarding the rights of the frail, the old, the mentally ill, and others needing assistance and protection, she worked with lawyers to create protective networks.

It is a happy coincidence that Sally Bellet, the granddaughter of Louis Stein, has a law degree from Fordham and social work training from Columbia.

The Eastern District federal court has many social workers on its staff. As we move criminal law away from a narrow focus on punishment and towards reentry into a productive, lawful life, more social workers will be needed. They help defendants and their families break cycles of addiction, lack of education, and joblessness.

On the civil side, our Eastern District Litigation Fund assists by providing needed mental health treatment and social services.

There are now joint law and social work degree programs at Fordham and Columbia. Clinical seminars deal with family abuse, immigration, and criminal law.

Law students learn social work techniques so they can more effectively assist clients and their families. And social workers learn from the law.

Helping people requires more than the application of law. It needs empathy and concern—a human face and a human heart.

Third: The just-issued report of a prestigious task force of the City Bar, entitled "Developing Legal Careers and Delivering Justice in the 21st Century" (November, 2013), recommends major changes in law schools and in practical field training by the bar.

Alumni of schools like Fordham will have to support their schools financially. They will also need to participate in integrating law school training with pre- and post-graduate work.

Educating our successors as leaders requires our full participation.

We here tonight share the task of ensuring justice and mercy for all—now, and into the future.

Assisting others gives meaning to the lives of each of us.

May our continued fraternal work together be blessed by success.

Thank you.