Champion of New York State Mental Health Court, Five Other Lawyers, Honored by New York State Bar Association

By Jennifer Andrus

January 12, 2024

Champion of New York State Mental Health Court, Five Other Lawyers, Honored by New York State Bar Association


By Jennifer Andrus

Judge Matthew D’Emic, a pioneer who expanded mental health courts in New York State, will receive the New York State Bar Association’s Vincent E. Doyle Jr. Award on Jan. 20 during the association’s Annual Meeting. The Criminal Justice Section is also honoring the Chemung County district attorney and four other attorneys.

D’Emic, who serves as the administrative judge for the Criminal Term of Supreme Court in Kings County, has presided over the mental health court for 20 years. The court works to find therapeutic options for defendants in the hope of reducing recidivism.

“By successfully diverting defendants out of the criminal justice system and into treatment, Judge D’Emic provided countless New Yorkers a second chance at life,” said New York State Bar Association President Richard Lewis. “His work at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice is a model for others to follow.”

Martin B. Adelman Memorial Award: Michael Berger

Michael Berger is a living legend among lawyers in Nassau County. A career public defender and legal aid provider, his colleagues hail him as a star felony litigator and the best of the best. Attorneys fill the courtroom gallery to watch and learn from him during his trials. Through it all, colleagues who nominated him say Berger serves all his clients with dignity and respect. The award honors an attorney who – like Martin B. Adelmen – has a remarkable career that contributes to the betterment of the legal profession.

Charles Crimi Memorial Award: Rodney Personius

Rodney Personius balances the demands of partner in his Buffalo law firm, Presonius Melber, with his work as a member of the federal public defender CJA panel. For the past 12 years, he has led the district 12 CJA Office of the Federal Public Defender panel. His work on important issues such as approval of experts and investigators for attorney panels has shaped the national dialogue on these issues.  The Crimi award recognizes a defense lawyer in private practice that embodies the highest ideals of the Criminal Justice Section and Rod Personius’ dedication to the federal criminal defense bar has had a lasting impact.

Outstanding Prosecutor: Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore

Weeden Wetmore is a dedicated public servant in Chemung County who is tireless in seeking justice. As a prosecutor, Wetmore has secured over 100 guilty verdicts and is a leader in using new forensic methods. In 2015, he successfully prosecuted a serial rapist, utilizing at trial for the first time in New York automated computer interpretation of complex DNA evidence. In 2017, new mapping technology and analysis led to the conviction of Thomas Clayton in a murder for hire case involving Clayton’s wife.

Michele S. Maxian Award for Outstanding Public Defense Practitioner: Leanne Lapp

For more than a decade, Leanne Lapp has led the Ontario County Public Defender’s Office. She focuses on improving outcomes for defendants with mental health challenges and intellectual disabilities. She is a leader in finding alternatives to incarceration and reducing recidivism. Lapp is also president of the Chief Defenders Association of New York.

Outstanding Contribution to the Bar and the Community: Daniel Looney

Many may know Daniel Looney as a tough as nails prosecutor and administrator in the DA’s office, but his contribution to the bar and the community stretches far beyond the courtroom. Looney’s work in historic preservation impacts many communities across Nassau County. The community has benefited from his skills as a master gardener and his interest in landmark building preservation. From the courtroom to the coastline, Looney is an outstanding contributor to both the community and the bar.

Honoring attorneys who render extraordinary service to the public and the profession is part of NYSBA’s Annual Meeting tradition. This year’s event promises to be dynamic and informative, featuring a wide range of sessions and activities tailored to the diverse interests and needs of lawyers practicing in New York. The 147th Annual Meeting takes place Jan. 16 to 20 at the New York Hilton Midtown.

The Presidential Summit, the marquee event of the New York State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting, is on Wednesday, Jan. 17, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The summit, entitled “AI and the Legal Landscape: Navigating the Ethical, Regulatory and Practical Challenges,” will focus on harnessing the technology that is transforming the practice of law and bringing ethical and regulatory challenges to the forefront of its deployment.

Other highlights include the Presidential Gala, where former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will be honored with the association’s most prestigious award, the Gold Medal. The gala is Thursday, Jan. 18, from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., at the Museum of Modern Art. Chief Judge Rowan Wilson will deliver the keynote address at the Justice for All Luncheon earlier that day, while the Constance Baker Motley Symposium and Diversity Awards Program takes place Wednesday, Jan. 17, from 4:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The President’s Reception will immediately follow.

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