Champion of New York State Mental Health Court, Five Other Lawyers, Honored by New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Jennifer Andrus

January 24, 2024

Champion of New York State Mental Health Court, Five Other Lawyers, Honored by New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section


By Jennifer Andrus

On a frigid Saturday in January, the ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan was wall to wall with attorneys and their supporters all present to honor the best in prosecution, criminal defense and the judiciary. The Criminal Justice Section of the New York State Bar Association honored Judge Matthew D’Emic, a pioneer who expanded mental health courts, Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore and four other attorneys for excellence.

Vincent E. Doyle, Jr. Award for Outstanding Judicial Contribution in the Criminal Justice System: Judge Matthew D’Emic

Judge 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.

“My work is my greatest joy. The work we do in the mental health court demonstrates that justice has to look beyond its reach,” he said, going on to thank both prosecutors and defense attorneys for their support of his work.

Outstanding Prosecutor: Chemung County District Attorney Weeden Wetmore

Weeden Wetmore is a dedicated public servant in Chemung County who is tireless in seeking justice. Speaking before the section, Wetmore thanked his family for putting up with his long hours, interrupted weekends and holidays and other demands of running an upstate New York district attorney’s office. “My life is three things: family, religion and the DA’s office,” he said.

While accepting the award, Wetmore thanked his mentors who taught him to “seek justice, not convictions,” and reminded those present that a prosecutor must lead by example.

As a prosecutor, Wetmore has secured over 100 guilty verdicts and is a leader in using new forensic methods. 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. Lapp is a leader in finding alternatives to incarceration and reducing recidivism. Lapp is also president of the Chief Defenders Association of New York.

She accepted the award on behalf of the small rural public defense offices across New York. “We are doing a lot with small budgets and making big things happen in our communities,” she said.

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.

In accepting the award, Berger said he took a 50% pay cut to join legal aid, but after the first case, he was hooked, and hasn’t regretted it a single day.

” I work at a job that I love, I feel truly blessed,” he said, adding “you have made an old man very happy!”

The award honors an attorney – who like Martin B. Adelman – has had 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.

The Crimi Memorial Award recognizes a defense lawyer in private practice who embodies the highest ideals of the Criminal Justice Section and Rod Personius’ dedication to the federal criminal defense bar.

In accepting the award, Personius paid tribute to the work of Charles Crimi and to his colleagues in the Criminal Justice Section.

“I know it’s hard work, thank you all for being part of the Criminal Justice Section.”

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. He accepted the award thanking his team in the DA’s office and paying special tribute to the clerks and support staff whom he says make the place run smoothly.

Looney went on to explain how the preservation and beautification of public buildings is his calling.

“Civic architecture should reflect our principles and the good work we do inside these walls,” he said while encouraging those assembled to work to maintain our courthouses saying “they are the people’s houses.”



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