Michael Bloch: A Passion To Defend Victims of Persecution

By Jennifer Andrus

December 4, 2023

Michael Bloch: A Passion To Defend Victims of Persecution


By Jennifer Andrus

After hearing about the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., New York attorney Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan’s first instinct was that lawyers had to stand up to the white nationalists who intimidated and attacked counter protesters. One protester,  Heather Heyer, was killed when a self-proclaimed white nationalist rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters. Kaplan and her legal team filed a lawsuit against 17 white nationalist leaders and organizations on behalf of nine plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleged that the event was not a spontaneous gathering, but rather a well-planned and coordinated conspiracy to incite racially motivated violence and to advance an anti-Semitic, race war. In a verdict that could set a precedent, the jury awarded the plaintiffs millions in compensatory and punitive damages. We recently interviewed Michael Bloch, a founding partner of Bloch and White,  about his work following the release of the HBO Max documentary “No Accident.”

Was the Charlottesville case different for you from other civil rights cases you have tried in your career? Did this one weigh heavily on you?

As a Jewish attorney whose grandparents escaped Nazi Germany before the holocaust, it had a profound meaning for me to be a part of this effort. The rise of extremism and white supremacy is one of the most important issues of our time. The opportunity to use my experience as a litigator to hold white supremacists accountable for what they did in Charlottesville was incredibly meaningful.

How was the rally and violence in Charlottesville different than other white supremacist events and how did that impact your case?

I think Charlottesville felt different because the defendants were so emboldened by the political climate to come out, openly march and plan violence in an American city. Their views are not just hateful and racist, but so explicitly violent, which was a key factor in our case. It was not a freak accident, but a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence, and the evidence was overwhelming. One challenge in the case was to pull together all of the evidence and present it in a succinct and compelling way for the jury.

How did you work with your clients without retraumatizing them during the process?

We were mindful that we were working with victims of real trauma, and we focused on telling their story in a way that didn’t traumatize them further. This case had the added challenge, in that the plaintiffs were cross-examined by the actual pro se defendants who had victimized them in Charlottesville. I was so inspired watching our clients testify so powerfully against the defendants that victimized them.  I was heartened to see the filmmakers were similarly thoughtful of not retraumatizing them but amplified their story.

What is your critique of “No Accident” and how the crew at HBO Max handled your story?

I think that the filmmakers did a brilliant job. Kristi Jacobson and her team really captured the essence of what happened at Charlottesville. I think they captured a lot of the nuances of litigation. They made lawyers’ work seem exciting! They did an incredible job pulling together 4 years’ worth of film and presenting it in a way that authentically captured what went on both in Charlottesville as well as in our case.

What drives you, why do you take on this kind of litigation work?  

I was a public defender in the Bronx for 7 years. I have a great passion for representing people who are victims of bullying and to use the law to effect social change. In the Charlottesville case, we were representing individuals that had been bullied by some of the biggest, most prominent bullies in this country and were able to use litigation to hold them accountable. Charlottesville gave me the ability to use a lot of what I love about the law. It was one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career.

What advice would you give a young lawyer or a new lawyer about the work you do?

I really think it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to use the law to fight for people and to effect social change. It’s hard work but it really matters to real people. There’s so many different ways you can use your law degree. I find it rewarding and exciting to fight for people who need help and whether that’s because they’ve been arrested or because they’ve been victimized, it’s really rewarding to use the legal system to fight for people in need in that way. 

Why should someone join the New York State Bar Association. What value have you found in being a member?

It gives you an opportunity to connect with and work with other likeminded passionate, wonderful attorneys. Every conference I have attended, I have left both having learned something and met someone that I stayed in contact with. I have made so many friends and am able to work with those people in the future. It’s a great organization where you can make wonderful, sometimes lifelong connections with people who enjoy the work that I do.

You can see the trailer for “No Accident” here. 

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