NYSBA’s New President Domenick Napoletano: “My Goal is to Concentrate On Helping Our Members”

By Rebecca Melnitsky

May 31, 2024

NYSBA’s New President Domenick Napoletano: “My Goal is to Concentrate On Helping Our Members”


By Rebecca Melnitsky

Domenick Napoletano said of his childhood, “In order to get something, I had to work on getting it.” It’s a mindset he’s bringing to his tenure as the New York State Bar Association’s 127th president. “I would say that is what has carried me throughout my life.”

Napoletano grew up in Brooklyn, the only child of hard-working Italian immigrants of modest means. He recalls that he even had to build his own toys. For example, he took an old wooden milk box, nailed it to 2’x 4’ pieces of scrap wood, and used wheels from old roller skates to make a go-cart. A competitive sport, “my street had more of an inclined hill than others, so we would race them down to the finish line.” He also played the street game skelzy, filling bottle caps with crayon wax – to make them heavy – and flicking them into numbered squares marked with chalk. While Napoletano said “this reminds me of what I didn’t have,” he still thrived.

He was the first in his family to graduate grammar school – let alone high school, college, and law school. A solo practitioner, with a successful general practice concentrated on commercial litigation, Napoletano can relate to the struggles of many association members, especially those just starting out. “Two-thirds of our members are solo and small-firm practitioners,” he said. “I know what their needs are because I still often struggle with them myself every day.” Thus, on that note, Napoletano wants to focus on making dealing with these everyday issues better, for lawyers, during his tenure. “My concentration is going to be on our members and what is good and right for them,” he said; a material purpose for which the New York State Bar Association bylaws cite as a goal for its formation.

Napoletano wants to focus on updating the CPLR and cutting down on confusing and contradictory part rules in different courtrooms.

He also wants to advocate for bringing back New York Practice as a mandatory class in law schools and bringing back testing it on the bar exam. “When I went to school, it was a required course,” said Napoletano. “Without the class”, he said, “some law students and new lawyers are not truly prepared for the realities upon practicing law in New York state.” In recent years, the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on the New York Bar Examination has recommended bringing back the New York practice course, as well as New York adopting its own bar exam. Napoletano and other bar leaders have had ongoing conversations with law school deans about this issue. “We’ll keep pushing,” he said. “That’s what we do. Argue the case and see if it works.”

Napoletano has started laying the groundwork for change, even before his presidency started. He met with Justice Tanya R. Kennedy and former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, Rolando T. Acosta about judicial independence initiatives.

Napoletano also plans to empower sections and committees to take on important initiatives – instead of the traditional task forces created. “Every section and committee has right here, within them, some of the best and brightest talent to do anything needed; each of their members is impressive in and of their own right,” he said. Experience is our association’s greatest resource, and active member involvement strengthens our association’s influence for making positive changes. This is why we urge new lawyers and law students to join the New York State Bar Association, as they won’t often recognize that the value of camaraderie with a diverse number of very experienced and dedicated lawyers and jurists, early on in their education and throughout their career, is priceless, relative to the modest fee for maintaining membership.

Family and Friends Gather To Celebrate

Napoletano’s family members, esteemed colleagues, and the many professional relationships responsible for nurturing his long legal career, who he believes he is privileged to now call friends as well, are excited to come to his installation on June 4th. “We originally booked the event for a hundred people, but I quickly realized that was impossible, when far more than that reached out to congratulate me and ask when and where my installation is to take place.” He believes this is not only an honor for him, as a Brooklynite, but a recognition of its legal community at large, given he has proudly served as a part of it all his career.

Napoletano’s immediate family includes his wife Fran, and children Alexis and Nicholas, along with two grandchildren Sofia, who is almost 6 years old, and Everett, aka “Googi”, almost 2 years old.

Fran is a practicing attorney barred in New York and New Jersey. She most recently joined, as General Counsel, a national real estate developer, after devoting 30 years as a Chief Compliance Officer to various financial firms and private equity funds.

Alexis is a practicing medical malpractice litigation defense attorney, barred in New York, New Jersey, and Texas. She now lives in Austin, Texas where she recently became a partner at her firm, Germer Beaman & Brown.

Nicholas is a passionate self-taught mechanic. “That kid could take apart an engine and transmission and rebuild it with his eyes closed,” Napoletano said. “He knows everything that you’d want to know about cars.”

The installation will be at the Liberty Warehouse in Brooklyn – having an appropriately reminiscent backdrop of the Statute of Liberty, given Napoletano’s first-generation immigrant family struggled to allow him access to the American dream. Retired Judge Michael Pesce will swear Napoletano in at the ceremony. “He’s known me my whole life,” Napoletano said. “Literally. I worked for him when he was in the State Assembly, and he was a mentor to me growing up.” In fact, both Pesce and Napoletano’s families lived right across the street from each other, back in Mola Di Bari Italy, before coming to America.

Fluent in Italian, as a youth he was an altar boy who said Mass in Latin – “some of it which I still remember,” – Napoletano has been a lifelong member of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church, “which is literally down the block from my office,” serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. “It’s where my wife and I got married.” He has risen to a Knight Commander with Star of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, and actively participates in numerous legal organizations, including those that promote the diversity of their member’s heritage in the legal community.

A Long Record of Service

Napoletano has been a member of the New York State Bar Association since 1981 and has served in many of its leadership roles. He was treasurer of the Association from 2018 to 2023, and has worked on many association, committees, and task forces, including co-chairing the Emergency Task Force for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners, which was created to help attorneys during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He spent the past year co-chairing the Presidential Committee on Access to Justice with Rezwanul Islam and Lynn Poster-Zimmerman. “I have great co-chairs,” he said. “The issues that that committee has raised and continues to raise are not only noteworthy, but invaluable. There are hundreds of thousands of people that remain unrepresented in this state, for a whole host of reasons, that shouldn’t be. If you’re talking about equal justice, then it’s not equal if you have a seasoned attorney on one side and a pro se litigant on the other.” Napoletano feels that one way that might close the justice gap is by creating a formal program that offers incentives for pro bono work, such as Continuing Legal Education credits.

He also recently served as the chair of the Working Group on Access to Legal Representation, as well as on the group on Facial Recognition Technology who recommended amending New York Civil Rights Law to bar companies from using that technology to prevent certain people from public entertainment and sports venues. “I’ll probably never be able to go into another James Dolan facility for the rest of my natural life,” joked Napoletano. “That Working Group did a spectacular job… every one of the members of that Working Group really did a lot of serious work.” The House of Delegates approved the Task Force’s recommendations last November. Napoletano said that the use of facial recognition, as well as artificial intelligence, is in its infancy. The legal profession must continue to monitor these technologies in the ways they are being used. “It’s quickly changing and very complex,” he said. “So, we have to be on top of it to be sure that we don’t lose sight of it, because once we do, we could be in legal chaos.”

Overall, though, Napoletano plans to focus on the day-to-day issues facing lawyers. “I want every one of our members to know and believe that this association is truly here for them and the profession, and only them,” he said. “Plain and simple I want to help our lawyers be more effective at serving the public.”

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