If ever there was a time to lead, it is now.
This was the overarching message delivered by President Scott M. Karson to the House of Delegates today after Senior Associate Judge Jenny Rivera of the state’s Court of Appeals swore him in as president.
“I have come to realize that leadership requires that we confront the world as it is, not what we wish it was,” said Karson. “Nobody could have imagined that a microscopic, deadly virus would appear and wreak havoc upon our world at large. What we could have seen, but perhaps did not want to imagine, was that the cancer of racism in America would flare up in such a horrific way.”
Karson described the “appalling murder of George Floyd” as “a senseless and horrible act.” He said that “many such acts that have preceded it, are rooted in racial bigotry, and the egregious inequities in how people of color are treated in our criminal justice system and society at large.”
Many people of color face daily the possibility of being targeted, threatened, maligned or worse while engaging in the normal daily activities that the rest of us engage in with impunity, for no reason other than their race, said Karson.
He urged lawyers to “step up, to take a different tack.” He said that lawyers are the guardians of justice and protectors of the rule of law. “We must never lose sight of that. By reason of our licenses, we are singularly positioned to fight for justice,” said Karson. “It is time for lawyers to collectively stand on the front lines of the fight for full and fair implementation of the promise of the law. It is, after all, our job.”
In response, he has created a new Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform, co-chaired by President-Elect Andrew Brown and Taa Grays, a former NYSBA vice president from the First Judicial District. It will develop strategies to combat the repeated incidents of police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system.
Karson noted the importance of exemplary leadership during challenging times. He pointedly praised Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Hank Greenberg, NYSBA’s past president, for their leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Their creativity, flexibility and willingness to take risks inspire and inform us, he said.
He added that the “the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light many issues of critical importance – issues where lawyers can make a difference.”
Karson plans to create three new task forces to focus on the impact of COVID-19. Two will examine the legal issues: nursing homes and torts and contractual liability. The third, the Task Force on Attorney Well-Being, co-chaired by Judge Karen Peters of Woodstock, former presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department, and Libby Coreno of Saratoga Springs will take a holistic approach, studying mental and physical well-being strategies and formulating recommendations.
“Now is the time to be proactive,” said Karson. “Maintaining mental and physical health takes focus and effort, but it is far easier than regaining health after years of neglect.”
Karson will continue several of President Greenberg’s COVID-19 initiatives including the Emergency Task Force on Solo and Small Firm Practitioners, led by Domenick Napoletano of Brooklyn and June Castellano of Rochester, and the Working Group on Reopening Law Firms, led by Marian Rice of Garden City. He encouraged members to take on pro bono work related to COVID-19; he has pledged to do the same.
Karson concluded by thanking the delegates for their support. He said, “And as we navigate the challenges of now and what lies ahead, I commit fully to you that as a leader I will be thoughtful, diligent and dynamic, mindful of the past, concerned about the present and focused on the future.”