On October 18 – 20, 2009, Hofstra Law hosted the 2009 Hofstra Legal Ethics Conference “Power, Politics & Public Service: The Legal Ethics of Lawyers in Government.” Cy Vance, Jr., a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney and a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason Anello & Bohrer PC, delivered the keynote address. Conference speakers included John B. Bellinger, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP and former legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, Barry C. Scheck, professor of law and director of The Innocence Project at Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School and Jeffrey Toobin, an author and CNN analyst.
Keynoting Ethics Confab, Vance Pledges ‘Fair and Effective’ Prosecutor’s Office
by Vesselin Mitev
New York Law Journal
October 23, 2009
Former prosecutor Mark P. Schnapp, a visiting professor at Hofstra Law who spent seven years trying cases in the Southern District of Florida, said in an interview that there seemed to be a trend of placing “more and more power in the hands of prosecutors,” especially younger government lawyers, without an accompanying sense of responsibility.
Fred Klein, a longtime Nassau County prosecutor and current Hofstra Law professor, said that among the ideas conference participants discussed to bolster that sense of responsibility was mandatory in-house ethics training led by the district attorneys, so that junior prosecutors see “that it’s not just lip service.”
Sept. 11 Issues
John B. Bellinger, who served as a legal adviser to President George W. Bush before becoming the principal legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, spoke at the conference about complex issues facing government attorneys since 9/11, specifically the laws regarding detention of enemy combatants.
Mr. Bellinger, now a partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C., said in an interview that government lawyers often are “asked to defend positions that they may not personally agree with.”
He said that it was no secret that “I had a number of policy disagreements with the Bush administration” on issues such as the legal treatment of detainees. But he said that he had to defend even “problematic” Bush policies.
Mr. Bellinger noted that despite the widespread criticism of the Bush administration policies, the Obama administration had, “despite a change in tone,” continued the practices of indefinite detention of accused terrorists, without a criminal trial, rendition procedures and supporting the denial of habeas corpus to Guantánamo Bay detainees.
He said that while it is “unfortunate there is so much polarization” on such issues, the law remains a “very gray area.”
Mr. Simon, professor of legal ethics at Hofstra Law, estimated that more than 250 people attended the three-day conference, which included around a dozen prosecutors, nearly all from New York.
Ideally, he said, measures to curb improper conduct by government attorneys would not curtail their ability to perform their roles.
“People are making more innovative efforts to prevent prosecutorial misconduct without vilifying prosecutors,” Mr. Simon said. “These are complicated issues—it’s very difficult to balance the rights of defendants with the public’s strong right to be safe.”