Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Monday, May 04, 2015

It is probably overstating things to call the current situation in Albany a crisis in state government: in many ways it looks like business as usual. Sheldon Silver, immediate past Speaker of the Assembly is  under indictment; so too is the Majority Leader of the State Senate. The cats who have occupied these seats in my lifetime have always been gonifs, to some extent. What seems interesting is that this may be an opportunity that is new. Wouldn't it be cool if the rank and file members of both bodies got
up on their hind legs and democratized their internal operations? It would require a floorboards up rewrite of the rules of both, but these are probably close to the circumstances under which such a change might occur. The trick to it would be for the constituents of the incumbents to make it clear that reform is a priority, because otherwise all we will see is a reshuffling of the deck. One good place to start might be the whole "This is just a part time gig" rule that we presently have. State Senators with insurance businesses, Assemblymen who practice law, and all the rest are openly grafting. Even if "all" you are doing is running a criminal defense practice you are nevertheless a part of the political apparatus that the judges you are appearing in front of are also a part of, and that is bad.

In my Lawyers in Movies class I tell my students that I am a lawyer today because one Sunday, after Mass, when we were visiting my father's parents, I wandered into their living room and found Inherit the Wind on TV. At one point in the early phase of the trial Henry Drummond, the Clarence Darrow stand-in, objects to the court addressing Matthew Harrison Brady, the William Jennings Bryan character,  as "Colonel Brady", an honorary title. I've had judges greet my adversary as "Senator" or "Judge", and in the instance of "Judge" I've gone on the record and objected: "There is only one judge in this room right now, your honor, and you are going to be passing on all of the objections." (This is one of the reasons I am such a popular guy.) Maybe this seems like a small thing, but I think appearances make a difference, and I think it looks fishy when a governmental official does business with the state, or exploits his or her position for any advantage, no matter how slight. The whole system works because we think it is fair and honest, and anything that erodes that trust undermines the entire structure. It would be nice to see the New York State Legislature take steps to validate its legitimacy.

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