Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister
By Charles F. Otey, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Few attorneys have given as much of their time and talent toward providing much-needed legal pro bono services and professional leadership as has barrister Diana Szochet, who is currently an assistant deputy chief Appellate Court attorney in the Second Appellate Division.
To the surprise of some — and the delight of many — barrister Szochet announced earlier this year that she would stand as a Democratic candidate for the bench in Brooklyn’s Sixth District. What should come as no surprise is that she has been endorsed by Brooklyn’s long-reigning champion pro bono lawyer, Steve Cohn, who is also a past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.
“I’ve worked with Diana over the years on pro bono legal services and other matters,” barrister Cohn said. “What I find remarkable is how concerned she is that people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer should never lose out on their livelihoods, their homes, or live a lesser life because proper medical care is simply too expensive. She’s a fine lawyer and will be an excellent judge with true compassion for the unfortunate!”
She’s in a three-way primary for the Democratic nomination in this district against Isiris I. Isaac — court attorney to the highly respected Judge ShawnDya Simpson — and Sharon Bourne Clarke. Candidates Szochet and Isaac have each been approved by the Democratic Screening Panel.
There are other screening panels — the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Screening Committee, the Brooklyn Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association — and Szochet is the only candidate to have been screened and approved by all.
The Sixth Judicial District runs from Hamilton Heights and Park Slope south through Midwood. If elected, Szochet would serve a term of 10 years and would most probably be “drafted” onto the Kings County Supreme Court within a few years.
Among other endeavors, she’s helped spearhead a unique outreach program to bring members of the public up to date on issues facing them, such as foreclosure, through public forums. Through the Brooklyn Bar Association, of which she served as president in 2008, this outreach effort blossomed, moving into other areas, such as bankruptcy and consumer debt and then into elder law.
As a result of this creative and relevant pro bono work, she received the Freda S. Nisnewitz Award for Service to the Community from the Brooklyn Bar in 2011 and her efforts helped the BBA to qualify for a New York State Bar Association Innovation Award, which was accorded in January of this year.
She’s Not Actually French, But Is Fluent in Spanish
Though many colleagues — including this writer — sort of assumed that the name “Szochet” was French, the candidate is actually the first-born daughter of Latin-American immigrants. Notably, she was the first in her family to attend college, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from NYU and, later, her Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law.
Following her admission to the bar, she started her career by representing disabled adults and children before the Social Security Administration, where she served as a supervisor of the Disability Advocacy Project at Queens Legal Services. Her fluency in Spanish enhanced her ability to better understand and represent her clients.
Mend, But Don’t End ‘Broken Windows’ Policy
Someone tosses a rock through a window of your home. First, there’s panic, then there’s rage. Glass is scattered all over and, perhaps, personal items are damaged or broken.
The crashing noise, which literally shattered the window, shatters your sense of well-being and heightens concerns for the safety of your family. Was this act of violence random? Was some felon sending a message?
A phone call to your local NYPD precinct, or a visit to the station house, elicits this response: “Sorry, windows get broken all the time. Unless someone was hurt, there’s nothing we can do. We’re focused on real crime. You should talk to your insurance broker to see if the damage is covered by your homeowner policy.”
Wouldn’t this be adding insult to injury? Absolutely. But if the “broken windows” policy is literally abandoned, the streets once again wouldn’t be safe at night and New York City wouldn’t have the lowest crime rate of all major cities in the United States.
If then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton did nothing else when he first served in the early 1990s, his “broken windows” theory of crime fighting not only reduced crime, especially in high-crime areas, it instilled a new sense of confidence in our overall ability to control our daily lives and faith in the NYPD.
It can be effectively argued that Mayor Mike Bloomberg — and maybe NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly — enforced the “broken windows” policy too rigidly, so that a disproportionate number of arrests were being made in non-white neighborhoods. Their refusal to mend their approach understandably became a major issue in the last mayoral election and enabled candidate Bill de Blasio to distinguish himself on an issue that reeked of racial discrimination.
Now, it seems, there is a rush to end the “broken windows” approach following the tragic death of Staten Islander Eric Garner, who was virtually suffocated while being “taken down” for allegedly selling “loosies,” i.e. small quantities of cigarettes.
There are lessons to be learned from the zealous action of the police officer who tried to subdue a big and very strong man like Garner, who presented no imminent threat to the NYPD team who confronted him.
First, unless the suspect is armed, or menacing the officers or a citizen, use of a firearm should be forbidden in almost all instances. One look at the size and condition of Garner should have prompted the officers to call in reinforcements and subdue him with a net or other nonfatal means of carrying out an arrest.
Needlessly, an innocent life has been lost. And, within the next few years, the Corporation Counsel will reveal that the “Garner wrongful death case” has been settled for five — or maybe 10 — million dollars.
Sadly, there will be, for a time, a strong resentment of the NYPD in minority neighborhoods and other areas as well.
Meanwhile, there is no reason for a citizen of any background to show anything but respect for the women and men in blue. They risk their lives every time they put on the uniform.
Most certainly, they deserve the presumption of innocence.
Democratic Leader Backs De Blasio on Brooklyn Democratic Convention
“Over the past decade, the rest of the world has discovered what we’ve known all along: Brooklyn is the place to be,” Justin Brannan, leader of a Bay Ridge Democratic Club, told us.
“Often imitated, but never duplicated, Brooklyn isn’t just a microcosm of America — Brooklyn is America! We’re passionate, diverse, vibrant, talented, hardworking and completely unique,” Brannan added. “So, it only makes sense for us to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. I’m looking forward to riding the newly reinstated B37 from Bay Ridge right down to the Barclays Center and nominating the next president of the United States!”
Brannan is a top aide to Councilman Vincent Gentile and is co-owner, with his wife Leigh, of The Art Room, a very popular learning institution for young kids on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.
In truth, even Republicans we’ve talked with would like to see the Democrats crowd into Barclays Center next summer.
“It’ll be good for business,” one GOP figure told us. “And it would finally recognize Brooklyn as a true place with its own personality and a rich past. We’re often joked about in the ‘heartland of America.’ Too many people think that it’s some kind of miracle for a tree to actually grow in Brooklyn — we have tens of thousands of trees!”