By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association Foundation filled the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott’s Grand Ballroom again Monday evening, as it does each year, and packed the dais with brilliant speakers and dignitaries from the legal community.
Every speaker managed to delight the audience with one-liners and humorous observations that are so necessary to hold the attention of any large group in today's world of daily multitasking. Even the two religious speakers -- Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Rev. Msgr. David Cassato -- mixed humor into their messages of faith.
“This event is an incredible success,” remarked Rebecca Rose Woodland, chairperson of the annual dinner committee. Guests from all over the New York City as well as representatives from other bar associations, including the Nathan R. Sobel-Kings County American Inn of Court, the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association and the Catholic Lawyers Guild, were in attendance.
The evening began with a beautiful rendition of the national anthem sung by Supreme Court Officer Jessica Peña. The passing of a fellow lawyer and leader of the South African civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela, was recognized with a moment of silence. “Nelson Mandela was a man who knew the justice system inside and out,” remarked Andrew Fallek, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association.
Brooklyn Federal Judge William Kuntz II received the first award of the night. “[Kuntz] is probably one of the few lawyers who holds four degrees from Harvard,” said Hon. Barry Kamins as he introduced his federal colleague.
Describing Kuntz as a “forceful advocate for many causes” and one of the strongest advocates for the city when he served as the commissioner of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Kamins noted that despite all of his extraordinary achievements, Kuntz remained a “great and humble man.”
Kuntz stayed true to his expected humility when he began his speech with a thank you to the BBA for all of the work it has done “for the Brooklyn legal community.” Nominated by President Barack Obama, with a recommendation from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, to serve on the federal bench in March 2011, Kuntz was unanimously confirmed in October 2011 by the United States Senate.
While this is a significant achievement, Kuntz expressed his hopes to “remain faithful” to the superior teachers who have helped him adjust to federal court as he continues his career on the bench. Clearly a man of huge stature and achievements, Judge Kuntz has a booming, sonorous voice that other speakers equated with that of actor James Earl Jones. Kuntz brought laughter throughout his talk as he described, with self-deprecation, his warnings about an affliction of becoming a judge: "robe-itis.”
Hon. Robert Miller, associate justice of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, introduced his friend of 35 years, Hon. Lawrence Knipel, administrative judge for civil matters for the 2nd Judicial District. “[Knipel] eats and breathes this job,” Miller noted, speaking of this daily breakfasts with Knipel. “He is a lawyer’s judge whose only agenda is administering justice,” Miller continued.
Knipel began his thank-you speech with an unexpected commentary on the salaries of judicial staff members. “You may be under-compensated,” Knipel said to the court personnel in the audience, “but your work is over-appreciated.”
“John does not look for the spotlight, but with his talent and accomplishments, the spotlight finds him,” Fallek said of his friend and the last award recipient of the evening, John Lonuzzi. A graduate of Brooklyn Law School, Lonuzzi earned his reputation as a top tort litigator while serving in the New York City Law Department’s Tort Division. He began his own practice in 1997 and has been representing high-profile clients ever since.
A past president of the BBA, Lonuzzi thanked the BBA for “opening so many doors.” Lonuzzi then praised the accomplishments of Eastern District Judge Kuntz and added, " Judge, since we are fellow honorees, and bonding here, would you mind doing the voice on my answering machine?"
When the laughter died down, Lonuzzi turned serious and closed his speech with a tribute to his mentor, the universally-beloved Justice Theodore T. Jones, who died in 2012. “I cannot mention how special it is to stand that this podium where Hon. Jones was given this very award a few years ago,” Lonuzzi said, with a slight quiver in his voice.
Given all that Lonuzzi believes the BBA had done for him, “I cannot imagine not giving back to my bar association,” he said in closing.