By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn's legal community dressed to the nines Saturday for the Kings County Criminal Bar Association’s annual dinner and awards ceremony at Russo's on the Bay.
“The Kings County Criminal Bar Association has been around since 1971 and we’ve been holding these dinners for at least the last 25 years,” said the KCCBA’s president Jay Schwitzman. “I think they are so prestigious and are a great way to honor those who deal with the complicated issues in the courts.
“Here you can meet the judge, a prosecutor and the defense attorney who all worked on a particular case all in the same room, sharing food and talking with each other.”
Schwitzman explained the evening's motto 'We help each other be the best we can be' as representative of the association's commitment to helping its members. KCCBA, Schwitzman noted, expresses its commitment to members through Continuing Legal Education programs and its members, in return, support one another in various ways, whether mentoring a young attorney or gathering together to help a sick member in their time of need.
"We don't turn our backs on people," Schwitzman explained. "We help each other be better lawyers.”
Saturday's attendees enjoyed a beautiful view of the Shellbank Basin during cocktail hour before moving into an elegant ballroom as the KCCBA presented awards to Robert Gershon, Jennifer Regis James, Patrick Daly, James K.M. Keeper, Frank Paone, and Hon. Joseph Kevin McKay for their work within the criminal justice community.
"It's hard to decide [the awardees] because there are always so many very well respected people you have to choose from,” Schwitzman said. “You have to decide who, this year, under the circumstances deserves it.”
The first award of the evening t was presented to the immediate past president of the KCCBA Robert Gershon by current president Schwitzman as recognition for the work he had done while president.
Barbara DiFiore, the executive agency counsel/program administrator at the Assigned Counsel Plan, presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Jennifer Regis James, who is the Assignment Coordinator for Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. DiFiore commended James on 25 years of exemplary service.
Court officer Patrick Daly was presented with the Non-Judicial Court Employee Award by Joseph Rebasti. Daly began working as a court clerk in 1983 and was promoted to Associate Court Clerk in 1997. He has been the Sentencing Clerk since 2005.
James Leeper, who has served first as an assistant district attorney and then as an executive assistant district attorney for the past 26 years, was not on hand to receive the Robert N. Kaye Memorial Award due to an unexpected hospital visit; his colleague Gary Farrell spoke on his behalf.
“We’re all most proud of what [Lepper's] done in the last year because he’s come back to trials after 13 years away and he’s doing them extremely well,” Farrell said.
Frank Paone received the Person of the Year Award, which was presented to him by Schwitzman, for his work as an attorney over the past 34 years.
“Frank is a lovely man, a good family man and he was a great choice this year,” Schwitzman said.
The final award of the evening was presented to Hon. Joseph Kevin McKay. Retired, the former judge was appointed to the bench by the late New York Cit Mayor Ed Koch in 1983. In addition to enjoying retirement, McKay continues to work with many hospital and Bar Associations.
“Judge McKay is a great judge, not a rubber stamp,” Schwitzman said. “He listens to both sides and makes the right decision. It's not easy for a judge to make an unpopular decision and he made his decisions whether they were popular or unpopular.”