On April 30, AABANY and Cleary Gottlieb co-hosted An Evening with Preet Bharara, at which former Acting US Attorney and current Cleary Partner Joon Kim engaged Preet in conversation about his new book Doing Justice. The event took place at Cleary and the room was filled to capacity, with those attendees who were not able to find seats standing along the sides.
After welcome remarks from Cleary by Managing Partner Michael Gerstenzang, AABANY President Brian Song offered some introductory remarks on behalf of AABANY and kicked off Joon Kim’s conversation with Preet Bharara. Preet spoke about his departure from the US Attorney’s office and the befuddling manner in which the President-Elect initially asked him to stay on as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, followed a few months later by his perplexing request, as President, for Preet to resign. Preet was confused by this request because he had been asked to stay on shortly after the 2016 election. When Preet received confirmation from the White House that the President indeed wanted him to resign, Preet refused, which led to his firing.
Despite starting the talk with President Trump’s firing of Preet, Preet pointed out that his book was not about President Trump. Preet stated that, in fact, the name Joon Kim shows up far more often in the index than Donald Trump. Preet spoke about his reasons for writing the book. He stated that for many years, he had wanted to write a sort “how to” manual for prosecutors who were at the start of their careers. He quickly realized that such a book would not make the bestseller list. Preet broadened his horizons and wanted to write a book that tackled questions like “What is justice? What is fairness? What is truth?” He realized that issues of truth and bias occur everywhere and affect everyone, not just in the law, but in society as a whole. He thus came up with Doing Justice, which is subtitled A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law.
The conversation covered numerous subjects and stories from Preet’s storied career as US Attorney in the Southern District, one of the nation’s leading prosecutor’s offices. During the Q&A that followed, Preet was asked what his inspiration was for becoming a lawyer. Preet responded that when he was in high school, he entered a public speaking contest and had to memorize and present a speech by legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow. This speech was Darrow’s summation in the case of People v. Henry Sweet, in which Darrow defended a black man accused of murder during an attack by white neighbors who did not want black people living in their neighborhood. Preet committed the following passage from Darrow to memory:
After all, every human being’s life in this world is inevitably mixed with every other life and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless people we meet are kindly and decent and human and liberty-loving, then there is no liberty. Freedom comes from human beings, rather than from laws and institutions.
Preet admits that he might not have fully appreciated the meaning of those words as a teenager but understood it better every day as US Attorney.
We thank everyone who came out for An Evening with Preet Bharara, and we especially thank Cleary for providing the space, food, refreshments, drinks and copies of Doing Justice. It was a wonderful event, filled with inspiring ideas and stories. For the many young lawyers and lawyers-to-be in the room, there was ample reason given to devote at least some part of their legal careers to serve the public interest, and we thank Preet and Joon for providing us that inspiration.