AABANY Co-Sponsors Program on Becoming an AUSA

On November 17, AABANY together with several other bar associations co-sponsored a program on “Becoming an AUSA,” hosted by Cleary Gottlieb at their New York office.

Joon Kim, former Acting United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York (SDNY) (and longtime AABANY member) gave opening remarks to welcome the standing room only crowd of more than 100 attendees. He reflected on his years serving with Preet Bharara and then succeeding him after his much-publicized termination during the prior Presidential administration. To this day, Joon remembers the gravity and weight of the words, “My name is Joon Kim, and I represent the United States” whenever he appeared before a judge or jury. The seriousness of representing the United States in numerous cases of public importance has never been lost on Joon. Now a Partner at Cleary, Joon was the first Asian American Acting United States Attorney in the Southern District, following Preet Bharara, who was the first Asian American United States Attorney in the Southern District.

Una Dean, former Assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and now in-house counsel at IBM, helped organize the program and moderated the opening panel with current United States Attorneys Damian Williams (SDNY) and Breon Peace (EDNY). Una was also a past AABANY Board member.

Both Breon and Damian spoke about their paths to the US Attorney’s office and their desire to work on matters that would have positive community impact. Both expressed the belief that the US Attorney’s office provides a unique opportunity to do just that. Breon talked about criminal investigations and prosecutions his office has been doing, including a case that helped prevent a potential terrorist attack at the US Open. His office prosecuted R. Kelly for human trafficking. They fight hate crimes and also work on affinity fraud cases which target vulnerable members from diverse ethnic and religious communities in New York. In criminal cases, his office actively seeks out alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs as ways to resolve criminal complaints, and also supports programs that facilitate re-entry into society for formerly incarcerated persons. On the civil side, EDNY pursues civil rights cases, fights housing discrimination and brings cases to protect the environment. His civil rights division has also been addressing claims about NYPD’s handling of sexual assault complaints from survivors.

Damian, after being trained at a prominent law firm, believed that, for his further development as a litigator and trial lawyer, the US Attorney’s office was the next logical step. Damian has served in the SDNY for a decade and spoke about his time at the SDNY with great passion and fondness, and his love for the work is palpable. “It is the best job in the world, and the best job I can ever hope to have,” he declared. Assistant US Attorneys fight bullies, he noted, and he relishes working in an environment where everyone is dedicated to doing the right thing, serving the public interest.

Una asked both Damian and Breon what qualities they look for in candidates for their offices. Damian answered that they are looking for good, decent, human beings – “no sharp elbows” – who are team oriented. In other words, they don’t want any jerks. (He used a stronger word, but you know what he means.) Candidates should be good writers who are smart, can think on their feet and exercise good judgment. They must have a strong moral compass, a sense of right and wrong, because so much authority is delegated to junior attorneys at his office, and they must be “doing the right thing, the right way – always.” Candidates need to have a tremendous amount of energy, because they will be working hard. If you are looking for a lifestyle change or money, Damian advised, working at the US Attorney’s Office may not be right for you.

Breon agreed with Damian and added that for him, any candidate that has a win-at-all-costs mentality raises a major red flag. He believes in doing justice, and that means at times, his office may have to decline cases or admit error. A candidate that rushes to judgment would not work out. He also looks for attorneys with the courage to tell investigators or judges that the evidence is not there to bring a case or to prosecute a defendant.

Una then talked about the reason why she put this program together, noting that during her time at EDNY, the composition of the office did not reflect the makeup of the community they served. Breon responded that “it is incredibly important that the [EDNY] is a reflection of the community.” He wants people of diverse backgrounds and experiences in his office to help solve problems, because “diversity is critical to getting the work done.” To promote diversity, EDNY has made changes to make hiring more diverse and inclusive, such as by making the process more transparent, has implemented a mentoring program for all new AUSAs and has sponsored trainings through the Diversity Committee.

Damian pointed out that he is the first African American US Attorney at SDNY and acknowledged that diversity is a challenge that needs to be addressed. He believes that outcomes are better when there are diverse views on the team. He also offered that the jury box will look like New York, so the government table should try to look like New York as well. Damian emphasized that politics has no role to play in the US Attorney’s office, no matter who the sitting President happens to be. He shared that Justice Sotomayor, at the start of her career was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, and in a recent speech, she stated that she became a prosecutor because “it gave her the broadest option to do justice.” Damian agrees with that view.

Breon and Damian both closed by extolling the virtues of public service, particularly at the US Attorney’s office. Damian finds it hard to leave his desk each night because of all the great cases he gets to work on. “When I go home at night,” Breon declared, “I feel like I’ve done something good for the community.” 

After Damian and Breon spoke, the program shifted to a panel of attorneys of color from both SDNY and EDNY, in both criminal and civil divisions, moderated by former AUSA Maria Cruz Melendez, now a Partner at Skadden. The panel included:

·      Sagar Ravi, Assistant U.S. Attorney & Co-Chief, Complex Frauds & Cybercrime Unit, SDNY

·     Rebecca Tinio, Assistant U.S. Attorney & Co-Chief, Civil Frauds Unit, SDNY

·      Hiral Mehta, Assistant U.S. Attorney & Deputy Chief, Business and Securities Fraud Section, EDNY

·      Marietou Diouf, Assistant U.S. Attorney, International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section, EDNY

·      Camille Fletcher, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Narcotics Unit, SDNY

·      Dara Olds, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Civil Division, EDNY

·      Ivory Bishop, Assistant U.S. Attorney, General Crimes, EDNY

All the panelists echoed the passion of Damian and Breon in their love of their work and the weight accorded to representing the United States in court on important cases of great public interest, in both criminal and civil matters.

Hiral Mehta (EDNY) spoke about the proactive nature of the office and the flat structure. There is no hierarchy, and everyone’s input is sought. Ivory Bishop (SDNY) talked about getting to work on all types of cases, from street crimes to public corruption.

Rebecca Tinio (SDNY) mentioned that her cases were great for training, because they go to trial. Her unit works on high stakes cases, such as the tax and bankruptcy case involving Purdue Pharma, the anti-kickback cases involving Novartis, and groundbreaking cases involving the Clean Air Act.

Maria asked the panel what role diversity plays in the cases that the offices see. The panelists gave examples from cases they worked on, in which their own diverse backgrounds and experiences allowed them to connect with and relate to the witnesses in the case, ultimately leading to successful outcomes.

Maria asked the panel to address the hiring process. Dara Olds (EDNY) stated that her office has separate criminal and civil tracks. Rebecca (SDNY) explained that her office has one unified process for all applicants. Both offices have initial interviews, some conducted by those on the panel. Both offices request writing samples, which are reviewed to determine whether a candidate will advance. If the candidate gets through the first round, they are interviewed by more senior AUSAs, including section chiefs. The final round would involve the US Attorney and their executive staff.

Sagar Ravi (SDNY) stated that they are always accepting applications, and Hiral (EDNY) confirmed the same for his office, except during times when a hiring freeze is in place. Currently, there is none so right now “the doors are open.”

What if an applicant thinks that they do not have the right credentials to apply? Dara (EDNY) noted that the US Attorney’s office does not accept applicants straight from law school and encouraged everyone who has obtained several years of experience to apply, regardless of whether they are applying from a large firm or if they had clerked for a judge. Camille Fletcher (SDNY) advised that even if you don’t get called for an interview the first time, you should try again.

After the panels were done, all the attendees stayed for a reception with food and drinks generously provided by Cleary. Many of the panelists stayed to speak directly with the panelists and ask the questions they were not able to during the main program. The room was buzzing with lively conversations among prosecutors, attorneys, and law students in attendance.

Much thanks and appreciation go to all the speakers and moderators for the evening. Thanks to Una Dean for spearheading the event, to Cleary for being such a gracious host, and to all the co-sponsors:

·      Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association

·      Caribbean Attorneys Network

·      Dominican Bar Association

·      Hispanic National Bar Association – Region II

·      Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater
New York

·      Metropolitan Black Bar Association

·      Muslim Bar Association of New York

·      New York City Bar Association

·      National Black Prosecutors Association

·      South Asian Bar Association of New York

    AABANY Commends Longtime Sponsor Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Members Joon Kim and Rahul Mukhi for Their Work on the August 3 Report of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

    On August 3, the Office of the New York State Attorney General released its Report of Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, finding that the Governor had engaged in sexually harassing conduct with eleven individuals. AABANY would like to recognize and commend its longtime sponsor Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP for their work on the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo. The report not only found that Governor Cuomo had engaged in inappropriate contact with a number of State employees but also that the Executive Chamber normalized a culture of “fear and intimidation.” This hostile environment gave rise to dismissive and inadequate handling of sexual harassment allegations, while also permitting inappropriate behavior to persist within the Executive Chamber. As such, the investigative work performed by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP was critical to supporting the Office of the New York State Attorney General which was charged by the Governor to conduct the investigation.

    AABANY acknowledges and commends the important work of everyone else involved in this historic investigation, namely, Anne Clark and Yannick Grant of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark. Board Director Karen Yau practiced as a litigation associate and, before his 1994 appointment as United States District Judge in the Southern District of New York, Judge Denny Chin was a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., the predecessor of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark. Additionally, AABANY acknowledges and commends Joon Kim, Jennifer Kennedy Park, Abena Mainoo and Rahul Mukhi of Cleary. We proudly note that Joon Kim and Rahul Mukhi are current AABANY members. Joon was the former Acting United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York, and he was honored by the AABANY Prosecutors’ Committee in 2015, at its 7th Annual Reception. Read more about that event here.

    Please join AABANY in recognizing the vital work of Attorney General James and everyone who worked on this investigation and report.

    Congratulations to Joon Kim on Receiving the Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award

    On Thursday, May 23, 2019, Joon Kim, Partner at Cleary Gottlieb and AABANY member, was presented with the Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award at the New York State Bar Association’s “Smooth Moves: Career Strategies for Attorneys of Color” program at Lincoln Center. The Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award recognizes lawyers who demonstrate commitment to legal excellence, community service and mentoring. The program was sponsored by the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association.

    Joon Kim has led a distinguished career over two decades at high levels of government and in private practice at Cleary Gottlieb, personally trying over a dozen federal jury trials and actively participating in dozens more. He is also a regular speaker and panelist at leading industry conferences on criminal and regulatory matters.

    Please join AABANY in congratulating Joon Kim for this well-deserved award and honor.

    Photo courtesy of Cleary Gottlieb. Used with permission.

    AABANY’s LGBT Committee Hosts a Roundtable Discussion On Negotiating The Experience of Being Both LGBT and Asian American

    On March 5, 2019, the AABANY LGBT Committee held a roundtable discussion titled: “Transactional Identities: Navigating the various contexts of coming out for Asian American lawyers.”  

    Presenting were Connie Montoya, Partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP; Janice Jabido, IP Counsel, Pratt & Whitney; and Tony Thomas, Chief Legal & Labor Relations Officer, City University of New York – Brooklyn College.  

    Dennis M. Quinio, Manager of Diversity & Inclusion, Milbank, LLP, moderated the discussion.  

    Our esteemed presenters jump-started the conversation, sharing their experiences being LGBT and Asian American within the legal profession, their families and their communities at large.  They discussed the struggles of being in the closet; the dynamics of coming out to colleagues, clients, and family members; and strategies for overcoming day-to-day challenges such as microaggressions. Several Asian American LGBT attorneys from private practice, government and the nonprofit sector attended the discussion and shared their experiences in this confidential space, meant to foster a candid and supportive dialogue. We heard about others’ experiences harmonizing identities that may seem to be in conflict and explored how living our “authentic” selves can impact our effectiveness at work.

    The law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton graciously hosted the event. At the beginning of the roundtable, Sandra Flow, Partner and Chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion at Cleary, delivered warm welcoming remarks, affirming the firm’s commitment to supporting diverse attorneys.  

    If you would like to join the AABANY LGBT Committee or learn more, email John Vang at jvang@cfal.org.  

    AABANY Co-sponsors: An Evening With Preet Bharara at Cleary Gottlieb

    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.

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    Here is a fourth album of photos from the 2015 Fall Conference, Charting New Frontiers, held at Cleary Gottlieb on Saturday, September 19. This album contains photos from the cocktail reception and the committee dinners held by the Real Estate, Tax and In-House Counsel Committees. Thanks to Anna Chen, AABANY Legal Intern, and Simone Nguyen, AABANY Program Associate, for the great photos.

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    Here is a third album of photos from the 2015 Fall Conference, Charting New Frontiers, held on Sept. 19 at Cleary, Gottlieb. This set includes shots from the Inaugural Diversity Career Fair and the Cocktail Reception at which Rocky Chin received this year’s Norman Lau Kee Trailblazer Award. Thanks to Pei-Ching Chang for these terrific photos!