To understand the significance of five lawyers who were singled out for this year’s Above the Bar awards, one could consider a different era.
Keynote speaker Kathie E. Davidson, a family court judge, harkened back to the mid-20th-century and Charles Hamilton Houston when she introduced the award winners Tuesday evening at Whitby Castle in Rye.
Houston was a prominent African American lawyer, dean of Howard University Law School, and mentor to a generation of black attorneys who dismantled school segregation and restrictive housing laws.
His work led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, “which allows me to stand here today before you,” said Davidson, who is the administrative judge for the five-county New York State Ninth Judicial District, “and also allows me to be the first African American woman in this position.”
She said Houston believed in education as an instrument for perfecting meaningful change. He called on the educated and well trained to use their talents to solve community problems and better the conditions of underprivileged citizens.
He advocated a philosophy of social engineering, “ground in the belief that the law could be used effectively to secure fundamental social change,” Davidson said.
Tuesday’s Above the Bar award winners practice in very different areas of law. What they have in common, Davidson said, is their pursuit of excellence and their sense of a higher calling.
Richard M. Gardella, the “Pace Setter” award winner, practices municipal and land use law with Bertine Hufnagel. He believes that lawyers should be scholars for life, and at age 83, Gardella still hones his thinking by reading carefully, writing and editing Westchester Lawyer magazine. He exemplifies what it means to give back to the legal community, Davidson said.
Natalie J. Sobchak, who won the award for “most socially conscious attorney,” directs pro bono programs at Pace University’s Women’s Justice Center, providing free legal services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sexual assault.
Kim Patricia Berg, “leading civil rights attorney,” has carved out a career as a founding partner of Gould & Berg, where she has specialized in employment law, including harassment, discrimination, retaliation and civil rights.
Julie C. Curley, “leading attorney under 40,” practices corporate and consumer bankruptcy at DelBello, Donnellan, Weingarten, Wise & Wiederkehr. She established a clinic that helps people who cannot afford an attorney file Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions, demonstrating, Davidson said, that she understands bankruptcy affects individuals as well as businesses.
Sarah Cinquemani, “most promising Pace Law student,” graduated in May with a certificate in environmental law. As president of the Student Bar Association, she worked on identifying student problems and finding creative solutions. She has accepted a position in government service as a New York State Excelsior Service Fellow.
The 12th annual Above the Bar ceremony was presented by Citrin Cooperman accountants and advisers, Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law, and Westchester County Business Journal.
Alan G. Badey, CPA, regional managing partner of Citrin Cooperman’s north region and co-leader of its law firm practice, said it was an honor to celebrate attorneys “who have gone above and beyond in our community.”
He said “the winners were inspiring” and their speeches “captivated the audience, which was filled with family, friends and colleagues.”
The five lawyers who were singled out, Davidson said, “are making a difference.”