On September 28, 2006, I had the honor of hosting a dinner of the Theodore Roosevelt Chapter of the American Inns of Court attended by United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. It is very rare that a sitting Supreme Court Justice makes an appearance on Long Island. Justice Alito, who is the newest appointment to the Supreme Court, flew in from Washington just for the occasion of being the guest speaker and special honoree at the Inns annual dinner held in Mineola. The event was very well attended with approximately 200 guests including many judges from the federal, state and local branches, and numerous other dignitaries from Long Island.
No matter what political party attendees were affiliated with, the consensus appeared to find Justice Alito to be a warm, personable and charismatic gentleman. In an extended cocktail hour, guests had an opportunity to mingle with the Justice, who was also good-natured and cooperated with the many attorneys and judges who sought to be photographed with him.
The evenings highlight was a half-hour speech Justice Alito delivered that was filled with anecdotes from the time he was nominated by President Bush to the end of his first term. Although his speech contained mostly amusing and light-hearted stories, the Justice also took the opportunity to discuss the importance of judicial independence. Discussing his own experiences during his confirmation process, the Justice suggested that the news media in particular threatened the judiciary by raising too many unfounded ethical charges against judges and judicial nominees.
In one amusing anecdote, the Justice commented that as soon as he was nominated, he seemed besieged by the press who sought to photograph and film him during every waking moment, hoping to catch him tripping or saying something embarrassing. He mentioned that for a while, he was photographed on a daily basis in one particular building in Washington where he was frequently on one of the upper floors. He explained that there was a very large open atrium in the center of the building, towards which all hallways opened. As he left a room, the justice explained, the photographers waiting outside would immediately get in front of him and walk backwards, photographing him as he proceeded down the hall. His imagination getting the better of him, the Justice said that he developed images in his mind of the mass of photographers backing up to the banister and falling over the railing, like lemmings, several stories to their death, at the bottom of the atrium. As the photographers got increasingly close to falling over, the Justice said that he actually felt alarmed for them, which showed in his facial expressions. Finally the Justice explained that the resultant published pictures of him showed his fearful expression, but belied his true concern for the photographers fates, not his reaction to the confirmation proceedings. This brought much laughter to the audience.
As chairman of the Inns dinner committee, a post I have held for five years, behind the scenes preparation was necessary, including meeting with a special advance team of the United States Marshals Service, the governmental branch that protects the judiciary. Since the event was a total sell-out with every ticket taken, I joked with the crowd that the police presence there was not to protect the Justice but to chase away the ticket scalpers.
There were several other presentations that night. Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Ira B. Warshawsky, the out-going president, delivered some opening remarks about the importance of civility and collegiality in the practice of law. Brookville attorney and former president, Marilyn K. Genoa, delivered the invocation.
Inn Secretary, Douglas T. Burns, detailed Justice Alitos lengthy and impressive background and provided his introduction. Also in attendance as a special guest was Douglas T. Burns father, Arnold I. Burns, who worked with and mentored Justice Alito when Arnold I. Burns was the Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the Reagan Administration. It was the efforts of the Burns that resulted in the Justices participation.
Justice Alito swore-in the Theodore Roosevelt Inns new 2006-2007 board, officers and president. Incoming-president, Lois Carter Schlissel, delivered an address about the future of the chapter. Ms. Schlissel is the managing attorney of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein. Also sworn in was the new president-elect, Judge Leonard B. Austin. On behalf of the Inn, I presented Justice Alito with an engraved Waterford Crystal Clock. The Inn customarily makes a donation each year to a local law school and this year the recipient was Touro Law School.
The Theodore Roosevelt Inn of Court is a chapter of the American Inns of Court, which is dedicated to the enhancement of civility, ethics and legal excellence in the practice of law. To foster these concepts, the chapter emphasizes hands on participation in the preparation and presentation of programs which address everyday experiences which lawyers face in their practices. Members include a number of federal and state judges, from seasoned trial lawyers to inexperienced litigators, attorneys from both public and private sectors, and law students from Touro, Hofstra and St. Johns Law Schools.