Awardees were, from second from left: Susan Hernandez –Mediator of the Year Award; Jeffrey Lichtman — Criminal Lawyer of the Year Award; Thomas Maroney — Defense Lawyer of the Year Award; Marc Mauser — Lawyer of Integrity Award; Martin Minkowitz — Lifetime Achievement Award; Sybil Shainwald — Guardian of Women’s Health Award. Also present were: Left: Rabbi Pinchus Wechter — Dean of the Institute, right: Mitchell Sassower — Dinner chair.
The Institute of Jewish Humanities held its Thirty-Sixth Annual Testimonial Dinner on Wednesday, December 15, 2015 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Honored at the dinner was Jeffrey Lichtman as the Criminal Lawyer of the Year.
Excerpts from his acceptance speech:
“An important part of tonight for me is my Jewishness. Growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s, I was constantly reminded of the dangers of being a Jew. My grandparents spoke about their family members who were killed in the Holocaust, and the hatred of Jews worldwide continued as confirmed by current events: the murder of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Olympics, the Yom Kippur war launched on the holiest day in Judaism by multiple, neighboring Arab states against Israel, the constant terror attacks against Israel and Jews worldwide. We all felt like a cornered, scrappy underdog: knowing that any fight Israel lost – and as Jews, Israel WAS us – could mean the end of Israel’s existence, the one place where Jews supposedly could be safe.
I think my Jewishness had a large part in taking me down the path of becoming an attorney and becoming the type of attorney I am today – an aggressive criminal trial lawyer fighting for the underdog. I fight all my cases to the death and I don’t give in, not an inch. I consider every case to be a personal affront because a loss for the client is a loss for me.
As I said earlier, the Institute of Jewish Humanities was founded to promote the ideals of justice and equality of all people — and political correctness in this country destroys those two ideals because it forces us to treat certain people differently, others without justice – just because we are told by our government how to think and feel. And some of us don’t like that. Criminal defense lawyers don’t like that. And that’s why I’m speaking up. We as criminal lawyers don’t take the easy road, the path of least resistance. I wake up in the morning and as soon as I hit the office it’s one battle after another. Prosecutors, judges, even the clients sometimes. And as criminal attorneys we have to say things that are sometimes, painfully, unpleasant. Not always a fun day.
Being a Jew is not easy today but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It means you have to fight harder to win your point because the odds are stacked against you – exactly like being a criminal defense lawyer. It can be more frustrating being a Jew sometimes, however, because the reason the odds are stacked against defense lawyers is that our clients are oftentimes guilty with overwhelming evidence against them. Being a Jew and arguing your point means you go up against mountains of hypocrisy and double standards – even when the evidence is overwhelmingly on your side.
Being a criminal attorney and being a Jew means you have to root out double standards. You have to fight to the death for your position because if you lose, it could mean the end of you or your client.
Tonight during this happy event, if we’re seriously here to celebrate lawyers and to celebrate justice, then no more of this. No more double standards and political correctness when it comes to Jews and Israel, no more political correctness in America which is getting us killed. Because if we can’t provide justice to all of us, we’re providing justice to none of us. Thank you.”