Attendees at the 2024 Civic Fame Award

NYLS’s Civic Fame Award Honors Profound Impact of NYC Law Department

Attendees at the 2024 Civic Fame Award
Photo Credit: Robert Mayer, City of New York Law Department

On an evening poised to celebrate the profound impact of the New York City Law Department, the Abbey Hall auditorium buzzed with excitement. The room was filled with a diverse group of attendees, including former Corporation Counsels, current and former Law Department attorneys and staff, students from the Department’s 2024 Summer Honors Program, and New York Law School (NYLS) leaders, including Dean and President Anthony W. Crowell and Professor and Founding Director of the Center for New York City Law Ross Sandler.

The ceremony was set in motion by Dean Crowell, who shared a heartfelt introduction that touched on his personal journey and connection to the Law Department. Dean Crowell’s first foray into New York City government was as an Assistant Corporation Counsel, an experience that he said “completely shaped my professional trajectory and approach to lawyering.”

Dean Crowell also highlighted the deep-rooted, century-long relationship between NYLS and the Law Department. Deepening this connection, both institutions are collaborating to develop an upcoming symposium titled “The City’s Lawyers: Leadership and Law in Times of Crisis,” aimed at fostering discussions and reflections on the pivotal role of city lawyers during challenging times.

“The exemplary and inspirational professionalism, inimitable expertise, and highly competent and stable leadership of the Law Department over so many years are what make it a model for other law departments globally,” Dean Crowell said. “Indeed, what happens in New York matters everywhere. That’s why, right now, it feels so right to honor the Law Department with the Civic Fame Award.”

Next, Professor Sandler shared insights on the Center for New York City Law’s connection to the Law Department. Reflecting on the Center’s establishment, Sandler recalled, “A key goal of the Center for New York City Law was to recognize the good and often heroic efforts of city workers to make this city what it is.” He noted how the Law Department has continuously supported the Center in achieving these goals through collaborative efforts to create relevant CLE programs and promote transparency within the civic community.

Dean Crowell and Board of Trustees Chair Arthur Abbey ’59 then joined Professor Sandler at the podium to give the Civic Fame Award to the Law Department. In his remarks recognizing the honor, Law Department Managing Attorney Eric Eichenholtz hailed the Department as an “institutional backbone” and highlighted its impact on the lives of the City’s eight million residents.

“What may not be as visible to the average New Yorker is the breadth of our impact on civic life. Whether it’s a new park along the riverfront, a new stadium, a change improving the way the city delivers services, or all-important reforms to policing, the Law Department almost invariably plays a central—although sometimes quiet—and critical role in making our lives better in all aspects of our civic life,” Eichenholtz said.

The evening continued with moving speeches from all four former Corporation Counsels present at the event. First was Michael A. Cardozo, 77th Corporation Counsel, who recounted his experience in the role post-9/11 and emphasized the Law Department’s tremendous yet lesser-known achievements. Among them: the creation of the High Line, the acquisition of Governors Island, new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets, and several public health initiatives such as the banning of smoking in New York City restaurants.

 “I’m sure that all those from the Corporation Counsel’s office would agree with me when I say—despite the very, very hard work that was required to achieve these results—it was an honor to represent the City of New York and have a positive impact on the city,” Cardozo said.

Zachary W. Carter, 78th Corporation Counsel, then took the podium, infusing humor and warmth into his speech by sharing anecdotes from his time at the Law Department. Applauding NYLS, Carter recognized the Law School “for years ago having appreciated the fact that the study of New York City government is worthy of specialized attention.” Having kept the audience smiling throughout, Carter ended his remarks by jokingly referring to the Law Department as “the department of know,” crediting it as a guardian of the rule of law and democracy.

79th Corporation Counsel James E. Johnson focused his remarks on three key points: his time as Corporation Counsel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of the Law Department during the polarizing and historic racial reckoning in 2020, and what he calls “The Quiet Crisis,” a period of internal distress that the Law Department survived through empathy. Addressing the 2024 Summer Honors interns, Johnson said, “Whether you come back to the Law Department or go elsewhere, what the Law Department has needs to go elsewhere. There were many values that we had, but the fundamental one—the thing that made the difference—is that we’ve always kept in mind the common good, first with each other and then for the city.”

Lastly, 81st Corporation Counsel Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix approached the podium to deliver a charming final set of remarks. She endearingly praised the Law Department as “the heart of New York City, where everything beats and from where the [City’s] blood flows.” Hinds-Radix reflected on the breadth of the Department’s work, prompting the other former Corporation Counsels to agree that the role uniquely touches every facet of the law. Expressing deep appreciation for everyone at the Law Department, Hinds-Radix said, “We get to see a group of people who are the hardest-working people that you can see, people who really are committed to what they do and who are committed to the city of New York.” Hinds-Radix received an honorary degree from NYLS this past May at its 132nd Commencement ceremony.

Concluding the ceremony, Dean Crowell shared heartwarming final words with everyone: “[Judge Hinds-Radix] underscored a real common theme that, to be an effective lawyer and to be a successful lawyer, it starts with love and compassion and a great deal of commitment and loyalty to your client. And in this case, it’s our great city.”

See photos from the event.