After being the first Latino district attorney elected in the state, Eric Gonzalez has continued to be a trailblazer on progressive priorities such as bail reform, the Brooklyn Young Adult Court and low-level drug offenses. His new Justice 2020 initiative aims to strengthen trust in the justice system by collaborating with communities. Big points include reducing incarceration, default early release in most parole proceedings, data-based accountability, and partnerships with neighborhood groups.
The 2020 Law Power 100: 6-50
The 2020 Law Power 100: 6-50
As U.S. attorney, Richard Donoghue serves over eight million residents in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in New York City and in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. Donoghue was appointed on an interim basis before getting sworn in in 2018. He convicted the infamous drug cartel leader El Chapo last year, is reportedly probing the New York City Department of Education, and was recently tasked with coordinating Ukraine-related investigations.
James Johnson does not have an easy job – as the corporation counsel of New York City, Johnson oversees a staff of nearly 1,000 lawyers and around 900 support professionals who represent New York City’s government in legal matters. Johnson, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in October, is a former assistant U.S. attorney, Brennan Center for Justice board chairman and former candidate for governor of New Jersey.
After presiding over New York’s highest court for nearly seven years, Jonathan Lippman joined the New York office of Latham & Watkins. Lippman has also utilized his experience as New York’s chief judge to continue reforming New York’s criminal justice system, drafting an in-depth report that addresses the public safety and the prison system in New York. Lippman championed the report’s recommendation to close Rikers Island, a proposal that’s now on track.
Jerry Goldfeder has been praised by the New York Law Journal for his expertise as an election, voting and campaign finance attorney. Goldfeder most recently represented presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in New York and previously worked for former President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He also served as special counsel for public integrity to then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He shares his knowledge with students at both Fordham University and the University of Pennsylvania and through his extensive writing on modern election law.
Roberta Kaplan is a pioneer of fighting for equal rights and opportunities for all. Kaplan, who runs her own firm (which recently acquired two big hires in Marshall Miller and Michael Ferrera), co-founded the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund to help fight sexual assault and harassment. She is currently representing author E. Jean Carroll in her defamation battle against President Donald Trump. She is also a lecturer at Columbia University.
Donna Lieberman has for nearly two decades been leading the New York Civil Liberties Union, an organization that boasts more than 185,000 members and eight offices around the state. She previously founded NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project, and over the past year she has been fighting back against the Trump administration’s policies on immigrants and refugees, speaking at the fourth anniversary of the Women’s March, and reforming solitary confinement in prison and jails.
Benjamin Brafman is no stranger to seeing his name in print. The high-power criminal defense attorney is known for defending high-profile clients like “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli, Jay Z and, for a time, Harvey Weinstein. The New Yorker called the skillful cross-examiner “the last of the big-time defense attorneys.” He frequently goes toe-to-toe with the government, including in 1995 against Loretta Lynch, the future U.S. attorney general.
David Hoovler is the district attorney of Orange County, which prosecutes over 22,000 criminal cases each year. But it’s his role leading the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York that makes him a heavyweight, especially as the organization has raised concerns about the state’s new criminal justice reforms. The organization also won a recent court battle against a state law that would have created a commission on prosecutorial conduct.
Cyrus Vance Jr. is seeking a comeback after receiving bad press (for things like declining to prosecute members of the Trump family and film producer Harvey Weinstein), imploded cases, mounting calls for his resignation and a growing field of primary challengers. Yet the well-resourced office ultimately brought charges against – and convicted – Weinstein, and won a ruling saying President Donald Trump must hand over eight years of tax returns to Vance’s office.
Edward Wallace is consistently recognized for his extensive work in business and government. After starting at The Legal Aid Society, Wallace became a city council member-at-large in Manhattan and later was chief of staff to the council president. A leading land use lawyer, he has since been hired to represent top New York schools, including Columbia and New York University, and has served as a trusted bridge for companies doing business with the government.
Mylan Denerstein served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s chief counsel and principal legal adviser – and even as she now represents clients in the private sector, she remains a Cuomo ally, including as an appointee on last year’s Public Campaign Financing Commission. Randy Mastro has a similarly distinguished political past as a key strategist and deputy mayor for then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He chairs the Citizens Union of the City of New York.
Leading defense lawyer Barry Berke took a temporary leave to be special counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. He also represented New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during campaign fundraising probes. Gary Naftalis, the firm’s co-chairman and litigation co-chairman, is a renowned trial lawyer, with a strong track record representing top corporations. Jeffrey Braun has litigated numerous land use and environmental cases and helped create new law on conceptual environmental reviews in New York’s highest court.
In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the trial lawyers as “the single most powerful political force in Albany.” A couple reasons why are the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and its political action committee, LawPAC. The PAC is chaired by Jeffrey Lichtman, a former NYSTLA president and senior partner at Trolman Glaser Corley & Lichtman, and Jeffrey Bloom, who has been at Gair Gair Conason since graduating from law school in 1979.
Frank Carone is an ally of and donor to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And while de Blasio is term-limited, Carone is also an ally and supporter of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, an early front-runner in the 2021 mayoral race. The well-connected counsel to the Brooklyn Democratic Party has also been linked to efforts to elect first lady Chirlane McCray as Brooklyn borough president. Carone was elected president of the Brooklyn Bar Association last summer.
Janet Sabel has returned to her roots to oversee the nation’s largest public defender organization. She worked for The Legal Aid Society for 25 years before leaving in 2011 to join the state attorney general’s office, where she served both as the executive deputy attorney general for social justice and then as a chief deputy attorney general. Sabel played a key role in challenges to the Trump administration on immigration and sanctuary city policies.
James Kennedy Jr. oversees the prosecution of any federal criminal case brought within 17 different counties of Western New York and represents the U.S. in civil matters within the territory. The federal prosecutor recently waded into a standoff between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Trump administration, arguing that the state’s refusal to share Department of Motor Vehicles records with the federal government “jeopardizes the safety of all inhabitants of our great country.”
Darcel Clark is the Bronx’s first female district attorney and the first African American woman to be elected district attorney in the state. Since her reelection last year, she has argued that with the state’s recent elimination of cash bail in many cases, the system still needs to account for repeat offenders. Clark has also called for more resources to address the “untreated trauma” and “misdiagnosed mental illness” at the root of many cases.
Melinda Katz went head-to-head with the upstart Tiffany Cabán in last year’s closely watched special election for Queens district attorney, ultimately winning the Democratic nomination by just 55 votes in a recount. While not as liberal as Cabán, Katz has pledged to usher in reforms – reviewing questionable convictions, reducing prosecution of low-level, nonviolent offenses, tackling housing fraud – that mark a departure from her predecessor, Richard Brown, who died in May.
Michael McMahon has served in the New York City Council and in Congress, and he has practiced civil and criminal law, but when he took office as district attorney in 2016, it was his first stint as a prosecutor. He helped continue the “SI Safe Ride Initiative,” an effort to combat drunk driving in Staten Island, while focusing on the opioid epidemic and bringing more resources to the borough’s criminal justice system.
David Boies made his name battling Microsoft, representing Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, and fighting for gay rights. In New York, he drew scrutiny for his tactics representing Harvey Weinstein and several accusers of Jeffrey Epstein. Harlan Levy, who held top roles in the state Attorney General’s Office, represented Centene in its $3.75 billion acquisition of Fidelis Care and defended New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fundraiser Ross Offinger during campaign fundraising probes.
Vincent Pitta and Robert Bishop have more than 30 years of experience working together to cover a wide range of labor, employment, legislative and government relations matters. With Pitta based in New York City and Bishop handling affairs in Albany, Pitta Bishop represents clients before both the New York City government and the state Legislature. Their affiliated consulting firm has represented clients including the Vera Institute of Justice and the Transport Workers Union.
Bart Schwartz, who has spent 30 years managing complex investigations, prosecutions and security assessments, was also selected last year as the federal monitor of the troubled New York City Housing Authority. In this role, he is tasked with ensuring that the public housing authority fixes its buildings and responds to residents. Schwartz previously served under then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani as the chief of the Criminal Division in the Southern District of New York.
Elizabeth Holtzman’s political career broke barriers, from ousting a powerful incumbent to win a House seat, to becoming the first woman elected Brooklyn district attorney and the first and only woman elected New York City comptroller. She has spent the past quarter century at Herrick Feinstein, where she co-chairs the government relations group. Belinda Schwartz leads the firm’s real estate department, is ranked as a top lawyer in the field and advises on key projects.
Jim Walden has a knack for taking on high-profile cases with political implications. The former federal prosecutor battled against the closure of a Brooklyn hospital with then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and persuaded Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allocate funds to the New York City Housing Authority. He represented a staffer who accused then-state Sen. Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her. And he successfully challenged the creation of a state commission on prosecutorial conduct.
Paul Shechtman served under Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Gov. George Pataki before moving on to Bracewell. He has represented many clients in government, including the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in an investigation into water treatment facilities, former nonprofit leader William Rapfogel and the Assembly during the corruption investigation of Sheldon Silver. Shechtman was recently selected for a New York State Bar Association task force to combat hate crimes.
As the 68th president of the New York City Bar Association – which is marking its 150th anniversary this year – Roger Juan Maldonado leads one of New York’s most venerable legal organizations. On his watch, the bar association asked Congress to investigate U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Closer to home, the organization has called for additional criminal justice reforms in Albany to benefit people convicted of a crime.
Henry “Hank” Greenberg became the president of the state bar association last year after spending the previous year as president-elect and chair of the association’s House of Delegates. Once a federal prosecutor and now a lawyer who focuses on civil litigation, criminal and civil investigations, and regulatory and administrative law, Greenberg has served as counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (when Cuomo was state attorney general) and the state Department of Health.
While general counsel to the New York City Department of City Planning, David Karnovsky worked on projects that directly impacted residential, commercial and institutional facility development. He was previously special counsel and policy adviser to the city’s deputy mayor for operations and chief of the Legal Counsel Division of the Office of the Corporation Counsel. Now, Karnovsky’s practice at Fried Frank focuses on land use, zoning, real estate development and environmental review.
Before taking on the role of dean at Cornell Law School in 2014 – as the first Latino dean of an Ivy League law school – Eduardo Peñalver became an expert in the field of property law and land use. The school is “diverse, intellectually rigorous and exceptionally collegial,” Peñalver said before becoming dean. He is known as a gifted scholar and a leader in the progressive property movement.
Gillian Lester is a nationally recognized expert on employment law and policy, and her research has extended into workplace intellectual property law, public finance policy, and the design of social insurance laws and regulations. In 2015 she became dean of Columbia Law, one of the nation’s top law schools. Lester has written extensively in her area of expertise and is the co-author of one of the leading casebooks in the field.
Trevor Morrison made an impression at a string of top law schools in New York before becoming dean at one of the best: NYU Law. He was previously on the faculty of Cornell Law School and later Columbia Law School. His expertise lies in constitutional law, federal courts, and the law of the executive branch, paving the way for him to serve as associate counsel to President Barack Obama in 2009.
Michael Cardozo was the city’s longest-tenured corporation counsel, serving from 2002 to 2013, then returned to his old firm where he had represented major sports leagues.Paul Salvatore represents the Real Estate Board of New York and helped negotiate Hudson Yards, the Manhattan real estate mega-development. Known for her expertise on sexual harassment and civil rights issues, Bettina “Betsy” Plevan has defended clients against gender discrimination claims, and led an investigation at CBS News.
Ken Fisher is one of “The Lawyers You Call,” according to the Observer. The former New York City councilman has gone on to have a second career as one of the city’s top land use lawyers, with a deep understanding of both policy matters and the politics that shape development. Stuart Shorenstein focuses on government relations and advocacy services, and he is considered a trusted counselor in high-profile matters.
Mary Jo White has been a prominent figure in the legal community for years, having served as chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and, before that, as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since returning to Debevoise and Plimpton in 2017, she has taken on tough cases – including defending members of the family that controls Purdue Pharma in opioid litigation.
Robert Giuffra is widely considered to be one of New York City’s leading litigators and is known for handling white-collar cases. In New York, he has represented Vornado Realty Trust’s Steven Roth, the New York State Bankers Association and a long list of Wall Street institutions. He has risen through the ranks since joining Sullivan & Cromwell in 1989, and now oversees its litigation practice. He has also held various New York governmental appointments.
As president of the nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University School of Law since 2005, Michael Waldman helps push forward the center’s goal of being a national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform and constitutional law. Waldman previously was director of speechwriting under President Bill Clinton and wrote or edited nearly 2,000 speeches. He is a constitutional lawyer and author of “The Fight to Vote.”
Juan Cartagena, a civil rights and constitutional law attorney, has led LatinoJustice since 2011 and is a leading voice on equality and nondiscrimination. He pens a biweekly column in El Diario, recently calling for the closure of Rikers Island and for rehabilitation instead of incarceration, and emphasizing the importance of allowing convicted felons the right to vote. In 2018 he was awarded the American Bar Association’s prestigious John Marshall Award.
Allen Klinger and Jeffrey Keitelman have different but corresponding interests, with Klinger focusing on public sector unions and employee benefit funds, and Keitelman on real estate projects including the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. About three years ago, the duo launched what Law360 called an “ambitious plan to transform” their firm, which operates in four cities. The plan, called Stroock 2020, involves restructuring and diversifying their staff.
Hundreds of federal judges handle weighty issues every day, but two in New York stand out for their work on politically explosive cases. Robert Katzmann, who has led his appeals court since 2013, recently ruled that President Donald Trump must turn over his tax returns – though the U.S. Supreme Court may disagree. Richard Berman, meanwhile, was assigned to the case of Jeffrey Epstein, calling for prison reforms after the alleged sex trafficker committed suicide in jail.
The New York Times once wrote that Gerald Lefcourt has become a familiar figure“at the trials that have often been proving grounds for radical politics” – including those of Black Panther leaders. The veteran attorney, who is known for defending anti-establishment clients, spent 20 years as the speaker of the state Assembly’s designee to the statewide Commission on Judicial Nomination, which evaluates Court of Appeals nominees and makes recommendations to the governor.
Peter Zimroth is still fighting against the NYPD’s unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk tactics. As the federal monitor overseeing the department’s reform of stop and frisk, Zimroth has filed nine reports, the most recent highlighting three “persistent” problems, according to the report. The NYU law professor was previously corporation counsel to New York City, where he headed a department of hundreds of lawyers and designed the city's well-respected law providing for the public financing of city elections.
An expert on First Amendment law with more than 50 years of legal experience, Victor Kovner advises media outlets seeking prepublication review and represents filmmakers, authors and publishers. He has lent his support to Democratic candidates over the years, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and he has also served in government as corporation counsel for New York City and chairman of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
A seasoned trial lawyer specializing in white-collar crime, health care fraud, perjury and charges of sexual misconduct, Susan Necheles was recognized for her “extraordinary and dedicated efforts on behalf of the accused” by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Necheles, who previously served as assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, is president of the New York Council of Defense Lawyers. She has also headed the New York Women’s Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Group.
Terrence Connors has represented key players in some of the biggest cases in Buffalo, including his longtime client the Diocese of Buffalo, which has faced accusations of sexual abuse by priests, and former LPCiminelli executive Kevin Schuler, a cooperating witness in the Buffalo Billion corruption trial. Often named one of the top Buffalo-area lawyers, he even represents other attorneys – such as Ross Cellino Jr., who is splitting up with personal injury firm partner Stephen Barnes.