Many lawyers avoid handling criminal matters, looking down upon those lawyers who do, and saying they can’t represent someone who is guilty or that they couldn’t deal with the responsibility of representing a client who might go to jail. But, of course, every person charged with a criminal offense should have adequate legal counsel and whether the client is guilty or not, there are usually redeeming factors. Rarely does a lawyer face a situation where the client is guilty and not worthy of any help. And most cases are plea bargained so that if a client faces years in jail, you’ll have done your job by getting the client reduced time or, possibly, alternate treatment such as drug rehabilitation.
I recall the first criminal case I handled. The Freeport Village Court assigned me to represent an indigent African-American man charged with violating a Village ordinance dealing with “disorderly conduct,” though he was essentially being tried for prostitution. He was very handsome and, impersonating a woman, he would allegedly pick up men (who thought they were picking up a woman). But while the New York State Penal Law includes disorderly conduct, there was a substantial question as to whether the Village had jurisdiction. I made a motion to dismiss and though I was faced with very feeble opposition, the Judge turned down my motion.
The Judge conducted his court as if he were presiding over the United States Supreme Court. In effect, he told me that he would never declare a local Village ordinance unconstitutional or otherwise illegal and that if I was serious I should go before the Appellate Courts. His claimed seriousness and independence was really spinelessness; he just didn’t want to take the responsibility. I put a lot of time into this case, making a detailed motion. However, the Judge refused to approve it because he didn’t think that the case was worth all that time. He told me only perfunctory representation was expected and not the wholehearted defense I offered. In fact, he said nobody had made a motion like this in such a case before.
I was new at the game and it really infuriated me. There were obviously two different applications of the law expected—one for the rich and another for the poor (particularly those with assigned counsel). The Judge looked straight at me and said he didn’t understand why I gave the case all this time; essentially he was saying that the defendant was just a poor black queer. I can’t even remember the result of the case. I am sure the defendant must have “pled out” and was not given any time. I’m not sure he was even fined. What I do remember vividly was the Court’s attitude in this case. That’s what made a big impression on me.
Alvin Dorfman passed away peacefully on Saturday, October 12, 2019. He was born in Brownsville, NY in 1934 and attended Brooklyn College and Columbia University. From an early age, Alvin practiced his intellectual talents and humanitarian ideals to fight for social justice and peace. In 1960, he opened his law practice in Freeport, which is continued today by his son Isaac. He is survived by his devoted wife Rochelle, four children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, October 13 at 12 PM at the Gutterman Funeral Home on 8000 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury. Donations may be made to the Center for Constitutional Rights in NYC.
Published in Newsday on Oct. 13, 2019
At the Law Office of Isaac Dorfman, our mission is to provide quality legal representation and counsel in a range of practice areas. Our firm has a reputation for thoroughness and preparedness and will use all resources at our command to achieve a successful outcome for our clients.
Law Office of Isaac Dorfman
72 Guy Lombardo Avenue
Freeport, NY 11520-3742
Phone: (516) 379-0500
Alvin Dorfman has handled personal injury cases from inception through trial for more than 40 years.
The son of Russian Immigrants, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, attended Brooklyn College and graduated Columbia Law School, where he achieved the distinction of being a Harlan Fiske Scholar.
His practice emphasizes personal injury, criminal, civil rights and civil liberties cases. His political activities have included running for District Attorney of Nassau County twice, running for the Nassau County legislature, and running for the New York State Assembly.
Mr. Dorfman is widely recognized for his impressive ability as an attorney and for his broad community involvement. Very notable in his background is his deep and abiding commitment to civil rights issues. Mr. Dorfman has been very active in defending civil rights activists, racial discrimination cases, freedom of information issues and integration issues.
He has served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Long Island Coordinating Committee for Civil Rights. He was a Board Member and the Treasurer of CARECEN, the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead. And, he has been an Attorney for a number of Nassau County community, civic and charitable organizations.
Mr. Dorfman fought a winning legal battle for a group of 100 Hispanic tenants who were being evicted from their apartment house complex in Hicksville. He spoke out for the residents of a minority neighborhood in Long Beach against the advertising weekly newspaper for engaging in a racially motivated economic boycott. He represented the residents of the Moxy-Rigby Housing Project against the Freeport Housing Authority in their struggle for adequate premises security. And, he represented Lakeview’s minority students in their historic fight in the Malverne School District busing case.
He’s been honored by many organizations including the Long Island Progressive Coalition, the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives and the American Jewish Congress.
Mr. Dorfman has been a Freeport resident for more than 50 years and together with his wife, Rochelle, raised four children and now enjoy the blessings of 23 grandchildren.
In December 1997, a group of 100 tenants, mostly Hispanic, received word from the Town of Oyster Bay that they would be immediately evicted from a building complex in Hicksville. Al Dorfman represented the tenants in a successful legal challenge to the planned eviction.
In 1982 Al Dorfman represented the residents of a minority section of Long Beach against the advertising weekly called the Pennysaver, charging that the Pennysaver had engaged in a racially motivated economic boycott of their neighborhood. In 1984, as part of the settlement, the Pennysaver agreed to distribute the paper to the neighborhood.
In 1974 Mr. Dorfman represented Dennis Dillon, then a Democratic candidate for Nassau County District Attorney, in a suit against the incumbent DA. It was the first lawsuit brought under the recently enacted Freedom of Information Law.
In 1967, the only Black teacher at Baldwin High School, Maurice McNeill, was accused of molesting a 16 year old, white female student. The School Board pressed administrative charges against the teacher. A large segment of the community supported McNeill. Mr. Dorfman represented McNeill at the school disciplinary hearings that lasted approximately two months. McNeill was fully exonerated at the conclusion of the hearings and reinstated with back pay. The hearings were covered by the national and international press and the major broadcast networks.
In 1969, during a period of racial tension at Long Beach High School, a Black student was arrested and charged with desecrating the American flag. Al Dorfman represented the student. During the four day trial, one witness invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer after Dorfman asked him if he had fabricated the charges. The student was acquitted after the jury deliberated only 10 minutes.
- New York, 1958
- U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York
- U.S. District Court Southern District of New York
- Columbia Law School, New York, New York, 1957
J.D., Doctor of Jurisprudence
Honors: Designated a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar
- Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York, 1954
B.A., Bachelor of Arts
Honors: Cum Laude
- Criminal Justice, Adelphi University, late 1970s
Honors and Awards
- Allard K. Lowenstein Memorial Award given by the American Jewish Congress, 1984
- CARECEN Pro-Bono Attorney of the Year 1997
- “Long Islander who has made a difference” by LI Progressive Coalition, 1994
- Kairos Award by LI Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, 1997
- John F. Kennedy Memorial Award by Freeport Democratic Club, 1975
Professional Associations and Memberships
- New York State Defenders Association
- New York State Trial Lawyers Association, 1960 – Present
- Nassau County Bar Association, 1960 – Present
- New York Civil Liberties Union, Nassau Chapter, 1970 – 1998
- National Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress
- American Jewish Congress
Former Vice President of Long Island Region & President of South Shore General Division
- Long Island Coordinating Committee for Civil Rights
Former Chairman and member of Board of Directors
- Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN)
Former member of Board of Directors, Treasurer, and Attorney
- Five Towns Forum, 2001 – 2011
- Freeport Community Worklink Center
- Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee
- Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party & Mississippi Challenge
Former Chairman of Long Island Committee of Support
- Wharlest Jackson Memorial Fund
Founder & former chairman (NAACP leader killed in Mississippi)
- Holocaust Survivors Association, 1996 – 2003
- Nassau County Democratic Party
Former member of Executive and Policy Committees
- Nassau County Democratic Party
Former candidate for County Legislator, 1975, and State Assembly, 1976
- Nassau County Democratic Party
Former candidate for Nassau DA, 1968 and 1974
- Nassau County Democratic Party Law Committee
- Long Island Council for Integrated Housing, 1964 – 1968
Former member of Board of Directors
Pro Bono Activities
- Baldwin School Board vs. Maurice McNeill, 1967 – 1968
- Malverne School District busing 1978
- Class action suit against Long Beach Pennysaver, 1982 – 1984
- Moxey Rigby housing project residents vs. Freeport Housing Authority 1989
- Asbestos removal in Hempstead High School 1991
- Mass tenant eviction in Hicksville by Town of Oyster Bay, 1997 – 1998
- Freedom of Information Law and Nassau County DA 1974
- Attorney for Southern Christian Leadership Conference in St. Augustine, FL 1964