From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 2: Judges

In one landlord/tenant case before a judge who was not so swift, the landlord claimed the tenant hadn’t paid rent in three months while the tenant said he was up to date in his rent. The judge asked the tenant if he had a canceled check or receipt as proof but the tenant said the rent had been paid in cash and that he’d never thought it necessary to get a receipt. When the judge then asked if he had any witnesses to the payment, the tenant said he did: “the man upstairs.” The judge asked where the witness was and the tenant repeated that the witness was “the man upstairs.” In his wisdom, the judge then told the tenant that if he had trouble getting the witness to appear, the judge would help the tenant by issuing a subpoena. The tenant thought he was going crazy. He kept telling the judge “it’s the man upstairs” but the judge never got the message. Basically the judge was a pretty nice guy but if you got justice from him, it was purely coincidental.

Some of the other judges were not so “nice.” One judge had been an ADA in the office of District Attorney and while he thought of himself as being very smart, in reality he was a racist. If you had a black defendant in a criminal matter, you had to tell this judge that your client was a great basketball player. Otherwise he didn’t think he was worthy of consideration. This phony basketball claim kept an awful lot of clients out of jail.

One County Court judge was supposed to be very smart but he only seemed racist and abusive to me. I had a client, charged with felonious possession of a gun, who had a drug problem. His parents wanted him admitted to a facility for treatment and the District Attorney’s office had no objection but when I made an application in open court, requesting that the case be put over for a few months so that the client could be admitted to the facility, he began to berate me. He said that I pushed and pushed and never let go, that I was like a shopkeeper who always tried to make every sale. It was clear to me that this was an anti-Semitic diatribe and I told him that. He denied it, telling me that his former law partner was Jewish. He granted my application and I was convinced that had it not been for my accusing him of anti-Semitism he would have turned it down.

I tried to bring my complaint of anti-Semitism before the Administrative Judge of the County Court but he refused to see me; he did not want to get involved. When I failed to get another judge to see me, I filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct. News of this made the rounds among the judges and lawyers and I thought I would be castigated for what I had done—but it was just the opposite. Some of this Judge’s colleagues came to me, expressing their appreciation for what I had done since they felt this particular judge was abusive and one big “pain in the ass”. Some asked me if the incident with the judge had occurred before or after lunch. They felt it had probably been after a lunch during which he had done some drinking. In reality, though, this all happened before lunch and drinking probably did not enter into it.

I’m sure these kinds of judges are to be found all over America. If the lawyer gets a smart and decent judge, the lawyer has to consider himself lucky. But even if the judge is vicious and racist, the poor lawyer has to say “Your Honor” this and “Your Honor” that. But on a few occasions, I rebelled.

My client was scheduled for sentencing on a misdemeanor charge. The judge had promised probation and that’s what I expected. However, there was one wrinkle in the case. Between the time of his conviction and his sentencing, my client was arrested on another misdemeanor charge that was still pending when I came before the judge in his chambers. He insisted the deal was off and he wanted to give my client six months in prison. I told him that one thing had nothing to do with the other and that since the second case was still pending, the client had to be presumed innocent in regard to that case. The judge insisted on the six-month sentence but I suggested one month. He went down to five months and I suggested one and a half, and we kept going on and on like that. Suddenly the judge said to his uniformed court officer, looking at me with hatred in his eyes, “Arrest that man.” The court officer told the judge she couldn’t do that because I happened to be her lawyer in a personal matter, whereupon the judge started shouting and called on her to take his blood pressure. I suggested to the judge that he recuse himself, which he did. The case was assigned to another judge.

A few days later, my associate came running to me to tell me that this same judge was about to sentence one of our clients to jail on a DWI charge when he had already submitted himself for two months to a residential facility, which clearly did him more good than what would probably have been thirty days in jail. I ran over to the judge’s courtroom which was absolutely filled with lawyers having legal matters before the court, and asked to be recognized. I suggested the judge recuse himself from the case with my client and when the judge asked for the grounds of my request, I looked him in the eyes and said, “Judge, the grounds are that you are being irrational.” You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone (including me) was expecting the judge to tell the Court Officer to arrest me at once. But to our surprise, he did no such thing. He granted my request without referring to my claimed reason and ordered the transfer of the case to another judge. On the one hand I felt sorry for the judge but, on the other, I thought of all those defendants he’d “screwed” because of his irrationality. There is something about being a judge that lends itself to a sort of tyranny. No matter what the judge says or does, you’re not supposed to say anything and I think this has gone too far. If the judge is abusive or if he is simply a fool, it should be the lawyer’s duty to do something about it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Alvin Dorfman in his later years and with Maurice McNeill

Leave a comment

January 23, 2020 · 9:08 pm

From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 1

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Alvin Dorfman 1934 – 2019

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

Alvin Dorfman 1934 – 2019

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Court of Appeals Expands Hospital’s Duty of Care

https://nysdental.org/blog/nys-court-appeals-issues-decision-finding-doctors-liable-malpractice-injured-third-party

Appellate Court Decision Expands Physician Liability in Accidents Caused by Medicated Drivers

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our Practice

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Practice

ALVIN DORFMAN: A Life Filled with Achievement

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.

Bar Admissions

  • New York, 1958
  • U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York
  • U.S. District Court Southern District of New York

Education

  • 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

Classes/Seminars Taught

  • 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
    Member
  • New York State Trial Lawyers Association, 1960 – Present
    Attorney
  • Nassau County Bar Association, 1960 – Present
    Member
  • New York Civil Liberties Union, Nassau Chapter, 1970 – 1998
    Cooperating Attorney
  • National Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress
    Former Member
  • 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
    Chairperson
  • Freeport Community Worklink Center
    Founder
  • Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee
    Former member
  • 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
    Former Chairperson
  • 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
    Former Chairman
  • 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

Leave a comment

Filed under Legal Practice