About the Capital District Trial Lawyers Association
1972 saw the days of Special Term, which ironically many of us now miss, including interminable calendar congestion, trial scheduling issues and sundry other annoyances that made the life of the trial lawyer a little more difficult and stressful than it needed to be. Despite the problems and frustrations expressed amongst the trial lawyers, it did not seem that anyone was quite willing to go out on a limb and challenge the status quo by antagonizing those who had the power to figuratively hit you on the head with their little wooden hammer.
Out of mounting frustration and the sense of security in numbers, a small, and at first clandestine, cadre of our colleagues met. They met in the old marble halls of 16 Eagle Street. They met at the walnut tables of their respective conference rooms. And yes, they also met at the mahogany rails of the local watering holes. Alas, a plan was hatched.
Let us go as a ‘committee’ representing the trial bar and present our grievances. And so, on one cloudy day, off they marched, led by the now-legendary Dan Mahoney. Down Elk Street they went, then up the gray concrete steps, into the Courthouse and directly to the chambers of the late Administrative Judge Harold Koreman to present their writ. Now Judge Koreman, for those of you who may recall, could project a stern demeanor of deliberative gravity and scholarly insight. He was an excellent judge, more formal than casual, but behind the persona he was a nice guy and the right guy for the moment.
His response to the barristers at his bar was the admission that he had suspected there were problems but that no one had come forward to discuss them – until now.
He was receptive. He listened. They talked candidly and more than once. In the end certain changes were implemented. Furthermore, and to the point of this story, he suggested that this ad hoc committee should consider formalizing itself and coming regularly or as necessary to discuss and improve the functioning of the trial court. His door, he offered, would always be open.
The ‘committee’ realized that there was a larger purpose to this pursuit; the ‘committee’ could not only serve the role of liaison between the trial lawyers and the Court, but it could also offer trial lawyer oriented seminars, disseminate reports on verdicts and settlements and promote camaraderie among the men and women that worked so hard litigating and adjudicating cases. And thus was born The Capital District Trial Lawyers Association.
It was also decided that unlike most of the specialty bar associations of the day, this one would not cater to only one side or the other. It would not be a ‘plaintiff’s’ trial lawyer association or a ‘defense’ institute. It would be a forum for the exchange of ideas and expertise among all trial lawyers. It would be a place where the ‘shirt sleeve’ lawyer, young or old, could come and learn the ‘nuts and bolts’ of his or her profession. And so it has been over all the years an integrated bar with members, presidents, officers and board members from both counsel tables whose only purpose was to learn and hone the specialty of being the best trial lawyer they could be.
Dan Mahoney was elected the Charter President. The half day and the ‘mini luncheon seminar’ were creations of the CDTLA and remain a popular and much copied format. The elites of the trial bar, the orthopedic and cosmetic surgeons, economists, reconstructionists, academics and judges regularly served up gems over lunch. Trial technique demonstrations were performed and courtroom demonstrative aids such as anatomical skeletons, shadow boxes and easels were purchased and provided free of charge by the CDTLA. It has been more than forty years and the organization is still going strong, innovating, invigorating and still offering a medium in which the professional adversary can enjoy both skill enrichment and camaraderie.
In the spirit of the CDTLA, we recall the words of our late colleague Bill Gray, who ended a speech upon the acceptance of the Dan Mahoney Memorial Award, which is the CDTLA’s annual award given to an outstanding trial lawyer, by saying: “I will close with words too often used in hostility but offered to you today in friendship – see you in court.”