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March/1/2012

Remembering Tony, By Matthew J. Kelly, Esq.

From the March 2012 Newsletter

REMEMBERING TONY
By: Matthew J. Kelly, Esq.
Roemer, Wallens Gold & Mineaux, LLP
mkelly@rwgmlaw.com

It was late 1991.  In Supreme Court, Albany County, it was taking longer and longer to have your case reached for trial.  Twelve to fifteen months delay was not unusual.  Two then younger members of the Bar Association sought to find a remedy.  Conversations were had and the then Administrative Judge of the Third Judicial District, Edward Conway, suggested that we present a proposal.  Mae D’Agostino and I started to put the pieces together for something that we termed “settlement week.”  We sought to conference the hundreds of cases on the Supreme Court calendar and speed up dispositions and remove the back log.  It would require shutting down the courthouse for a week so that everyone’s attention could be focused on settlement. 

This was a novel idea for Albany.  We weren’t quite sure how the senior members of the Bar or of the Judiciary would feel about it.  Then after much preliminary planning, Judge Conway reached retirement age and had to step down as Administrative Judge.  We then attended a meeting with the new Administrative Judge.  Not only did Tony Cardona congratulate us on having a great idea but gave us instructions to move forward and that he would see to it that we had all the cooperation we needed.  He embraced this innovative approach and made sure that all the members of the judiciary and staff in the courthouse were behind it.  Once that word got around, all the older lawyers fell right into line and volunteered to be mediators at settlement week.  From Carter to Conboy to Bloomberg and Solomon, they all helped. 

It was held in December 1992 and proved a great success.  It eliminated the lengthy delay from note of issue to trial date by not only settling cases, but removing others that shouldn’t have been on the calendar or had already been abandoned.  Indeed in the years following that, lawyers would complain that their cases got reached too quickly, and they weren’t ready for trial just yet. 

In that same time frame indigents in Albany County who needed or wanted a divorce had to wait on an extraordinary long list at the Legal Aid Society.  These were people who would never have the money to hire private attorneys but whose lives were at a standstill because they could not get a divorce.  Michael Friedman and I decided that there should be a way for us to obtain divorces for these indigents without them having to wait for years.  Mike suggested that the Bar Association could sponsor a Saturday morning program which would assist indigents in completing all the paperwork necessary, including the fault grounds for divorce.

We presented this idea to the then Presiding Justice of the Third Department.  The same Tony Cardona.  He once again embraced the idea and its creative approach to solving a backlog and immediately put his stamp of approval on it.  I mentioned some potential obstacles to the efficient operation of the program.  Right there, he picked up the phone and instructed other elected officials that this program was going forward.  No more road block.  Once again, Judge Cardona’s enthusiasm removed all opposition to the program and even when there were bumps in the road with some members of the judiciary, he addressed them with the same aplomb that characterized his ability to bring parties together.  The Pro Se Divorce Program was recognized for its achievements by the New York State Bar Association and by coverage on National Public Radio.  From 1994 to 2003 (when the program was computerized) over 600 people had their cases resolved through the program.  Tony even stopped in one Saturday morning to the Jurors Lounge when it was filled with forty needy people as well as the great volunteers from the legal assistant group.  He wanted to make sure Mike and I knew that he had our backs, and that he was thrilled with the program.  Now OCA has a booklet for pro se divorces.  Tony made sure word of our program got around.

The Judge wasn’t done.  In April 2000, Chief Justice Judith Kaye held a roundtable at the State Bar Center to discuss the lack of diversity in private firms in Albany.  Partners from more than thirty firms gathered and heard tough, but necessary, talk about diversity.  Standing side by side with Judge Kaye was Tony Cardona. 

  At that meeting, two no longer young lawyers, Randy Treece and myself came up with a program to provide internships to minority law students which would serve as a feeder for employment in private firms after graduation.  When we mentioned the program to Tony Cardona, he made sure once again that everyone knew he thought this was a great idea and they should support it.  The Diversity Internship Program received national recognition from the American Bar Association, and is now in its thirteenth year and has provided opportunities for over 200 minority law students. 

In three separate occasions, Tony Cardona demonstrated that he was a man of change and action for the betterment of the public.  His dedication to the law and to people was visionary.  In each one of these circumstances, he provided a great deal of the heavy lifting but allowed all the credit to shower down on the Bar Association and its members.  We were fortunate to have him at a time when change was possible and results could be achieved.  As he used to say, “This is terrific.”  You were Tony, you were.






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