Chinatown Financial Way of Life on Trial

abacusIf you want a tale of a bank charged with falsifying loan-application documents by inflating borrower assets, incomes, and job titles, and “fraudulent mortgages” being sold to Fannie Mae, the federally backed mortgage company, see the documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. It is a 2016 American documentary by Steve James that centers on Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank situated in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It was deemed “small enough to jail” rather than “too big to fail” and became the only financial institution to face criminal charges following the subprime mortgage crisis when District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced a 184-count indictment against the bank and 19 of its current and former employees accusing them of conspiracy, grand larceny, falsifying business records, and residential mortgage fraud.  Ten Abacus employees accepted plea deals in exchange for testifying against the bank, and Ken Yu became the star witness. The film debuted at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival winning first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category.

The principal behind Abacus is Thomas Sung (Brooklyn Law School, Class of 1964). Born in Shanghai, he emigrated at age 16 to New York in 1952. His family was processed through Ellis Island and detained for three months before they could settle in New York. That left Sung determined to learn the law and help other immigrants. After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Florida in agricultural economics, he worked as an analyst for several New York companies while attending Brooklyn Law School at night. He began practicing law in 1964 and worked pro bono for the Chinese community. Sung founded Abacus in 1984 to serve the immigrant population, which had grown in New York. “We take people from illegal immigrant status, to legal status, to prosperous business people and homeowners,” said Sung.

Whether the government was giving a pass to big banks and picking on a small one, perhaps with a tinge of racism in its motives, is a question. Vance called the accusations of cultural bias “entirely misplaced and entirely wrong” adding “I felt that our handling of the bank was consistent with how we would have handled the bank if we were investigating a bank that serviced a South American community or the Indian community.” The movie shows its affection for the Sung family, which was equipped professionally, if not financially, for an expensive legal battle. Three daughters were trained as lawyers, including Jill Sung, the bank’s chief executive, Vera Sung, a director of the bank, who worked for the Brooklyn DA’s office for two-and-a-half years, and Chantarelle Sung, who worked in the Manhattan DA’s office for seven years leaving when Vance took over and started prosecuting her family’s bank. The NY Times criticized the filing as a dubious mortgage fraud case against Abacus, which was tatally exonerated at trial. Local newspapers put the news of the bank’s acquittal on their front pages. There was criticism from Bennett L. Gershman, a former prosecutor at the Manhattan D.A.’s office now a professor at Pace Law School, who said “This case just involved a terrible example of poor judgment by the prosecutor.” He characterized it as a “David and Goliath situation,” echoing a widespread view that it was convenient to make an example of a small bank like Abacus.

Trump, Cicero and the Power of Rhetoric

The rhetoric which Donald Trump practices works partly because Trump is employing many of the same rhetorical strategies used by one of the greatest orators in history: Cicero. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was born on January 3, 106 BC in the hill town of Arpinum, about 60 miles southeast of Rome. He won his share of elections and moved up the ranks of the Roman republic until he became consul, the highest office in the land, at a younger age than anyone ever had without coming from a politically connected family. He was the Kennedy or the Obama of first-century-B.C. Rome. He was a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. But he sounded a lot like Trump when it came to rhetoric. And he knew how to use it.

ciceroWhen Cicero was attacking the corrupt governor Gaius Verres (see Brooklyn Law School Library’s 2011 e-book Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.53-86), he used the rhetorical device of preterition, an unfamiliar word whose concept has become familiar this year. Preterition is when a speaker says he will not mention something, usually something unsavory. By naming the thing he will not mention, of course he has already planted the idea in his listeners’ minds. “Nothing shall be said of his drunken nocturnal revels; no mention shall be made of his pimps and dicers,” Cicero said about Verres. The list went on. Cicero rounded it out by saying, “The rest of his life has been such that I can well afford to put up with the loss of not mentioning those enormities.” If listeners didn’t know before about Verres’ liking for alcohol and prostitutes, they did now.

Then there Cicero’s tactic of asking the audience a leading question – stirring up their enthusiasm as participants, and suggesting an answer that he cannot state himself. That sort of question is formally called anachinosis. Defending his friend Rabirius, who had a role in the death of a populist political figure, Cicero laid out the chaotic situation and asked, “What would you do in such a crisis? …. While the consuls were summoning you to uphold the safety and liberty of your country, which authority, which invitation, which party would you prefer to follow, whose command would you select to obey?” Cicero led his listeners to believe that, amid the tumult that led to the death, any one of them might well have acted just like Rabirius.

Then there is ecphonesis which we see in the exclamation at the end of Trump’s tweets. “O tempora! O mores!” (“The times! The customs!”) Cicero wrote in one of his most famous expressions, evocatively proclaiming his distress about society in just a few punctuated words. Trump deploys ecphonesis effectively and memorably when he ends his tweets, “Sad!”

ciceroFor more, see Brooklyn Law School Library’s 2002 e-book Brill’s Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric intended as a companion to the study of Cicero’s oratory and rhetoric for both students and experts in the field: for the neophyte, it provides a starting point; for the veteran Ciceronian scholar, a place for renewing the dialogue about issues concerning Ciceronian oratory and rhetoric; for all, a site of engagement at various levels with Ciceronian scholarship and bibliography. The book is arranged chronologically and covers most aspects of Cicero’s oratory and rhetoric.

Kosher Christmas

kosherBrooklyn Law School Library’s e-book collection has a great title for this time of year:  A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish by Joshua Eli Plaut. The book combines history, Jewish studies and sociology beginning with urban-bourgeois Jewish émigrés from German-speaking countries who decorated trees, exchanged presents and sang carols in “a family festival devoid of religious meaning.” The author describes how modern Jews elevated the once-minor holiday of Hanukkah, which this year ends tonight, to its big-time status as Christmas’s partner. With chapters on intermarriage, holiday cards designed for blended couples, and Jewish composers of Christmas songs, the author explains how German-American Jews “ate customary Christmas foods, particularly sweets like stollen, lebkuchen and pfefferkuc (although they prepared the treats with butter instead of lard).” He explains that “Jews flock to Chinese restaurants on Christmas not only because they are open while other restaurants are closed but also because Jews regard eating Chinese food as a special occasion.” Read why Jews, before or after their Chinese Christmas dinners, hit the movies. In the first decade of the 20th century, we learn, 42 nickelodeons were in the Lower East Side of New York with 10 more uptown in what was branded Jewish Harlem.

Plaut reports on the tradition of Jewish volunteering, the Christmas mitzvah — something to do when the rest of the world has the day off. Jews feed the hungry, fill in for Christians at work, donate toys, play Santa. These are activities that allow “Jews the opportunity to participate in Christmas, but in a way that does not detract from their Jewish identity; in fact, their volunteerism reinforces their Jewishness.”

The introduction to “A Kosher Christmas” says: “We encounter in the following chapters a multitude of distinctive strategies that portray how Jews survive and thrive in American society and how they transform Christmastime into a holiday season belonging to all Americans. The concluding chapter “Menorahs Next to Madonnas” tells the story from 1993 when Myrna Holzman, a retired public-school teacher in New York and an avid stamp collector, started a crusade to convince the U.S. Postal Service to produce a Hanukkah stamp. Her Hanukkah stamp campaign finally resulted in the U.S. Postal Service’s release of a Hanukkah stamp in 1996. The postal service invited her to the launching ceremony for the new Hanukkah stamp, the first stamp to be a joint-issue between the United States and Israel. To Myrna’s surprise, the symbol chosen to represent Hanukkah was a modern rendition of the menorah, consisting of playful, colorful shapes, The choice was ironic because the post office committee had previously rejected the menorah as a religious symbol. In 2004, the postal service released another Hanukkah stamp, this time featuring a dreidel, as Myrna had originally suggested. At 173 pages plus notes, this book is recommended for readers interested in an academic study of American Jewish cultural traditions and the “December Dilemma” of Christmas v. Chanukah as the inevitable duel that confronts many American Jews each December.

Library Hours for Winter Break & Winter Session

The Library will be closed Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 through Monday, January 1st, 2018 for Winter Break.

Winter Session hours are:

Tuesday, January 2 – Saturday, January 6:  9:00am – 10:00pm

Sunday, January 7:  10:00am – 10:00pm

Monday, January 8 – Saturday, January 13:  9:00am – 10:00pm

Sunday, January 14:  10:00am – 10:00pm

Monday, January 15:  9:00am – 10:00pm (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

 

Net Neutrality Rules: Zero Hour

Network neutrality is in danger. Yet it is not what those of us who care about democracy and a free marketplace of ideas seek. We need to be fighting to wrest access to the internet out of the hands of large corporations who currently dominate it. The debate makes clear that it is time to start treating the internet like a utility. Most regions of the US are dominated by only one or two major internet service providers. A marketplace with so few choices is not a free market. The net neutrality debate makes clear that it is time to start treating internet like a utility rather than pretending that monopolistic internet service providers operate in a free market.

Current FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, voted against those rules when he was a commissioner. He has supported “light-touch” regulations that instead require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose any blocking or prioritization of their own content or from their partners. Now more than twenty Internet experts, including the “father of the internet” Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, say in a letter that they are concerned that rules written to replace the current ones are based “on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology”. They mentioned “major problems” the FCC had with its online comment system. The FCC received 23 million comments on the issue of net neutrality, but millions of them were fake submissions. Nearly a half-million comments came from Russian email addresses. Last week, the agency’s general counsel rejected an open letter by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s (D) request for information about comments filed in the agency’s net neutrality records and whether some were filed under stolen identities.

The FCC is expected to pass the new regulations, with the three Republicans on the commission saying they support the measure.  The FCC, the letter noted, has also not “held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order” ― a break from “established practice.” Congress should cancel the agency’s vote, the experts say, because the FCC’s “rushed and technically incorrect proposed Order to abolish net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create.” Democratic lawmakers have consistently opposed the repeal and are continuing their quest to keep the net neutrality rules in place. A letter by thirty-nine senators urged Pai  to “abandon this radical and reckless plan to turn the FCC’s back on consumers and the future of the free and open Internet.” On December 7, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 4585 to prohibit the FCC from relying on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the matter of restoring internet freedom to adopt, amend, revoke, or otherwise modify any rule of the Commission. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) announced that he will introduce legislation to reverse the repeal if the FCC votes on it.

net

It is unlikely that the three Republican commissioners will switch sides. The FCC is an independent agency. The courts have generally allowed the FCC to classify services as it wishes. One issue is  whether the FCC has the authority to make a U-turn and reduce broadband ISPs to an information service. A court could challenge the FCC’s reversal ruling that the agency is behaving in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner. It will be hard to convince a court that broadband service is no longer a utility subject to regulation. Courts will serve as the real check on an FCC trying to create a closed off and more expensive web. See Brooklyn Law Library’s online version of Regulating the Web: Network Neutrality and the Fate of the Open Internet which brings together a diverse collection of scholars who examine the net neutrality policy and surrounding debates. The book contributes to discourse about net neutrality so we may continue toward preserving a truly open Internet structure in the US.

Mindfulness and Meditation for the Legal Professional

Now that we are in the reading period at BLS (aka Hell Week at some institutions) and exams are just around the corner, stress levels are running high. Throughout the library, anxious faces are buried in casebooks and class notes, an ample caffeine supply on hand to fuel the late night cram sessions. Sadly, the stress doesn’t end upon graduation. Being a lawyer requires you to deal with conflict, unreasonable client demands, tight deadlines, and long hours. These can be especially unforgiving for someone newly entering the profession, and can lead to unhealthy habits — there’s a reason why some state bar associations require members to take continuing legal education classes on substance abuse.

So what is a stressed out law student or lawyer to do?

The answer, according to Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford, is mindfulness and meditation. In their book, The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-week Guide to Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation (2016) [Call number: KF298.C47 2016], lawyers Cho and Gifford have crafted a meditation program targeted to fellow members of the legal profession.  The program is aimed at those new to meditation and includes a variety of exercise and practices, covering such topics as mindfulness, compassion towards others and self, mantra repetition, heartfulness, and gratitude. By following this initial eight week program, readers hopefully will see a change, for the better, in their habits and perspectives. They would be able to build on these changes and continue their meditation practices going forward, including developing meditation styles that best suit their own needs.

Law students and attorneys will relate to the many examples drawn from the authors’ experiences from law practice, and how they personally benefited from meditation. For example, in the chapter on mindfulness, Cho and Gifford discuss mindful client interviews, and the importance of setting boundaries with clients. They broach topics such as working with difficult opposing counsel, and the challenges of “toxic mentoring.”

Cho and Gifford don’t sugarcoat the fact that it may not be easy for lawyers to start or to stick with a meditation practice. Our perspectives on our lives and profession get ossified and habits are hard to break. The authors’ approach provides a road map to get started with meditation and mindfulness, with plenty of room for the individual to adapt what best works for him- or herself. In addition to the guidance provided in The Anxious Lawyer, Jeena Cho’s podcasts cover related topics and are worth checking out.

For members of the BLS community who wish to engage in meditation, BLS Library has a Contemplation Room, Room 105M on the first floor mezzanine. This space is provided for students, staff and faculty to engage in contemplation, meditation, or quiet spiritual awareness. If you have any questions about the Contemplation Room, stop by the reference desk and we would be happy to help.

Cheating “Everyone Does It”

CheatingThe Brooklyn Law School Library New Books List for December 1, 2017 has 49 print titles and 28 e-book titles. Subjects range from criminal justice and judicial error; same-sex marriage; writing skills of US Presidents; history of New York, NY; impeachment of US Presidents; prisons and privatization; and mourning customs, to name a few. Cheating: Ethics and Law in Everyday Life by Stanford Law School Professor Deborah L. Rhode, is one e-book worth reading as it deals with law and ethics and cheating. Cheating, a phenomenon so entrenched in everyday American life, costs close to a trillion dollars annually. Why it remains a serious problem is that it is often excused by the statement that “Everyone does it”. The more that individuals believe that cheating is widespread, the easier it is to justify. If Americans are cheating more, they appear to be worrying about it less. Rhode, rejects the “everybody does it” rationale and sees the ubiquity in deceit as uncomfortably close to a universal human truth. She offers the only recent comprehensive account of cheating in everyday life and the strategies necessary to address it. Because cheating is highly situational, Rhode drills down on its most common forms in sports, organizations, taxes, academia, copyright infringement, marriage, and insurance and mortgages.

The book reviews needed strategies to address the pervasiveness of cheating. Efforts need to begin early, with education by parents, teachers, and other role models who can display and reinforce moral behaviors. Organizations need to create ethical cultures, in which informal norms, formal policies, and reward structures all promote integrity. People need more moral triggers to remind them of their own values. Also important are more effective enforcement structures, including additional resources and stiffer sanctions. Rhode, the founding president of the International Association of Legal Ethics, former president of the Association of American Law Schools, and former founding director of Stanford’s Center on Ethics, notes that cheating has evolved with time. Technology has transformed some forms of cheating with filesharing, downloading of music on the internet, or plagiarism, lifting stuff off the internet, whole sites on the internet that enable people to just cut and paste their term papers and have somebody else even write their paper on plagiarism. She states in an interview with Tavis Smiley that over half of taxpayers admit to cheating sometimes on their forms. 80% of high school students will admit that they’ve cheated in class. The pervasiveness and the persistence of it is what should give us pause because there’s a price tag to it.

New York as Sanctuary City

SanctuaryEarlier this year, the NYC Council passed legislation, Introduction 1568-2017, a bill to prohibit City agencies from partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enforce federal immigration laws. The bill would prohibit the use of City resources, property, and information obtained on behalf of the City in furtherance of federal immigration enforcement. It would also require any requests for assistance by federal immigration enforcement agencies to be documented and later compiled into an anonymized report sent quarterly to the Council. It passed by a vote of 41-4 so now city employees are banned from spending any time on duty or using city property to assist in enforcing immigration laws. The move makes legally binding a policy the city has already followed of bowing out of assisting the feds in finding undocumented immigrants for deportation. Another bill, Introduction 1558-2017 bars the Department of Probation from handing over undocumented immigrants in response to requests from the feds. It expands rules that previously applied to the NYPD and city jails, which say officials cannot honor detainers from the feds unless the person they seek has been convicted of any of 170 serious crimes. “We will not waste city resources to help immigration authorities destroy our families,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The defiant step followed President Trump’s threat to strip sanctuary cities of federal funds, saying they were letting potentially dangerous illegal immigrants go free instead of helping the feds. Earlier, the Justice Department gave New York and three other cities a “last chance” warning that the feds believe they are violating laws requiring cooperation, saying it would nix a $4.3 million grant without proof of compliance. The city has only reinforced its policy. “We’re taking a serious stance and saying that New York is a sanctuary city. We are not going to held federal authorities find immigrants in this city that are no threat to the resident of New York City,” said Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), one of the sponsors.

Meanwhile the attempts of the Trump administration to crack down on sanctuary cities has met new obstacles as US District Court Judge William Orrick issued a permanent injunction blocking an executive order seeking to strip so-called sanctuary cities of federal funding. The ruling is a major setback to the administration’s attempts to clamp down on cities, counties and states that seek to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by federal authorities. The ruling is the latest instance in which a federal judge has stood in the way of the president’s effort to implement his policies on immigration, joining rulings that have blocked different portions of the travel ban. Monday’s ruling, which followed lawsuits from two California counties, nullifies the January executive order on the matter, barring the administration from setting new conditions on spending approved by Congress. In the judge’s words “The Executive Order threatens to deny sanctuary jurisdictions all federal grants, hundreds of millions of dollars on which the Counties rely. The threat is unconstitutionally coercive.”

Thanksgiving Holiday Hours

 

 

 

The BLS Library Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

Wednesday, November 22:                                 9:00am – 10:00pm

Thursday, November 23, Thanksgiving Day:   CLOSED

Friday, November 24:                                          9:00am – 10:00pm

Saturday, November 25:                                     9:00am – 10:00pm

Sunday, November 26:                                       10:00am – 12Midnight