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Of all the things he never imagined becoming in his New Jersey mill town youth, Kevin M. Cathcart is today a Wall Street attorney. But the office address is incidental to his calling as executive director of Lambda Legal, the nation’s leading advocate for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered and AIDS victims. Cathcart is also something of a pied piper for aspiring civil rights lawyers — another role he could not quite envision back in New Jersey. He attracts flocks of young idealists fresh out of college — gay and straight. “The practice of this kind of law is incredibly intoxicating,” said Martha E. Stark, commissioner of the New York City Department of Finance and co-chair of Lambda Legal. “Any young person who comes into Lambda is around phenomenal energy and smarts, and Kevin allows them to have their wings.” One such person, former Lambda public relations aide Jen Grissom, flew away a few weeks ago — to the University of Wisconsin Law School. With a highly successful litigation record over the past decade, how could Cathcart fail to inspire budding lawyers? “Ten years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that we’d be where we are today,” said Cathcart, 47. “Lesbian-gay civil rights have become broadly recognized issues, whereas years ago we were seen as the radical fringe. “What’s been amazing to me is that [the Lambda cause] doesn’t seem to people as if they’re living on the edge of social revolution, but as a sort of cleanup act in the law.” Cathcart’s busy office — nearly 70 staffers parceled out among the Manhattan headquarters and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta — has been exceptionally busy this month. “And it’s supposed to be summer!” he said. On July 9, the Arkansas Supreme Court was moved by Lambda to strike down the state’s sodomy law in Jegley v. Picado. The straightforward language of the decision struck the chord that Cathcart has encouraged as an activist: “Simple every-day justice,” as he calls it. Said the Arkansas justices: “The General Assembly cannot act, under the cloak of police power or public morality … to invade personal liberties of the individual citizen. … [The sodomy law] does invade such liberties, arbitrarily condemning conduct between same-sex actors while permitting the exact same conduct among opposite-sex actors. [The state] has failed to demonstrate how such a distinction serves a legitimate public interest.” A week ago, Cathcart’s organization filed papers with the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge to the Texas “Homosexual Conduct Law,” seeking the same result for the nation that he and his lawyers brought about for Arkansas. There is more to come. Last week, too, Lambda filed a court challenge to New Jersey’s prohibition of same-sex marriage. But having known disappointments that come with the territory of civil rights law, Cathcart measures his tone in speaking of the near future. “I’m hopeful, some days even optimistic, about the Supreme Court taking on the Texas case,” he said. Cathcart, who earned a degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law, certainly has reason for hope. His cause enjoys a $7 million budget — triple that of 1992. And it has the support of pro bono counsel from major New York firms such as Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Davis Polk & Wardell; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCoy; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. With reference to Lambda’s many litigation victories against insurance companies in AIDS-related matters, Cathcart said, “If we didn’t have strong pro bono support, we would be papered to death.” Pro bono services — which last year came in the amount of $1.2 million — enables Lambda to leverage its work well beyond its budget. Although pro bono lawyers have remained relatively constant in number during Cathcart’s tenure, cash contributions from law firms and individual attorneys have soared. “When Kevin took over, the budget at Lambda was in crisis,” said Stark. “He’s now built a very strong board and donor base, he’s grown the organization, he’s presided over the opening of regional offices.” And, too, Stark added, “He used to be incredibly shy. You’d never believe that now. He’s an eloquent public speaker.”

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