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Seven years ago, and long before he imagined the $2.25 million windfall that has created the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Professor Richard Weisberg published an article in the Cardozo Law Review damning the legal establishments of America during the era of slavery and Vichy France during World War II. In both the cases of slavery and Holocaust, he argued, lawyers and judges ignored their hearts and just followed orders. Or as Weisberg’s defined the grotesque disconnect between profession and moral conscience, “[T]he elaboration through traditional patterns of legal reasoning of a discourse of exclusion [rationalizes] the vicious persecution of some while still maintaining ostensible norms of constitutional decency towards most others … patterns of words politely and pragmatically designed to preserve the dignity of the law at the same time as they inflicted or abided the law’s selective violence upon … minorities.” Now with the center up and running, Weisberg and his colleagues intend to inculcate Cardozo students with the idea of lawyerly choice, for good or evil. The center officially opened Wednesday with a luncheon address by Stuart Eizenstadt, the Clinton administration’s special representative for Holocaust issues who led U.S. efforts in litigating restitution and compensation for property taken from Jews by governments under control of the Third Reich. In the case of evil, specifically Germany under Hitler and the puppet government of Vichy France, Weisberg said, “Sadly, lawyers accommodated and encouraged racism and, ultimately, genocide. If they’d made better choices, we might have had a very different history.” In the cause of good, the Cardozo center means to arm young lawyers with the history of failures by past generations of attorneys, and to encourage their resistance to the grotesque, which at its mildest may be a matter of bad premise or bad ethics. The center’s funding comes from unclaimed funds assigned to the school by Eastern District Judge Sterling Johnson in settlement of Benisti v. Banque Paribas, 98 Civ. 7851 (SJ), a Holocaust restitution claim in which civil rights lawyer and Cardozo Adjunct Professor Kenneth McCallion was lead attorney for a team of six, including Weisberg. (Cardozo Dean David Rudenstine noted that it was the first such grant to an American law school.) Dean Rudenstine is in the process of forming an advisory board for the center. Weisberg and McCallion, along with Cardozo Professor Malvina Halberstam and Adjunct Professor Lucille Roussin, are mapping research and teaching projects. “Among other things, we want to affect how young associates at the firms view their responsibilities,” said McCallion, who established the firm McCallion & Associates two years ago after a career with the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, the New York Attorney General’s Office under Robert Abrams, and private practice in corporate law. “Young lawyers should vigorously represent their clients, yet keep in mind public interest to the larger community.” In order to do so, said Weisberg, “We have to make this [historical] material live for our students. In the inevitable events of their careers, they’ll see something wrong and they’ll tell themselves, ‘Something’s happening, I know it’s wrong.’ We need to make them understand that even under the worst of circumstances, people have choices. “When faced as a lawyer with what you know is a wrong and possibly immoral premise, you have the skills to make that premise disappear.” Eric Freedman, a research consultant to the Wiesenthal Center Europe and a professor of law and humanities at the Universit� d’Orleans in France, is the center’s first research and teaching fellow. Freedman’s course at Cardozo, “Vichy and the Holocaust,” commences in the spring. Freedman explains the shame of French lawyers during Vichy as a “collapse of education,” and views the center’s purpose as twofold: rigorous historical inquiry, and what the French term l’information permanente. “Human rights requires permanent education,” said Freedman, by way of translation. Of the central lesson behind his spring course, he added, “Even in a dictatorship, you don’t have to volunteer.” Lawyers must especially know such a lesson, he said, noting the message of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” the 1961 film directed by Stanley Kramer: In some ways, civilian attorneys were more responsible for the Holocaust than Nazi troops because the former know better. “Racists are usually dismissed by the analytic mainstream after the crisis has passed and the descent into evil [is] too easily blamed on them,” Weisberg wrote in his 1996 law review article. “What counts far more for future behavior is to analyze the utterances of ‘good’ … lawyers.” To that end, the road may be long. While McCallion said he has seen some ethical improvement since 9/11 by the defense bar in complex corporate litigation — in the form of less reliance on what he called a “scorched earth policy” of motion practice — others are less sanguine. “It’s important to keep reminding people that you don’t just follow your client’s marching orders and do what’s pragmatic, but to think in the larger moral context,” said Gregory S. Shatan, a partner in the intellectual property department at the New York office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “I think that in the first few months after 9/11, people did act in a kinder, gentler manner. There was a glow, if you will, a little extra humaneness among lawyers and litigants. But we’re back to normal.” For some years, Weisberg conducted an exercise in his Cardozo classes whereby students were asked to “respond to the situation in four pages or less” in the matter of a lawyerly assignment to carry out Nazi-era anti-Semitic laws. Weisberg said the usual result was “disappointing.” About 80 percent of his students would produce a memo of law, though not specifically asked to do so, thus responding obediently to a wicked premise.

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