Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor-elect Sayde Ladov called upon Gov. Edward G. Rendell to release more than $200 million in capital funds to build a new Family Court building during her address Monday as leader of the association in 2009.
During the organized bar’s annual meeting Monday, Ladov also asked Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter to “even in this time of cutbacks, to find a creative solution to fund whatever shortfall there may be in construction costs and get this building built.”
The overarching theme of Ladov’s speech was a call to service. She said she will use her yearlong chancellor’s platform to push toward the government providing attorneys for the poor in some civil cases, to develop the next generation of the association’s leaders, to create help desks staffed by attorneys in Philadelphia Municipal and Family Courts for pro se litigants and to aid service members and their family members with legal problems through a revived Military Affairs committee.
“And no matter what path we’ve chosen, whether we work in the criminal justice system, serve the public interest, engage in commercial or personal injury litigation or family law, we share a common purpose,” Ladov said. “We are Philadelphia lawyers, and each one of us has the ability to serve and make a critical difference in this city.”
Ladov already was involved in the Family Court issue earlier this year by leading an ad hoc group of family law attorneys who prepared a wish list for a unified Family Court that they presented to court leaders.
“Look,” Ladov said. “We understand that we’re facing difficult economic choices. But children and families in need simply cannot wait for a more advantageous economic climate. In fact, it is during difficult economic times that families are most stressed and need the greatest amount of support.”
Advocates of unifying the First Judicial District’s Common Pleas’ domestic relations and juvenile branches in a new courthouse at 15th and Arch streets were disappointed earlier this year when the Rendell administration didn’t release state funds for the building’s construction once the budget including those funds was passed into law in July. Rendell supports a new court building, but his administration determined that the state can’t afford to release funds for the building in this economic climate. Design work has started on the building based on court funds seeded from filing fees.
Chuck Ardo, Rendell’s press secretary, said Monday in response to Ladov’s speech that the economy has deteriorated even further since the administration concluded it was not feasible to finance the Family Court this summer.
“Having said that, the governor continues to believe that this is both a worthwhile and significant project that deserves consideration when the economic picture brightens,” Ardo said. The capital budget never expires, so funding could theoretically be released by the governor in the future.
Ardo said it’s going to be hard to predict when it would be affordable for the commonwealth to fund the Family Court project, but he said any stimulus package that the administration of President-elect Barack Obama might put forth was the “wild card” in forecasting the ability of the state government to fund a Family Court.
Everett Gillison, Philadelphia deputy mayor for public safety, said Monday that Rendell and Nutter are in touch on a variety of things, including the Family Court project, but he said that with the current economy “all dollars are pretty scarce.”
Ladov said she wouldn’t be asking law firms to increase their financial commitments for any of her projects beyond their commitments to the Raising the Bar campaign, which in the last three years has formalized law firm giving for the city’s legal services for the poor. But Ladov said she would be asking the donation of lawyers’ time.
She would like to see a limited representation model from Allegheny County instituted in Philadelphia, in which lawyers staff court help desks in two-hour shifts and give basic advice to pro se litigants. Ladov said ideally the desk would be staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with four lawyers volunteering a day.
Ladov also is starting a task force to examine the feasibility of “Civil Gideon ,” a movement that is pushing to expand the right to a lawyer for civil cases involving life-altering circumstances. Ladov would like to see counsel always provided for the poor in cases involving housing and custody.
Ladov also will be reviving the military affairs committee under the leadership of Wes Payne, a former JAG officer at White & Williams. Ladov said the revival of the committee is part of her legacy to her father who served in World War II and the Korean War.
Ladov also will be pursing leadership development and recruitment as part her agenda. Ladov said she will seek leaders from the Young Lawyers Division and from older attorneys who haven’t had time for the association before when they were juggling families and building their practices.
Ladov also announced a new Web site, http://uponfurtherreview.philadelphiabar.org, an online publication written by lawyers for lawyers.
During an interview the week before her speech, Ladov cited the Jewish ideal of “Tikkun Olam,” or healing the world through service, as the reason she wanted to be the association’s chancellor.
“My goal is to serve this bar association by leading it and fix what I can where I can,” Ladov said.
Ladov said when she moved to Pennsylvania in 1982, shortly before marrying David Ladov, co-chairman of Cozen O’Connor’s family law practice group, she came to a state where she didn’t have any friends, family or a job. The bar association’s informal job notices in the City Hall lawyer’s lounge helped her land her first job as a plaintiffs attorney. She has been involved in the bar association for 25 years in numerous roles. The association gave her roots, friends, professional development and a home, Ladov said.
Serving as chancellor is the “ultimate give back to an organization that gave me everything,” she said.
‘The Person I Am’
Ladov was born, educated and first practiced law in the Bronx borough of New York City. She started her undergraduate education at Fordham University at the age of 16.
She said her education at the Jesuit institution of Fordham and her Jewish upbringing “philosophically makes me the person I am.”
She graduated from college a year early at the age of 19 with a major in political science, a concentration in Russian Studies and a minor in French. She had prepared her entire life to take the Foreign Service test, but at the age of 19 she was barred from taking the exam to work for the U.S. State Department until she was 21.
At a loss of what to do, a political science professor told her she could either pursue her doctorate in international relations or she could go to law school and study international law.
At Fordham’s law school, Ladov’s dreams swiveled when she took a criminal procedure class. That was it, Ladov said. She had found what she was going to do.
Her first job at the Bronx District Attorney’s office from July 1978 to July 1982 prosecuting narcotics cases and other major felonies was her dream job. She was there for four years until she met David Ladov at a colleague’s party on Memorial Day weekend in 1981. They were married Labor Day weekend in 1982. Sayde moved to join David and their Golden Retriever puppy, Samantha.
Ladov’s trajectory changed again in Philadelphia when she started her career as a plaintiffs lawyer. She searched in Philadelphia for work because she didn’t want to work out in Montgomery County, where David practiced. “I didn’t just want to be Mrs. David Ladov,” she said. “I wanted to be Sayde.”
She jokes that if she had been told as a Bronx prosecutor that she would one day be a Philadelphia plaintiffs lawyer that she would have retorted that you needed to take the needle out of your arm.
Their first daughter, Hillary, was born in 1986. They lost a baby during a premature labor. And when Ladov was pregnant with her second daughter, Lauren, she had to spend six months in bed working from home. Ladov said she was told after the birth of Lauren in 1989 that her job had been filled. But within three weeks, she moved to Gay & Chacker. After three years, she moved to other small firms.
But Ladov said her practice had started to grow to the point where she wanted to be in a larger firm where she could refer her clients internally for real estate, probate and business work. She also knew she wanted to make a run for chancellor, and she wanted to be with a firm large enough that could support her stepping away from her practice for a full year.
In 2002, she joined Abrahams Loewenstein & Bushman, which merged in October with Baltimore firm Offit Kurman. Outside of her district attorney stint, working for this firm has been the happiest years of her professional life, Ladov said.
The Ladovs moved into the Northern Liberties neighborhood around the time of Ladov’s election as chancellor. Lauren was OK with commuting the rest of her time in high school as long as they moved somewhere “cool” in the city, Ladov said.
Ladov will be the Philadelphia bar’s fifth female chancellor. She said she wants not to be remembered as the fifth woman chancellor but as a good chancellor. “I don’t want my anatomy to be my claim to fame,” Ladov said. •