Photograph: Danny Greenberg, executive director of The Legal Aid Society, with Ellen Chapnick, dean of the Public Interest Program at the Law School.
We are living in mean times, Danny Greenberg, the new executive director and attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society, said Feb. 14 in delivering Columbia Law School's Morton Stavis Memorial Lecture.
"We're living in a time where the death penalty has become the code word for acting out all of the angers and all of the frustrations people have," said Greenberg, a 1969 graduate of the Law School.
In his talk, "The Contract on America's Poor: Breaking Down Divisions," Greenberg said this anger has manifested itself in a way in which "many, many people are saying that what they want is for the state to put people to death." The call for capital punishment isn't about the logic of the death penalty, he said. "It's about the times that we live in. It's about pregnant teenagers becoming the object of who it is that we think what's wrong with America, it's about taking out our anger on the Contract With America by saying that we're cutting off children from welfare as a means of preventing teenage mothers from having more children .... But the times that we're in, as hard as they are, and as horrible as they are, and as mean as they are, too will change."
Greenberg became executive director of The Legal Aid Society in November during the most critical period in the history of the nation's oldest and largest legal services organization. His appointment --unanimously approved by the Society's Board of Directors in the midst of severe budget cuts and contract negotiations with the City of New York for criminal defense services--was met with jubilance by the staff of the organization as well as the legal services community in New York City.
Greenberg said that he planned to make the Legal Aid Society "an even stronger force to be able to speak out on controversial issues and to frame the public dialogue in these issues ... to be able to give back the voice to our clients to speak for themselves and understand that our clients are often unheard. It becomes important to be able to stand as lawyers and support staff to articulate those dreams and visions of what a fair and just society could be."
Greenberg's career has been devoted to the legal representation of the poor, either directly or indirectly by training and teaching law students in poverty law. He had served as the director of clinical programs at Harvard Law School since 1987. He was a managing attorney of MFY Legal Services Inc., from 1973 to 1987. A graduate of Brooklyn College, he was the recipient of Columbia's Public Interest Law Foundation Achievement Award in 1991. He is a former president of the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild.
During his legal services career, Greenberg served as coordinator of the amicus curiae (friends of the court) in the Supreme Court case to adjudicate the rights of families against the foster care system, and was co-counsel on that brief. He was also co-counsel in a lawsuit to prevent Supreme Court judges from entering Housing Court default judgments without inquests. During the litigation, judges who were sued modified their practices.
The Morton Stavis Lectures were created by the Columbia Law School's Public Interest Program as a living memorial to Morton Stavis (Law '36) whose advocacy for justice and equality, including the founding of the Center for Constitutional Rights, earned him the 1988 Columbia Law School Medal for Excellence. The lectures are designed to introduce the Columbia Law School community to people who have made significant contributions to public interest law.