In celebration of Judge Loretta A. Preska’s 20th anniversary on the federal bench, Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice hosted a discussion with Judge Preska and two of her former clerks, Martin Gilmore ’07 and Jennifer Mone ’93, on April 16.
Assistant Dean Robert J. Reilly ’75 gave the welcoming remarks for the more than 100 attendees in McNally Amphitheatre. Acting as moderator, former Dean John D. Feerick ’61, Sidney C.
|Hon. Loretta A. Preska ’73
Photo by Chris Taggart
Norris Professor of Law and Founder of the Feerick Center, introduced Judge Preska, who answered questions about her two decades on the bench, the formative influences that inspired her to practice law, and important issues facing the justice system today.
Judge Preska received her B.A. from the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, in 1970. She majored in chemistry, with the intention of pursuing a career in scientific research. When she began to harbor doubts about her chosen profession, she received a timely piece of advice from a trusted professor: “No matter how nicely you talk to those molecules, they won’t necessarily do what you want. But if you talk to people nicely, they might. You should work with people.”
Instead of graduate studies in chemistry, Judge Preska chose a path that capitalized on her speaking skills. “I had heard tell that you could make a living by speaking as a lawyer,” she said. Her passion for public speaking and debate brought her to Fordham Law, where she graduated with her J.D. in 1973. She then received her LL.M. in trade regulation from New York University Law School in 1978.
She began her career as an Associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP. She called her first litigation experiences “absolutely invaluable” in helping her build confidence as a young lawyer. Many of those early opportunities arose from pro bono cases.
In 1983, she became a Partner at the firm of Hertzog, Calamari & Gleason, where she remained until her induction as a U.S. District Judge in 1992. Judge Preska recalled with pride when President George H.W. Bush nominated her for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Because it was an election year, there was some initial uncertainty regarding her confirmation. To her relief, all of the Executive Branch nominations went through, and she was appointed to the Court on August 12, 1992. From June 1, 2009, to the present, she has served as Chief Judge.
When asked what she loves most about being a judge, Judge Preska replied, “In the beginning, I had this urge to rush off the bench, go upstairs, and start working on the opinions. It came to me, over time, that that’s not really the important part. What’s most important is being out there on the bench, being the face of justice.”
“There’s no one way to do the job,” she continued. “The thing that I like the best is the people.” She expressed her affection for the lawyers, the juries, and the litigants she interacts with regularly.
Judge Preska mentioned that, because she became a judge at a young age, it was imperative that she command respect from members of the bar by setting a tone of formality. She criticized the growing tendency toward casualness, saying that it is important to be recognized as a serious person with serious cases. “Also let people know that they will be heard,” she said.
In response to a question about changes she has observed during her time on the bench, Judge Preska voiced her frustration with a perennial judicial complaint: incompetent counsel. “The troubling thing is that there always seems to be a percentage of lawyers who really have no idea what they’re doing. It remains horrifying.”
She encouraged law students to challenge themselves with the curriculum and to take advantage of legal clinics and internship opportunities in order to stand out to employers. She also recommended nontraditional careers in the court system, including positions in employee dispute resolution, on federal committees, and in administrative offices.
Judge Preska discussed what she considers one of the Court’s most pressing current issues: the federal budget sequestration. As Chief Judge, she is responsible for ensuring the Court functions efficiently, a task she said is becoming increasingly difficult due to budget and personnel cuts. “Dealing with the sequestration has been virtually full-time. In the last two years, our allocation for non-judicial salaries and other non-salary items has been cut by double digits,” she said. Despite these budgetary restrictions, the Court, under Judge Preska’s leadership, has been thoughtful and sensitive in managing its finances with the result that no employee has been furloughed.
Judge Preska went on to express her admiration for Fordham’s new initiatives in compliance, including the Corporate Compliance Institute. “Compliance is a growth industry. I think these are great programs that take advantage of Fordham’s place in New York, where we have so many firms subject to a great deal of regulation.”
After the discussion, the floor was opened up for audience questions. Attendees queried Judge Preska on a host of topics, including hurdles to administering justice, the training and management of her law clerks, and her experience as a trailblazing female judge in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by men.