5Pointz Opinion: Maximum Statutory Damages Awarded to Aerosol Artists; Additional Clarity on “Recognized Stature” Standard

by Megan E. Noh and Christopher J. Robinson

On February 12, Senior U.S. District Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York issued an important and long-awaited decision in the highly-publicized “5Pointz” case. See Cohen et al. v. G & M Realty L.P. et al, 1:13 -cv-05612-FB (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 12, 2018) (the “Opinion”). The action was commenced in 2013 by a group of aerosol artists against real estate developer Gerald Wolkoff and his business entities in connection with murals painted at the Long Island City, Queens site from which the case took its popular name. The plaintiff artists, each of whom had contributed artworks to 5Pointz, had previously sought an injunction under the Visual Artists Rights Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106A (“VARA”), against Wolkoff’s planned demolition of the warehouse buildings at the site in order to redevelop it for luxury housing. In November 2013, Judge Block denied plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief. Within eight days of that denial, Wolkoff directed a program of systematic “whitewashing” of the majority of the disputed murals, and subsequently denied certain artist plaintiffs access to the buildings on the site, thereby preventing their recovery of additional works of art located there.

Although their attempt to save the 5Pointz murals was unsuccessful, the artists continued to pursue their claims, filing an amended complaint in April 2014 seeking resulting damages and costs under VARA. Wolkoff responded to the amended complaint in May 2014, asserting a counterclaim for “abuse of process” and alleging false testimony by the lead plaintiff Jonathan Cohen, who in addition to contributing works of art, had also curated the site. In July 2016, Cohen moved to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment on Wolkoff’s counterclaim, and Wolkoff subsequently moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims, arguing, inter alia, that the murals at issue were not protected by VARA because they had not achieved the “recognized stature” required by that statute as a precursor to protection against destruction. The hearing on the summary judgment motions lasted three weeks, but in a surprising twist, “just prior to summations, plaintiffs … waived their jury rights. Rather than summarily dismiss the jury after it had sat through the entire trial, the Court converted it to an advisory jury.” Opinion at 5.

Adopting the jury’s findings in large part, Judge Block found that Wolkoff and his corporate entities were liable for willful violation of the artists’ VARA rights with respect to 45 works of art, and awarded the maximum statutory damages possible, in the amount of $6,750,000. In addition to its implicit recognition of the legitimacy of aerosol art and of the “striking technical and artistic mastery and vision” of the specific works at issue—which Judge Block praised as being “worthy of display in prominent museums,” Opinion at 13—the decision provides much-welcome clarification on several issues under VARA.

One such issue is the question of “temporary” works of art. In his July 2016 motion for dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims, Wolkoff had argued that VARA does not afford protection to works intended by an artist to be “ephemeral.” Judge Block easily dispensed with this argument, finding that “it is clear from 17 U.S.C. § 113(d) that temporary works are protected,” and that the statute focuses on removability of works, not their permanence. Opinion at 23, 25.

Tougher to tackle was the issue of “recognized stature,” the predicate showing that a plaintiff must make with respect to an artwork for which VARA protection is sought. Since its enactment in 1990, VARA has been litigated relatively infrequently, and judicial interpretation of the “recognized stature” language has been inconsistent, leading to confusing outcomes. The first significant case to address “recognized stature,” Carter v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 861 F. Supp. 303 (S.D.N.Y. 1994), applied a two-tiered analysis, requiring a plaintiff to show “(1) that the [artwork] in question has ‘stature,’ i.e. is viewed as meritorious, and (2) that this stature is ‘recognized’ by art experts, other members of the artistic community, or by some cross-section of society.” 861 F. Supp. at 325. Although some courts have recognized that testimony or other evidence of community recognition toward a showing of “recognized stature” may be relatively informal, see Martin v. City of Indianapolis, 192 F.3d 608, 613 (7th Cir. 1999) (upholding judgment in favor of sculptor based on newspaper articles, published testimonials and letters, despite no expert testimony being proffered on the issue), scholars in the art law community have criticized other decisions as establishing an unreasonably high bar to an artwork’s qualification for VARA protection. Against this backdrop, the art world carefully scrutinized the preliminary injunction hearing in the 5Pointz case, in which Erin Thompson, the CUNY art history professor who testified on Wolkoff’s behalf, asserted that in order for artwork to qualify for protection under VARA, it “should be at a level where scholars agree that it is ‘changing the history of art.’” Cohen et al. v. G. & M. Realty et al., 988 F. Supp. 2d 212, 221 (E.D.N.Y. 2013).

In the Opinion, Judge Block carefully answered the question that he had framed in his earlier opinion denying injunctive relief as being “whether to embrace the strictures of the academic views espoused by the defendants or the more expansive ones suggested by the plaintiffs.” Id. at 226. Specifically, in addressing the evidentiary threshold for “recognized stature” in the more recent Opinion, Judge Block noted the Martin court’s guidance that “expert testimony is not the sine qua non” and the Second Circuit court’s finding (on appeal in the Carter case) that courts must “use common sense and generally accepted standards of the artistic community in determining whether a particular work” qualifies for protection, concluding that “even inferred recognition from a successful career can be considered in determining whether a visual artist’s work has achieved recognized stature.” Opinion at 29 (citing Martin, 861 F. Supp. at 325, and Carter II, 71 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 1995)). After establishing that the bar to a showing of “recognized stature” should be relatively low, Judge Block noted that the 5Pointz plaintiffs had well surpassed it, having “adduced … a plethora of exhibits and credible testimony.” Id. at 29.

He accordingly found that “almost all of the plaintiffs’ works” thus “easily qualify as works of recognized stature,” as they were carefully selected by Cohen as the site’s curator, executed by artists who “had also achieved artistic recognition” outside of the site, and had been featured in films, television, and other media; in addition, the testimony of Renee Vara, an expert who was “highly regarded” and “highly qualified,” demonstrated that they were executed with “skill and craftsmanship” and had been the subject of “academic and professional interest.” Id. at 29-30. Judge Block also roundly criticized Thompson’s methodology as being “unduly restrictive and almost designed to avoid finding results,” noting that “[i]f not a single one of the[ disputed] works meet[s] the recognized stature standard, it is hard to imagine works that would, short of a Caravaggio or Rembrandt.” Id. at 31-32.

Judge Block’s 5Pointz opinion thus provides a significant correction to the recent jurisprudential trend toward an overly-stringent “recognized stature” analysis. If other courts follow the Eastern District’s lead, an artwork need not satisfy a “masterpiece” standard, and the indicia of community recognition that are becoming more prevalent in today’s digital world, including blog and social media posts, may be relied upon as probative evidence of a work’s stature.

The Opinion also serves as a stern warning to owners of real property onto or into which original works of visual art have been executed or incorporated, as the “wide discretion” afforded to a court in evaluating statutory damages may be used to “discourage wrongful conduct” by others. Opinion at 39-40. Throughout the Opinion, Judge Block noted not only that Wolkoff was “difficult” and “argumentative” as a witness, but more importantly that his destruction of the 5Points murals was “an act of pure pique and revenge,” the “epitome of willfulness,” and “singularly unrepentant.” Id. at 15, 44-45, 48. Wolkoff could have avoided all censure—and any liability under VARA—if he had simply given the artists ninety days’ notice and the opportunity to remove their works.  Because of Wolkoff’s egregious conduct, Judge Block awarded the maximum possible damages, however, “[i]f not for [his] insolence,” such damages “would not have been assessed.” Id. at 49.

Not surprisingly, Wolkoff has indicated that he will appeal the decision. The Opinion, however, sends the clear message that “potential infringers” should not violate VARA believing they may do so “at will and escape liability” due to the statute “hav[ing] no teeth.” Id. at 48. While the “tension” between “conventional notions of property rights” and the artistic rights established by VARA will inevitably continue to be difficult to navigate, the 5Pointz case provides valuable guidance to the relevant stakeholder communities.


Megan Noh

Megan E. Noh joined Cahill Cossu Noh & Robinson LLP in March 2017, reentering private practice after developing a broad range of expertise over the course of seven years’ combined business and in-house legal experience in the auction world.   Most recently, as Vice President and Senior Counsel for an international auction house, she handled all day-to-day U.S. legal affairs, including drafting and negotiating auction, private treaty, advance loan and other contracts, insurance inquiries and claims resolution, and questions of cultural property and provenance, regulatory and materials compliance.  Prior to her work in the auction sector, Megan practiced at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.
Megan’s education includes dual degrees in Studio Art and Government & Politics from the University of Maryland and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.  She is currently Co-Chair of the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s Art Law Committee, a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Art Law Committee, and an Advisory Committee member for the New School’s Vera List Center for Art and Politics, and has spoken on the topics of authentication and pre-transaction diligence to various professional and academic audiences, including the American Society of Appraisers, the New York State Bar Association’s Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section, Fordham University School of Law, and U.S. Trust, and at conferences including those organized by the NYU Schools of Law and Professional Studies, the University of Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. Her publications include related articles in the ArtWatch UK Journal and the Institute of Art & Law’s journal, Art Antiquity and Law.

Chris Robinson

Christopher J. Robinson practices art law and intellectual property law, as well as general commercial litigation.  A former art dealer, he brings a practical knowledge of the art world to his practice of art law. His clients for both litigation and transactional matters include dealers, artists, art advisors, museums, auction houses, appraisers, art foundations, collectors, restorers, developers and publishers.  He is outside legal counsel to the Private Art Dealers Association and the New Art Dealers Alliance, and he has spoken widely on art issues, in particular on stolen art, consignment fraud, forgeries, copyright and moral rights, public art, dealer transactions, and artists’ rights.
Chris also has extensive experience in copyright and gray-market goods enforcement and litigation.  His practice includes trademark, unfair competition and false advertising, as well as libel defense and the first amendment.  He has also represented clients with respect to compliance with sanctions regulations promulgated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Chris joined the firm as a partner in 2017.  He started his art career in graduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, followed by nearly twenty years as an art dealer in New York, including six years as an independent dealer in old master and nineteenth century drawings.  He received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law in 2001 where he served as editor in Chief of Law Review.  Chris practiced at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP where he specialized in intellectual property, before moving to Davis Wright Tremaine LLP where he became a partner in 2011.

International Roundtable Discussion on Gender Dimensions of Modern Day Slavery


Modern Slavery 2

Image (http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf)

By Stefanie A. Singer, 2017 NYCLA Representative to the United Nations

As Americans who are familiar with the 13th Amendment, we rarely acknowledge or appreciate that slavery is still alive and well in the 21st century.  Modern day slavery – which is a $150 billion per year industry – takes many forms, including sex trafficking and child labor.  International representatives discussed the impact of gender inequality and discrimination and its role in promoting modern day slavery at a roundtable hosted by the United Kingdom, Liechtenstein, and Nigeria, in connection with the 2017 annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The purpose of this roundtable was to analyze various forms of slavery and specific risk factors attributable to gender-based discrimination in an effort to respond to and prevent these forms of slavery from continuing to spread.

For example, the discussion highlighted that “baby factories” are pervasive in Nigeria.  There, a woman is forced to give up her baby in exchange for very little money, and sometimes even forced to get pregnant for the sole purpose of using that baby to sell on the black market or as child labor.  The insurgence of Boko Haram has given rise to atrocious practices like this, as well as forcing women to be sex slaves and suicide bombers.

Through analyzing the various forms of modern day slavery, it is apparent that certain risk factors remain constant.  Primary risk factors include: (a) sexual violence—women who live in regions where domestic violence and rape are not actively prosecuted; (b) race—much modern day slavery occurs in developing parts of the world where ethnic clashes exist, such as Arab vs. Sub-Saharan Africans; and (c) lack of legal status in a given country and lack of legal recourse against one’s enslavers. Breeding grounds for slavery also include regions of armed conflict (Africa and the Middle East), as well as underdeveloped areas hit by natural disasters.

Solutions to mitigating these risk factors may include legal empowerment, in the form of voting rights, societal equality, and strict prosecution of slavery crimes.  By fostering a society in which women and children are respected and viewed as valuable members, and not just commodities, the hope is that the sexist ideologies which nurture the spread of slavery may eventually be extinguished over time.  Therefore, many nations see slavery as fundamentally a political—and not simply a law enforcement—issue to solve.

Addressing legislative aspects that create the imbalance of power between citizens of the same community, and which have allowed slavery to persist over the years, may prove to be effective and may ultimately lead to more efficient policing of the problem.

Singer Headshot

Stefanie A. Singer is an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP and is admitted in New York and California.  Her practice focuses on the defense of professionals, including lawyers, accountants and insurance brokers.  In addition, she has handled various insurance coverage matters for U.S. and international insurers.  Stefanie can be reached at ssinger@kdvlaw.com.

International Legal Frameworks Supporting Equality of the Sexes


 Theme Picture for Equality of the Sexes

By Dana E. Heitz, 2017 NYCLA Representative to the United Nations

The international community tackled the issue of Monitoring Legal Frameworks That Address Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Sex at a program co-hosted by the World Bank Group, UN Women, and the OECD Development Centre, held in conjunction with the annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017.  The program featured a detailed discussion of the monitoring framework which these groups established to assess the adequacy of domestic legal institutions in combating gender-based discrimination pursuant to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.

Significantly, SDG 5.1 aims to “End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.” Indicator 5.1.1 is associated with this goal and measures what factors are in place to help a society progress toward the goal, specifically “whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.” The program provided an overview of indicator 5.1.1, and the activities and methodology which the monitoring groups used for measurement and evaluation.

Legal systems at the national level are a prerequisite to ending discrimination and promoting equality. Janette Amer, a panelist from UN Women, described the process of measuring these systems. Many countries are already recording useful data as part of their obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) and the Beijing Platform for action established in 1995. Ms. Amer listed some variables in this data such as differences between national constitutions, definitions of discrimination, government capacity for documenting violence against women, and women’s roles in the workplace and family. After identifying these variables, the next step was to approach groups in each country that represented different stakeholders, and provide a survey of straightforward yes-or-no questions about the extent to which existing frameworks both promote and monitor gender equality. UN Women intended to spend the remainder of 2017 reviewing findings, determining and applying a scoring method, and developing a proposal for further action.

The next two panelists Sarah Iqbal of the World Bank group on Women, Business, and the Law, and Keiko Nowacka of the OECD Development Centre Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), noted that laws distinguishing between men and women have a detrimental impact on women’s well-being across several different areas including women’s incentives and capacity to work and their access to justice. The speakers described the significance of existing World Bank and SIGI data in carrying out this analysis. For example, SIGI developed a dataset to inquire why gaps in women’s labor and education persist even after investing in equality. It measures discrimination in families, women’s physical integrity, access to productive and financial resources, and workplace rights, by studying attitudes, practices, and laws which reinforce discrimination in each of these areas. The economic outcomes emerging from these variables—for example, women’s inequality costs $12 trillion annually in global GDP according to the OECD—provide a useful entry point to discussions with varied stakeholders including potential partners in domestic finance ministries.

Jane Mpagi, of the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, described how the Ugandan government seeks to rely on existing legal frameworks to promote institutional mechanisms aimed at ending discrimination. Despite progressive laws and strategies to build on existing law, the challenges lie in enforcement and implementation. Deeply-embedded sociocultural practices form part of the barrier.  Consequently, Minister Mpagi described the importance of implementing the SDGs at a local level.

The final panelist, Nicole Ameline of the CEDAW Committee, underscored the importance of CEDAW as the only comprehensive, internationally-binding instrument on women’s rights, to which 189 countries have adhered. Given its overview of the broad forms of discrimination against women, the CEDAW Committee has similar significance in promoting constructive dialogues, observations and recommendations in combatting these entrenched forces. Further to this work, the Committee intends to start a pilot program monitoring legal frameworks under 5.1.1. As Ms. Ameline noted, the world needs better efforts to implement CEDAW and increase the visibility of its obligations, and women must be on the front lines of this process.

As a legal organization, NYCLA has the opportunity to assess how strategies similar to these are required and implemented at the state and local levels. The methods of monitoring and evaluation which this program covered could provide a valuable model for organizations like NYCLA investigating legal institutions in similar or different contexts.  NYCLA should consider this assessment of legal frameworks as a potentially useful resource, whether for direct action or to guide future projects.

Dana Headshot for Equality of the Sexes

Dana E. Heitz is an appellate and motions attorney who holds an M.A. in International Affairs from The New School.  She practices at Heitz Legal, P.C. and can be reached at dana@heitzlegal.com.



The Model Law on Secured Transactions: A Transparent, Comprehensive and Rational Legislative Framework of Secured Financing

UN Building 1By Francesca Ciarrocchi, 2016 NYCLA Representative to the United Nations

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) adopted the Model Law on Secured Transactions in July 2016, with the hope that countries worldwide will enact it as part of their domestic legislation.  The Model Law represents the culmination of UNCITRAL’s efforts at harmonizing and modernizing the law of secured financing globally.  It regulates security rights in tangible and intangible movable assets, and outright transfers of receivables by agreement.  It follows an integrated and functional approach; instead of security interests that vary by type of property or transaction, the Model Law envisions one concept of security interest for all types of rights in movable property created by agreement to secure payment or other performance of an obligation.

Notably, the Model Law provides for a publicly accessible notice registration system.  This entails that security interests become enforceable against third parties only after the relating notice has been validly registered in a “Registry” operated by a public or private entity and supervised by a public authority of the enacting state.  The registration system also serves the purpose of determining whose security interest has priority in the event of competing claimants.

Widespread adoption of the Model Law is expected to eliminate differences and inconsistencies in domestic legislation on secured credit, and provide a comprehensive legal framework on secured transactions that is poised to positively affect the availability and cost of credit.

Pursuant to NYCLA’s consultative status at the United Nations as a non-governmental organization, Francesca Ciarrocchi attended the relevant UNCITRAL sessions and witnessed the completion and adoption of the Model Law by the Commission.  If you are interested in learning more about the UNCITRAL Model Law on Secured Transactions, and additional documents adopted in connection with the Model Law (including the UNCITRAL Legislative Guide on Secured Transactions, the Supplement on Security Rights in Intellectual Property, and the UNCITRAL Guide on the Implementation of a Security Rights Registry), Ms. Ciarrocchi’s full report is linked below.

Report by Francesca Ciarrocchi on Secured Transactions

Ciarrocchi Headshot

Francesca Ciarrocchi recently joined the legal department of Municipal Credit Union as a Compliance Assistant. She is admitted to practice in New York and passed the Italian bar.  She is a Certified Information Privacy Professional/Europe (CIPP/E) with accredited knowledge of European Data Protection Laws.  Francesca can be reached at fciarrocchiesq@gmail.com.

International Roundtable Discussion on Gender Pay Gaps in the Public and Private Sectors


( http://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/infographic/changingworldofwork/en/index.html)

By Stefanie A. Singer, 2017 NYCLA Representative to the United Nations

Under the auspices of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, members of the international community gathered to discuss Gender pay gaps in the public and private sectors: how can equal pay work of equal value be achieved in the changing world of work? The roundtable discussion, held in March 2017, focused on various programs instituted by UN member nations to comprehend the root of the gender pay gap dilemma and assist in formulating a potential global solution.

For example, Finland and Switzerland, who each have roughly 12% to 16% margins in pay between men and women (i.e., a “pay gap”), have established centralized enforcement, and sometimes even financial ramifications for employers who exhibit unequal treatment of men and women.  In Finland, the Gender Equality Act applies to all employers – public and private – with at least thirty employees.  If two employees – a man and a woman – are paid different salaries, the employer must show objective justification for the pay gap, such as a difference in hours worked or managerial responsibilities.  If no objective justification can be shown, the employer must take appropriate measures to ameliorate the pay gap.

In Switzerland, the principle of equal pay for women and men is protected in both the federal constitution and in the Gender Equality Act of March 24, 1995.  Switzerland uses a two-prong approach, including both mandatory and voluntary measures.  The government provides resources and education to businesses in an effort to encourage voluntary equal pay practices, but also requires pay equality for all businesses with fifty or more employees that benefit from public goods and/or receive public contracts.

In countries such as Norway, Morocco and Tunisia, gender pay inequality is addressed at the perceived root of the problem: sexist ideologies.  There, it is believed that providing women with access to fundamental rights, including voting and policy making, can lead to greater equality in all aspects of life, not just employment and equal pay.

While there is a global trend in acknowledging the gender pay gap problem and establishing guidelines and procedures to attack it, regrettably, the United States trails many developed countries with a pay gap of nearly 70%.  Participating in roundtable discussions, such as those promoted by the UN Commission on the Status of Women, can assist us in identifying effective approaches to narrowing the gender pay gap.  It seems that active participation of the government by conducting external audits and imposing tangible penalties on non-compliant employers, in addition to enacting legislation, could lead to meaningful progress in closing the gender pay gap.  However, such centralized enforcement procedures, even if limited to a subset of the economy, as is done in Switzerland, may still prove to be quite onerous on the government and would require a substantial investment of time and public support in order to be truly efficient.

Singer Headshot

Stefanie A. Singer is an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP and is admitted in New York and California.  Her practice focuses on the defense of professionals, including lawyers, accountants and insurance brokers.  In addition, she has handled various insurance coverage matters for U.S. and international insurers.  Stefanie can be reached at ssinger@kdvlaw.com.


International Dialogue Transcends Sectors to Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment









By Dana E. Heitz, 2017 NYCLA Representative to the United Nations

The annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women featured a high-level interactive dialogue among Ministers on Building Alliances to Promote Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work.  The dialogue, held in March 2017, focused on innovative partnerships between different social components around the world.  More than 200 representatives attended the event, including members of government from over 20 countries, along with spokespeople from trade unions, NGOs, and other civil society groups.

The speakers addressed both recurrent themes and issues specific to the interests of their populations. One common topic sprang from the priority theme of the need for partnerships across segments of society. Representatives from nations including Hungary, Uganda, South Korea, Chile, China, and Iran stated that these partnerships encompassed relations between public and private entities, multilateral connections between sub-regional, regional, national, and international groups, and links between groups with different degrees of access to financial and educational resources. South Korea, Hungary, Kenya and Chile recognized opportunities for government incentives—procurement contracts or seals of approval, for example—to encourage private sector policies which facilitate women’s workforce participation.

The need for decent labor conditions and laborers’ rights arose in comments by Niger, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines, as well as trade unions. As Kenya stated, these rights include the right to be free from gender-based violence, which deters women’s economic participation. Kenya’s representative’s remarks echoed in later comments by the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives and the Jamaica Household Workers Association.

The Kenyan representative, along with the delegate from the Philippines, also acknowledged that women’s unemployment, underemployment, and general undercontribution all take a toll on domestic economies. She also noted that even where women are employed, their work often comes disproportionately from the informal sector. This makes it difficult to account for the full extent of women’s economic contributions and deprives them of protection and resources enjoyed by participants in the traditional workforce.

Similarly, Niger and Kazahkstan addressed the economic significance of entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in bridging the gap between the informal economy and full employment. As the Dominican Republic stated, microfinance can facilitate this process, and the Mongolian representative suggested a global women’s bank.

Kenya and Iraq acknowledged the role of faith and the clergy in encouraging women to achieve economic empowerment, and Iraq, along with Iran and Eritrea, also identified the tech sector as offering opportunities for women’s employment.

Besides these common themes, several countries raised matters particular to their social, economic, cultural, political, or environmental circumstances. For example, Iraq identified post-conflict circumstances which offer opportunities for UN involvement, such as training for refugees, internally displaced persons, and women victimized by ISIS. Ukraine likewise described the impact which women’s limited access to economic resources can have on IDPs.

By stark numbers, Kazakhstan noted that while women comprise 53% of its general population and 49% of economic activity, they account for only 39% of GDP. To level out these numbers, the Kazakh government has focused on increasing women’s political leadership and assembled an association of businesswomen seeking to further women’s political engagement.

The Turkish legislature cited structural barriers to inequality, and noted that in 2016 it took steps to guarantee employment for working parents, increase women’s education, and generally identify solutions to structural problems in the labor market.

Other governments identified unique resources that offer opportunities to women. These included Uganda, which identified renewable energy as an industry with high potential for women’s engagement, Brazil, which recognized its broad diversity and multilateral opportunities for alliances, and Finland, where women and families rely on deeply-rooted public services and structural commitments to equality.

All speakers implicitly acknowledged the economy’s role in women’s empowerment, and that we must ensure women’s voices are heard in the process of advancing their own interests. Otherwise, continuing past and current practices will prevent progress toward economic goals.

Organizations like NYCLA have the opportunity to monitor the process of change. To ensure accountability by international governments, it is incumbent on NYCLA and other NGOs to help hold international institutions accountable. At the same time, we gain the benefit of learning new strategies for collaboration across professional lines.



Dana E. Heitz is an appellate and motions attorney who holds an M.A. in International Affairs from The New School.  She practices at Heitz Legal, P.C. and can be reached at dana@heitzlegal.com.

NYCLA Celebrates Outstanding Women in the Legal Profession at 103rd Annual Dinner

20171211_192229Do you think that a bar association annual dinner could be so thought-provoking and memorable that it will be talked about for months to come and so much fun that the entire audience left smiling?  If you don’t, you didn’t attend the New York County Lawyers Association’s 103rd Annual Dinner on December 11, 2017 at the Grand Hyatt New York which was attended by a crowd of more than 1,000 people and was chaired by Robert L. Haig _MG_6560of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP.  The event celebrated “Outstanding Women in the Legal Profession” and observed the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New York.

The evening began with a procession of 54 outstanding women Judges, General Counsels, law firm partners, and others who NYCLA honored at the Dinner.  The procession entered the Empire Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt accompanied by a high volume rendition of Helen Reddy’s “I am Women” and led by a performance actress portraying the famous women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.  Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman provided greetings and the audience saw a video from Dinner Honorary Co-Chair Hillary Rodman Clinton (the other Honorary Co-Chair was Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand).

Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman _MG_6649presented the 2017 William Nelson Cromwell Award to the Honorable Janet M. DiFiore, Chief Judge of the State of New York, and the Honorable Colleen McMahon, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. _MG_6414The 2017 Boris Kostelanetz President’s Medal was presented to Eugene P. Souther, Senior Counsel, Seward & Kissel LLP and NYCLA Past President.
_MG_6599  Speeches from the Annual Dinner are available to view here.

One of the many highlights of the evening was the impassioned speech which Chief Judge Colleen McMahon presented on accepting the Cromwell Award.  The New York Law Journal published the entire speech on December 13, 2017 and it has provoked many discussions throughout the New York legal community.  In her speech, Chief Judge McMahon urged men and women to ensure that the current sexual harassment scandals do not lead to a different type of discrimination against women:  treating women and men differently at work in any respect.

Another highlight throughout the evening was provided by the actress portraying Susan B. Anthony who mingled with the crowd during the reception and presented excerpts from Miss Anthony’s most famous speech during the Dinner.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, guests, Board of Directors and sponsors who helped make the night such a success!

Please click on the images below to view our photo gallery of the evening for more pictures of the event please visit the NYCLA on Instragram @nycountylawyers  additional photos will be posted soon:

Processional of Honorees
Sophia Gianacoplos, Executive Director of NYCLA & Susan B. Anthony
Robert L. Haig, Annual Dinner Chair and Fmr. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
Outstanding Women in the Legal Profession Annual Dinner Honorees and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman