Aaron Charney, Biglaw, David Braff, Gay, John Scheich, Lambda Legal, LeGal, Money, Public Interest, Rudeness

Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: That Time of the Month for LeGal?

Aaron Charney headshot Aaron B Charney Aaron Brett Charney Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law ATL.JPGBack in this post, we quoted this passage from an ABC News piece:

“Sullivan Cromwell is far from prejudiced in any way,” says John Scheich, the first vice president of the Lesbian and Gay Law Association of New York [LeGal], adding that the firm often buys a table at his group’s annual fundraising dinner dance. “I don’t know Aaron Charney or the details of his case, but if I had to line up on one side or the other, I would have to line up with David H. Braff [an openly gay partner at the firm] and Sullivan Cromwell.”

A gay NYU Law grad sent a letter to LeGal, inquiring into the organization’s stance on Charney v. Sullian & Cromwell. He received a response from Jack Scheich that struck us as, well, kinda bitchy.
See if you agree with us. The letter and the LeGal response appear after the jump.

This is the letter that was sent by a gay NYU Law grad to LeGal:

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York
799 Broadway, Suite 340
New York, NY 10003

Re: Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, No. 07-00625 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. filed Jan. 16, 2007)

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing in response to statements made by John Scheich, the First Vice President of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York (“LeGaL”), concerning the above-referenced case.

On January 18, 2007, various media sources quoted Mr. Scheich as stating: “I don’t know Aaron Charney or the details of his case, but if I had to line up on one side or the other, I would have to line up with David H. Braff [an openly gay partner at the firm] and Sullivan Cromwell.” This public statement clearly demonstrates that LeGaL is supporting Sullivan & Cromwell.

According to LeGaL’s website, your mission statement sets forth a commitment to: “promoting the expertise and advancement of LGBT legal professionals; educating the public on legal issues facing LGBT people; . . .; working with LGBT organizations, community groups, and other groups and individuals to gain equal rights for all people; . . .; encouraging lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and people of transgendered experience to choose law as a career; and promoting solidarity among LGBT in the law.”

The principles embodied in your mission statement aver a commitment to promoting the rights of sexual orientation minorities in both work and public spaces. Nevertheless, LeGaL has summarily dismissed the plaintiff’s allegations of sexual orientation discrimination “to line up with David H. Braff [an openly gay partner at the firm] and Sullivan Cromwell.” In the absence of full disclosure of all relevant facts and evidence underlying the discrimination allegations, I find LeGaL’s public display of an unwavering support for the law firm to be simply unfounded and a breach of your organization’s mission statement.

As a potential future member and contributor, I hope that before LeGaL takes a position on a particular issue, the position is unbiased, well-reasoned, based on sound facts, and faithful to your mission statement, rather than informed by a desire to consolidate ties with a firm that often buys a table at LeGaL’s annual fundraising dinner dance.



And here’s the LeGal response (capitalization and punctuation in original):

Dear Mr. [xxxx],

Thank you for your observations and comments. we actually did some research before making public comment.

(Yeah — they looked up how much S&C paid for its table at the LeGal annual dinner.)

Who are we to believe? Mr. Charney who has never shown any interest in the gay legal community before this incident (he is not a member of LeGaL) or contributed to any of our programs as far as we know, OR Dave Braff, a member of LeGaL for over 20 years, also gay, and a big contributor to LeGaL in more ways than just money and buying a table at our annual dinner/dance.

We would welcome you into membership at LeGaL and any contributions both financial and otherwise you might choose to make. Shall I have our Administrator send you a membership application?

MEOW!!! Gays get into the BEST catfights. We need more openly gay and lesbian lawyers on the federal bench — the only one we know of is Judge Deborah A. Batts (S.D.N.Y.) — so we can have more and better benchslappery.

Again, thank you for contacting us with your observations and comments.

Jack Scheich

We don’t know about you, but we found John Scheich’s letter to be vaguely cringe-inducing. Just because one S&C partner happens to be (1) gay and (2) a supporter of your organization doesn’t rule out the possibility of anti-gay discriminatory conduct by one (or more than one) of his 150+ partners, in one of the world’s largest law firms.
Furthermore, Scheich’s message struck us as too partisan and snarky to be the official statement of an organization. It seemed less like the official position of a prominent gay rights group and more like what you’d expect someone to have printed out on a dot-matrix printer in his basement. (It’s worth noting that the LeGal letter emanated from Jack Scheich’s AOL account, not an actual LeGal email address.)
We claim no expertise in the field of public relations. But we do think, in hindsight, that LeGal should have taken the approach of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, another prominent gay and lesbian legal organization. Lambda Legal simply declined to comment. This was probably a wise move, given the lawsuit’s controversial nature and the way that the gay community is divided over it.
And the gay community IS divided over the case. We received the LeGal correspondence through another listserv of gay lawyers. After reading the email exchange appearing above, one listserv member wrote to the group:

Wow, LeGaL’s response to Charney’s lawsuit is to circle the wagons and protect Sullivan & Cromwell. Apparently you’re more likely to be believable as the victim of homophobic discrimination if you pay membership dues to LeGaL.

But other gay lawyers are less sympathetic towards Charney. See, e.g., here.
There are legitimate reasons to support Aaron Charney or Sullivan & Cromwell in this lawsuit, and public opinion on the case is divided. We know so little about the facts of the case at this time. And we probably won’t learn that much more anytime soon, since discovery won’t start for ages.
So we’re withholding judgment until we know more. Maybe LeGal should have done the same.
Update: Some good comments to this post. Our favorite so far is this one:

If buying a rubber chicken dinner at some event is essentially the equivalent of an insurance policy against employment discrimination actions, I’m a little disgusted.

I also now realize why my old firm shoved dinners like this down our throats ever other week.

LeGal – The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of Greater New York [official website]
Earlier: Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: Lambda LDEF Won’t Touch It With a Ten-Foot Pole
Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell: S&C Rallies Its Allies

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments