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JUNE President's message

James L. Hyer, Esq.

June 2021: Passing the Torch

      For as long as I can remember throughout my involvement with the organized bar at both the state and local levels, a recurring theme has been a concern regarding retaining membership levels. Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and this very topic came up. The attendees spoke with passion about their individual perspectives on the issue and how their respective associations sought to maintain their membership numbers. When it was my time to speak, I posed the question, “Should we merely be focused on the number of our members or should we further be concerned about each of our individual member’s level of engagement within our associations, because those members who are involved will organically lead to a stronger association, which will likely attract new members?” The unanimous position of all in attendance was we should attempt to engage each of our members and then the discussion turned to how to do so given the many competing interests for their time that can be daunting to manage.

      I start my monthly message with this anecdote as I firmly believe that the strength of the Westchester County Bar Association (“WCBA”) lies with not only the number of our  membership, but the level of involvement of each of our members, many of whom have been involved with our association for decades. It is without question that those of our members who spend years volunteering to accomplish the mission of the WCBA in their own way are the very heart of our association. One of these members is WCBA Past President Richard Gardella.

Richard started his first career as a journalist and later pursued a career as an attorney. Following his admission as an attorney in 1973, Richard has had a distinguished career as a municipal attorney. For two decades, he served as Corporation Counsel for the City of Rye and also served as an assistant corporation counsel and special counsel for the City of White Plains. He served the Village of Scarsdale for nearly four decades initially as Village of Attorney and then by assisting the succeeding Village Attorney. He has spent two decades and counting as Of Counsel to the law firm Bertine, Hufnagel, Headley, Zeltner, Drummond & Dohn, LLP. When speaking about his career, Richard’s impeccable ethics where underscored as he noted, “In my government jobs, I was lucky to work under real volunteer public servants who never suggested what my legal opinion ought to be and who never put my integrity to the test,” and continued, “For that I am forever grateful.”

Beyond his work, Richard dedicated his time to public service working with organizations including YMCA of Central and Northern Westchester, the White Plains High School Alumni Association, the Tiger Fans Committee and the Columbian Lawyers Association. A long-time member of the WCBA, Richard served as President from 1997-1999 and following his presidency remained active with the association. Speaking of his involvement with the WCBA Richard noted, “This organization has supplied me with support and a place to serve our profession since the day I became a lawyer,” and continued referring to his years of work as Editor-In-Chief of this publication, “That support now includes the efforts of Mary Ellen McCourt who monthly turns my yellow pad scrawl into readable magazine copy even though she does not have a decree in scribology. thanks Mary Ellen.”

As of the May 2021 issue of this publication, the Westchester Lawyer, the WCBA monthly magazine (“WLM”), Richard was the Editor-In-Chief and/or author of over 190 issues of the WLM and its predecessor, the WCBA’s Newsletter, within which he writes a column “From The Back Bench” wherein he offers historic perspective, legal commentary and interesting anecdotes. Many members have mentioned to me that while they do enjoy the scholarly articles, news and other content of the WLM, they often will flip first to Richard’s column as they look forward to reading it each month. Like these members, I have found  Richard’s column both thoughtful and informative, which is why most of the issues of the WLM published during my time as a member of the WCBA remain on the bookshelves in my home office.

When receiving the James D. Hopkins Lifetime Achievement Award at the WCBA Annual Meeting in 2018, Richard shared his perspective on what lawyers need to do in order to be successful:

We are required to give clients and those we represent the advice that they need even if it is not the advice they want to hear. Our law school training helps to hone our advice skills, but that training is only part of our lawyer educational foundation. We need the guidance of mentors…And lastly, the study of case law, statutes and regulations even backed by sound mentoring only fill part of a lawyer’s educational toolbox. Lawyers should be scholars for life.

It is without question that not only is Richard correct in his advice, but that his very own contributions as a leader of the WCBA and in particular as Editor-In-Chief of this publication have advanced these principles for the membership of the WCBA. By ensuring the successful publication of the WLM for these many years, Richard has served as a mentor to many new lawyers and sought to provide a vehicle for our membership to continue to learn from the scholarly articles of each other.

Just a few weeks ago, Richard called me to let me know of his intentions to retire as the Editor-In-Chief of the WLM but in the same sentence assured me that WCBA Past President Stephanie Burns would be willing to fill the role as she had been working with him for years as the Managing Editor. He then also noted that he would continue to submit his column.

While I was sorry to hear that Richard wanted to step aside as the Editor-In-Chief, during our conversation I couldn’t help but smile listening to Richard talk about how much he loved the publication, what it meant to him to have participated in making it a success for years, and how pleased he was that the Magazine will be in Stephanie’s capable hands following his departure. I then shared with Richard that, as the WCBA was celebrating our 125th Anniversary this year, I was planning a commemorative journal and hoped that he would be the Editor-In-Chief of that publication. He responded that he thought I would be good at my job as President, because he had started the call seeking to retire from one position and I convinced him to take another!

Richard truly represents the best of us. An attorney who excels in his practice while never forgetting that the law is more than a job, but a profession where we all in our own way are called to provide service to others both in the community and in the organized bar. Richard, we thank you for your many years of service and friendship. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Every person can make a difference, and every person should try.” Without question, Richard made a difference in so many ways during his career, including through his service to the WCBA. Accordingly, this issue of the Westchester Lawyer Magazine is dedicated to Richard, and, as the President of the WCBA, I designate Richard as Editor-In-Chief Emeritus of the WLM, a title which he shall hold in perpetuity.

Top: Dick discovered his love of writing while serving in the Army. Upon his return he spent a number of years as a journalist and editor for local Westchester newspapers before pursuing a career in the law. Bottom: March 28, 2018: Then WCBA President Stephanie L. Burns presents Past President Richard M. Gardella with the prestigious James D. Hopkins Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the Bar Association and Westchester legal community.

View the June issue of the Westchester Lawyer Magazine here.