2018 Lunar New Year Gala and Justice in Action Awards
Close to 700 people attended AALDEF’s 2018 lunar new year gala on February 15, 2018 at PIER SIXTY, Chelsea Piers, in New York City to celebrate the “Year of the Dog.” This year’s Justice in Action Award recipients were Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at NYU Law School; Linda Greenhouse, Yale Law School lecturer and New York Times contributing op-ed writer; and Chan Lee, General Counsel North America at Sanofi. The emcees were Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline, and Sree Sreenivasan, digital and social media strategist and co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association.
The evening began with a reception and a festive lion dance led by Grandmaster Norman Chin and the NY Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu and Lion Dance Team, a 60-year old troupe, based in Chinatown.
AALDEF president Tommy Shi and AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung welcomed all of the law firms, corporations, community groups, and individuals for their generous support of the annual dinner. Fung gave an overview of recent legal victories, advocacy for immigrant rights, and AALDEF’s multilingual exit poll of Asian American voters in the 2016 and 2017 elections.
This year’s special Justice Circle sponsors were Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP.
Heidi Chen, general counsel at Zoetis, 2016 Justice in Action Award recipient, and an AALDEF board member, presented the first Justice in Action Award to Chan Lee, one of the few Korean American corporate general counsels in the nation. Chen praised his ability to “bring out the very best in each individual to achieve a collective goal” and noted that “Chan can be counted among the growing nucleus of lawyers who are opening doors–and keeping them open–for Asian Americans.”
Chan Lee accepted the Justice in Action Award, speaking about the sacrifices his parents made in moving from a comfortable life in South Korea so that he and his brothers and sisters could get the best education in the United States. He acknowledged the pivotal role that mentors have played in his life and career, such as his 5th grade teacher in Brooklyn who helped him to learn English after school. He said he was proud to continue this tradition by mentoring young lawyers and providing opportunities for them to take risks and grow.
Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar introduced Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for The New York Times for three decades before joining Yale Law School as a lecturer and journalist in residence. She is currently a Times contributing op-ed writer. Amar described Greenhouse as a rock star in the world of journalism. “She is a thinker, an intellectual, who takes difficult ideas and makes them comprehensible to ordinary citizens…at a time when journalists are essential in our democracy.”
In accepting the Justice in Action Award, Linda Greenhouse spoke about her conversations with people at the AALDEF gala and asked what such a diverse group of people had in common: “We all embrace a certain vision, a certain promise of the potential of this country. and a belief in the rule of law and the use of law to achieve that promise. Threatened, burdened, and bewildered as many of us find ourselves in the current era, we hold on to that belief, and I think you’re all here because of that.”
The last presenter was Ayaz Shaikh, a partner in the DC office of Sidley Austin and AALDEF board member. He introduced Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, as an outstanding federal prosecutor who pursued organized crime, insider trading at hedge funds and on Wall Street more broadly, and political corruption cases. “His victories in major terrorism cases in open federal court marked a stark contrast against the lengthy, secretive, inconclusive, and questionable practices at Guantanamo.” Shaikh said that after being fired by President Trump, Bharara continued to be an outspoken critic of abuse of power and a reminder of the importance of the rule of law in a democracy.
Preet Bharara, now a scholar in residence at NYU School of Law, a podcaster, and CNN senior legal commentator, displayed his wry sense of humor throughout his remarks: “I don’t know how many people get applause for being fired.” On a more serious note, he continued: “I want to congratulate AALDEF…for standing up for the legal rights for a lot of folks but also to celebrate diversity in America, which is one of the great strengths of America.” He expressed his belief that immigrants have historically faced a welcoming environment in America but was worried about the change in rhetoric and “an unleashing of a kind of bigotry that has been below the surface in some places and is coming to the fore.” In closing, he urged the many lawyers in the room to use their voice, to speak about the importance of the rule of law, and to remain committed to public service.
The program ended as emcees Juju Chang and Sree Sreenivasan called on dinner guests to support AALDEF’s work by donating towards a special matching gift challenge from a group of AALDEF’s long-time supporters. They also led a live auction of a pair of house seats for the Broadway musical Hamilton and two surprise donations from honoree Preet Bharara: a viewing of his live podcast taping “Stay Tuned With Preet,” and his very attractive striped tie.
The evening ended with emcees Juju Chang and Sree Sreenivasan thanking attendees for supporting AALDEF during these challenging times. They urged guests to bid on their favorite silent auction items (which included a limited edition Ai Weiwei poster, house seats to David Henry Hwang’s new play “Soft Power” in Los Angeles, afternoon tea with actor BD Wong, and more) and to enjoy the dessert buffet on the terrace overlooking the Hudson River.