January 18, 2012 -- The LeGaL Foundation is pleased to announce that its 2012 Community Vision Awards will be presented at LeGaL's Annual Dinner on March 29, 2012, to James Esseks of the ACLU's LGBT & AIDS Project and Michele Kahn of Kahn & Goldberg, LLP.
LeGaL's Community Vision Awards are presented annually to honor individuals or organizations with a distinguished record of service to the LGBT community, including a sustained commitment to achieving equal rights for all members of the LGBT community. LeGaL is proud to pay tribute to the accomplishments of this year's recipients, which are summarized below.
James D. Esseks is Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project. James started with the Project as Litigation Director in 2001 and has been Director since 2010. In those positions, he has overseen legal, policy, and legislative advocacy around the country that aims to ensure equal treatment of LGBT people by the government; equal protections for LGBT couples and families; protection from discrimination in jobs, schools, housing, public places and government programs; and fair treatment by the government of people living with HIV.
Highlights of the ACLU's work during James's tenure there include:
- Windsor v. United States, a pending challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prompted the Department of Justice to stop defending DOMA (co-counsel with Paul Weiss)
- In re Marriage Cases, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's ban on marriage by same-sex couples violated their equal protection and fundamental rights under the state constitution (co-counsel with NCLR, Lambda Legal, and Heller Ehrman)
- In re Adoption of John Doe and James Doe, in which a Florida appeals court struck down that state's 33-year-old ban on adoption by lesbians and gay men.
- Department of Human Services v. Howard, in which the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down that state's law banning foster parenting by lesbians and gay men.
- Department of Human Services v. Cole, in which the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down that state's law banning adoption or foster parenting by any unmarried couple, straight or gay (co-counsel with Sullivan & Cromwell).
- Schroer v. Billington, in which a federal district court ruled that the Library of Congress engaged in unlawful sex discrimination when it withdrew a job offer after learning that their top candidate was transitioning from male to female.
- Kansas v. Limon, in which the Kansas Supreme Court freed Matthew Limon from a 17-year sentence for having consensual sex with another male teenager because a straight teenager in the same circumstances would have been sentenced to no more than one year and three months in prison.
- Fields v. Smith, in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Wisconsin's Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act as a form of "torture" prohibited by the constitution's guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment (co-counsel with Lambda Legal).
- McMillen v. Itawamba County School Board, in which a federal district court ruled that a public high school violated senior Constance McMillen's free expression rights when it canceled the school prom in order to prevent her from attending with her girlfriend (co-counsel with Kramer Levin).
Prior to joining the ACLU, James was a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., in New York, where he represented employees in a range of employment matters. James graduated from Yale College and Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. He clerked for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, and the Honorable James R. Browning, United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit.
Michele Kahn is the senior partner of Kahn & Goldberg, LLP, a general practice law firm with concentrations in commercial litigation, gay and lesbian family law, matrimonial and family law, wills, corporate and contract law, and real estate.
In addition to handling gay and lesbian legal matters for her clients, Michele has volunteered much of her time to advocating for marriage equality; ensuring equal treatment of all litigants, attorneys and others who come in contact with the court system; and helping to educate the public, bench and bar about the unique legal issues faced by LGBT people.
Michele is the first chairperson of the New York State Bar Association Committee on LGBT People and the Law. Under her leadership, the Committee was the moving force behind the New York State Bar Association's 2009 resolution fully supporting marriage equality. Michele then spearheaded the New York State Bar Association's lead sponsorship of the marriage equality resolution adopted by the ABA in 2010. Michele was in the forefront of the State Bar's lobbying efforts in favor of the New York State marriage equality bill; and spent untold hours educating the bar leadership on the relevant legal issues, giving press interviews and providing background information to reporters in order to publicize the need for the marriage equality law, and directly lobbying State Senators in Albany. Her Committee continues its work on marriage equality and is also focusing on transgender legal issues and other concerns.
Michele has been a member of LeGaL since 1989, and a Board member since 1997. She is a past President of LeGaL and the LeGaL Foundation, and remained on the Boards of both organizations until this year. During her tenure at LeGaL, Michele has been a strong voice for LGBT litigants, attorneys, court personnel and others in the court system. Among other things, she worked behind the scenes to ensure that all county Family and Surrogate's Courts understood that same sex adoptions were authorized by the Court of Appeals; coordinated a working group of LGBT attorneys to submit testimony to Chief Judge Kaye's Blue Ribbon Matrimonial Commission; and met with and lobbied public officials on LGBT legal issues.
Michele has also contributed directly to the growth and development of LeGaL as a bar association and the Foundation as a provider of pro bono services. Over the years, she has chaired several dinners and participated in numerous other fundraising activities; participated in review and approval of amicus briefs; chaired the small firm and solo roundtable; and organized CLE and other education panels. Her guidance to the Board on governance and other issues has been invaluable.
Michele has taught CLE classes on gay and lesbian family law and marriage equality at the New York State Bar Association, New York County Lawyers Association, LeGaL, New York Society of Independent Accountants, and Albany Law School. She has spoken to numerous public groups regarding: the legal issues related to LGBT people, couples and families; how to start a law practice; and how to be "out" in the workplace, including groups at New York University School of Law, the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, Westchester County Loft, and Congregation Beit Simchah Torah.
Michele lives in New York with her wife Eileen and their son, Aaron.
LeGaL's March 29th Annual Dinner will be held in New York City at the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park from 6:00-10:30 in the evening.
For more information on the event, including sponsorship information, please visit our website at www.le-gal.org or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on individual ticket sales will be posted online soon.