Special Counsel James Catterson spoke with Capital Public Law Report, a weekly digest of news on courts and the law in New York, about his recent appointment to the newly created state Attorney Discipline Commission, which is reviewing the state’s disparate discipline system to look for best practices and possible improvements. In "60 Seconds with… Kaye Scholer Special Counsel James Catterson," he also talks about his time on the bench and decision to become a litigator.
Read the full interview on Capital here or below.
60 SECONDS WITH… Kaye Scholer Special Counsel James Catterson
In March, Kaye Scholer’s James Catterson was appointed to the newly created state Attorney Discipline Commission, which is reviewing the state’s disparate discipline system to look for best practices and possible improvements. Prior to joining Kaye Scholer, Catterson served on the First Department from 2004 to 2013. He was previously a supreme court justice on Long Island and, before that, served as Suffolk County’s deputy county attorney, and an Eastern District of New York alum. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
CAPITAL: When you agreed to join the Commission on Statewide Attorney Discipline, what drove you to do so and how have your first couple of months played out?
CATTERSON: When Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman teams up with Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti and asks you to participate in the process of recommending how to reform the disciplinary process…that’s a summons any lawyer would gladly accept. New York has more lawyers than any state in the Union and its current disciplinary process is spread out across each Appellate Division, which operate relatively independently. The Commission therefore brings together people from upstate, downstate and out on Long Island—each with a different perspective on the process. So far, the interchange of ideas and suggestions has been eye opening for me. For example, I spent a decade deciding disciplinary matters while I sat on the First Department, but the details of the operations of the Third and Fourth Departments have been all new to me. This cross pollination in the Committee is a great step toward formulating statewide reforms that incorporate the best virtues of each Department.
CAPITAL: What do you miss most about serving on the bench, and what has been the most interesting/enjoyable/fulfilling part of working now in private practice?
CATTERSON: The intellectual rigor of sitting on the First Department every week was an immensely rewarding experience that is not easily replicated. That being said, some of us referred to it as the monastery on Madison Park for a very good reason. The work is extremely isolating, and the only interaction with the Bar was during oral argument once per week. Private practice, on the other hand, continually reminds me that the true nature of the calling to the Bar is helping real clients solve very real problems. The strategy and tactics, research and writing, and interaction with opposing counsel are all challenges that are very real and usually very immediate.
CAPITAL: Was there something in particular about commercial litigation that drew you to it once you’d made the jump?
CATTERSON: The career choice for me was an easy one. When I was on the bench, I usually enjoyed the complex commercial cases that would offer me the opportunity for what my former colleagues would refer to as “legal archeology.” Large records, complicated legal analysis and significant risk for the parties involved are all staples of complex commercial litigation, and for me, all present great challenges. The most striking difference from this side of the bench is that I have returned to shaping the course of the litigation rather than only examining the results in a lower court. I can’t say that the level of personal responsibility over the outcome has changed a great deal, but it is as much a sobering task working for a real client as it was trying to figure out which side of a dispute was right.
CAPITAL: Having been now on either side, what do you think is most in need of examining in the commercial litigation legal world?
CATTERSON: We all know that the court system for civil cases is, at its core, a problem solving system. For that system to have continued relevance and desirability, it must be consistent, fair, accessible, timely, and most of all in this economy, efficient. The challenge for both bench and Bar is in resolving litigants’ disputes in a manner that embraces all of those qualities. If either the bench or the Bar fails to measure up, litigants will look to resolve their disputes in other states and via other forums.
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