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Law Day 2011 Law Day 2011 Home

Supreme Court Celebrates Constitutional Rights on Law Day:
The Legacy of John Adams—From Boston to Guantánamo

Speeches: Chief Justice Rogers | Attorney Elizabeth Gilson | Attorney Emanuel Margolis | Attorney Ralph Monaco
Attorney Emanuel MargolisHARTFORD, May 2, 2011—An octogenarian and champion of the disenfranchised and a plucky, courageous defender of inmates at Guantánamo Bay shared the spotlight during the Connecticut Supreme Court’s Celebration of Law Day. Of different generations, both Attorneys Emanuel Margolis and Elizabeth Gilson, have spent their careers ensuring that all have access to justice—regardless of one’s race, age, sex, ethnicity, social status, religion or, even, crime.
It was ironic that on the May morning the Law Day theme—The Legacy of John Adams—From Boston to Guantánamo—was celebrated, the United States and the world were still reeling from the news that Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, had been assassinated that weekend at his compound in Pakistan by U.S. Navy Seals.
Opening the ceremony, Chief Justice Chase T. RogersChief Justice Chase T. Rogers said, “Thank you for being here this morning as we celebrate Law Day and this year’s very relevant theme of The Legacy of John Adams—From Boston to Guantánamo...When you think about it, if we cherish the basic Constitutional right that all people—regardless of what action brought them to court in the first place—deserve zealous legal representation, then every day our courthouses are in session spotlights the principles we honor today.” More Remarks
The Chief Justice spoke of the Judicial Branch’s Access and Pro Bono initiatives and added, “Frankly, I can think of few matters more relevant to this year’s Law Day theme—the heart of pro bono service in fact, is The Legacy of John Adams—From Boston to Guantánamo.
With that being said, Chief Justice Rogers introduced the Keynote speaker, Attorney Elizabeth P. Gilson of New Haven, who, in the Chief Justice’s words, “…worked tirelessly in a pro bono capacity to free two brothers from China who were detained at Guantánamo Bay for eight years.
“Did she do this for fame?” the Chief Justice continued. “No! Did she do it for ego? No! Rather, Attorney Gilson—a solo practitioner—took on this difficult and time-consuming case because it was the right thing to do.”
Attorney Elizabeth P. GilsonFor her work with the Guantánamo detainees, Attorney Gilson received many an accolade among which was the Connecticut Law Tribune’s Pro Bono Award in 2010. At the time, according to the Chief Justice, a colleague of Gilson’s remarked: “I think Beth exemplifies the citizen lawyer. A lot of us got involved in this work from large firms that are easily able to afford it. She reached into her own back pocket to fund this work, and that’s as good as it gets.”
Thus, the legacy of John Adams, who braved Colonial scorn by defending British soldiers accused of killing five Bostonians in defense of the Customs House, where the King’s money was stored. The incident began when a lone British sentry sent a young boy home bruised and crying. An angry mob rushed back to the Customs House in his defense. After that a mêlée ensued and the soldiers, who were prohibited from firing at civilians, responded to the insults, snowballs and other objects hurled at them with gunfire. Known as the Boston Massacre, it is also illustrates the fundamental principle of the rule of law.
Before her remarks, Attorney Gilson, in an aside, noted the death of bin Laden whom, she said, “…remained a potent symbol as the mastermind of the September 11th attacks on our country—criminal acts that set in motion all of the events that followed.”
During her talk, Attorney Gilson outlined the government’s reaction to 9/11—its War on Terror—and the inherent threat that such policies that grew from it would place on “…our core beliefs advanced by John Adams and our founding fathers.”
She continued, “The administration crafted a new, secret detention policy: Our government could seize anyone, anywhere, and hold him forever at an offshore prison without any process or charges whatsoever.”
What followed was her account of conditions with war criminals and, more specifically, with the two Chinese detainees she volunteered to defend.  Through it all she was vilified by the government, the press—even those in the legal field—and often referred to as a “traitorous terrorist lawyer.”
“Conflict and disagreement are inherent in our legal system,” she said. “But vilifying lawyers as unpatriotic for challenging a policy that our country can hold people in prison forever without legal basis? For questioning a system of indefinite, open-ended and boundless detention outside the basic guarantees of our Constitution? These unwarranted attacks should be condemned by all who believe in the American system of justice.
“Once we begin compromising our legal principles and values, no one will be safe from arbitrary treatment devised by ‘infallible’ government policy makers whose decisions must not be questioned,” Attorney Gilson added.
“So what is the legacy of John Adams as it relates to Guantánamo?” she asked. “The Guantánamo prison was established to evade the Constitution, a deliberate attempt to alter the fundamental relationship of a man to government. Instead, because lawyers and judges stood up against injustice, Guantanamo, in that respect, has facilitated the expansion of the Constitution.
“Guantánamo, the symbol, still remains a stain on our country, but the Guantánamo litigation has established the rights of all individuals—not just U.S. citizens—to challenge unlawful imprisonment.” More Remarks
Following Attorney Gilson’s remarks, Attorney Ralph J. Monaco, President of the Connecticut Bar Association,  explained the significance of Law Day—a tradition begun by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958. “Each Law Day we celebrate our commitment to the Rule of Law and upholding the fundamental principles enshrined in our founding documents,” said Attorney Monaco. “We are reminded today of the powerful words of President John Adams, who reflected that we are ‘A government of laws, not men.’” More
He then turned to Attorney Emanuel Margolis—or Manny as his colleagues and friends call him—and said, “It is appropriate for us today to salute Emanuel Margolis, who like John Adams, has not always represented the most popular in our society, but he has always sought to uphold the rule of law for all citizens whether popular or not…Attorney Margolis we are in your debt for your life-long commitment to the rule of law and for fighting for a strong and accessible legal process…Your service to the Bar is nothing short of exemplary. Congratulations on receiving this well-deserved award today.”
Attorney Margolis, 85, and recovering from a bout with cancer, walked slowly to the podium with the help of his wife of 52 years, Estelle, then turned to face the Supreme Court Justices and said, “Osama is dead! Long live the rule of law!”
In her remarks before presenting Attorney Margolis with his award, Chief Justice Rogers said, “It’s ironic that the giants among us are so humble. They don’t boast or brag; instead, they simply make a difference every day.”
Turning toward Margolis, the Chief Justice said, “We’re lucky that Manny decided to devote his career to the practice of law, to which he has devoted his heart and soul. Our forefathers would be proud of you, Manny, you represent the legal profession’s best. You have been on the front lines every day, fighting for the principles that make this country great, and you have done it with dignity, civility and courage.
“In fact, I took a little poll among lawyers who have known Manny for years, asking for appropriate words to describe him,” the Chief Justice continued. “The answers I received overwhelmingly included the following: Fearless, relentless and a gentleman. Can you imagine a more complimentary description of an attorney advocate?”
The Chief Justice then presented Attorney Margolis with an award “For preserving the rule of law and the adversarial legal system in this state, by your passionate defense of the rights of the accused, even in the face of public controversy.”
The gallery, which included members of “Manny’s” family, former Chief Justices Ellen Ash Peters and Francis M. McDonald, Jr. as well as Department of Children and Families Commissioner and former Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz, erupted in a standing ovation which Attorney Margolis soon hushed by a gently upraised hand.
“I am pleased to be able to accept this award on behalf of all the civil rights advocates all over the world,” he said. “Even as we meet here today they are putting their lives on the line in the cause of freedom every day. Many of them are shot at, detained, imprisoned and tortured. The so-called Middle East Spring has been inspired, in part, by our American system of democracy.” More
At the end of his brief speech, leaning upon the podium and looking out at those gathered, he then turned and addressed the Bench, “Thank you, I will never forget this day.”

Mouseover images below to view captions

Montage from Supreme Court 2011 Law Day Event



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