Law School Community Comes Together for Annual Alumni Luncheon
Two years ago, Michelle Johnson '05 invited a small group of St. John’s Law alumni in the entertainment industry to meet in New York City. Under her leadership, the eclectic ensemble of veterans and newcomers became the Sports, Entertainment, and Intellectual Property Alumni Group that now has over 50 members across the country.
Johnson’s career has taken her from the Bronx DA, to MTV and ABC, and on to her current work as director of production legal at Embassy Row, where she handles business and legal affairs for industry-acclaimed shows, including Watch What Happens Live, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Despite her busy professional life, in addition to guiding SEIP, Johnson gives back to St. John’s Law as a newly elected member of its Alumni Association Board of Directors.
So, the audience’s hoots and applause were well deserved as Johnson came up to accept the Recent Graduate Service Award from Dean Michael A. Simons at the Law School’s Alumni Association Luncheon on January 26, 2017.
Honoring Johnson for her outstanding service to alma mater was just one of the highlights of a wonderful afternoon of community and connection with friends old and new. It was also a time to share great pride in the Law School, which, as Dean Simons remarked, “is not just strong, but very strong,” with graduate employment among the highest in the country, bar passage well above the statewide average, U.S. News ranking up an unprecedented 35 places over four years, and robust application numbers.
“But what makes St. John’s Law so strong are the people behind those numbers,” Dean Simons noted, recounting his recent visit to China with a group of students who impressed him with their “smarts, thirst for learning, openness to the world, care for each other, and love for St. John’s.” Alumni also help drive the numbers that are hallmarks of the Law School’s success, through their financial support and by hiring St. John’s Law.
Perhaps no one is more devoted to hiring St. John’s Law graduates, Dean Simons added, than Hon. Joanna Seybert '71, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York and this year’s recipient of the Law School’s prestigious St. Thomas More Award for her outstanding moral leadership.
Judge Seybert started her exemplary career in public service at the Legal Aid Society and the Federal Defenders, and then joined the Nassau County Attorney’s Office, where she served as Bureau Chief of Major Litigation. She was on the bench in Nassau County before being appointed to the federal court. Among other professional activities, she has served the Federal Judges Association and the International Association of Judges in key leadership roles. Since 2012, Judge Seybert has supervised the Eastern District’s Pretrial Opportunity Program in Central Islip, a special drug court, and the Special Options Services Program, which provides intense supervision of youthful offenders.
Accepting her award, Judge Seybert expressed how grateful she is that the late Dean Harold McNiece gave her the opportunity to attend St. John’s Law in an era when there were only three women in her section, along with 100 men. “If anyone would have said I would be standing here almost 50 years later, it would have been even more inconceivable,” she said, adding “St. John’s has given me more than a legal education. The Vincentian tradition of helping the less fortunate and reaching out against injustice are the gifts that have stayed with me.”
The luncheon ceremony concluded with the presentation of the Law School’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor (ret.) Vincent C. Alexander '75. Presented to an individual who exemplifies a true Vincentian spirit, service to others, commitment to the Rule of Law, and generosity, dedication, and loyalty to alma mater, the award has only two past recipients: Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa '61, '87HON and Joseph M. Mattone, Sr., '53C, '55L, '94 HON.
As Dean Simons pointed out, Professor Alexander joins what is now an illustrious trio as a “giant” of the legal academy who has received nearly every other honor that St. John’s can bestow. “Vince taught New York Practice and Evidence (and many other things) at St. John’s for 40 years,” Dean Simons said. “That, by itself, is not necessarily remarkable. What’s remarkable is this: for each of those 40 years—or at least for the 20 years that I’ve been at St. John’s—he was one of our very best teachers.”
Beyond being a “brilliant teacher” who also filled “just about every administrative role” at St. John’s Law, Professor Alexander has educated generations of lawyers outside of St. John’s through his Practice Commentaries on the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules and in his lectures on Evidence and New York Practice. He has also graced the Law School community with his gifts of music and song on many occasions.
Addressing his faculty colleagues and fellow alumni, and capturing the spirit of the day, Professor Alexander, reflecting on his own St. John’s education, said: “It’s impossible to adequately express my appreciation to these talented educators for the legal empowerment they gave to me, and to you, and the St. John’s esprit de corps they embody. I’m forever proud of my St. John’s affiliation, and I know you are, too. I’ll put it simply: Thank you, St. John’s.”