FCBA Boasts Record Attendance at Its Annual Dinner

Published: December 28, 2023

More than 165 FCBA members and guests attended the NDNY-FCBA’s Annual Dinner on November 30, 2023, at the restored Marriott in downtown Syracuse (formerly the historic Hotel Syracuse).


The afternoon started at 3:30 p.m. with a 50-minute CLE program. Entitled “Robot in Robes? Artificial Intelligence, Law, and the Legal Profession,” the program was taught by Dan Traficonte, Ph.D., J.D., an Associate Professor of Law at Syracuse University College of Law and a faculty affiliate of the University’s Autonomous Systems Policy Institute. Twenty FCBA members learned how artificial intelligence (or “AI”) is reshaping the legal landscape by introducing tools that can (1) parse vast amounts of legal data, (2) predict legal outcomes, and (3) automate routine tasks. Using both written materials and PowerPoint slides, Professor Traficonte discussed the potential transformative effect and ethical implications of AI in the legal domain, including the legal practice, jurisprudence, and the broader justice system. Along the way, he provided valuable insights into the evolving interplay between technology and law, and the challenges and opportunities it presents to legal professionals.

Annual Meeting

Following the CLE, the Annual Meeting started at 4:30 p.m. in the same room.  More than 75 FCBA members and guests listened to FCBA President Adam J. Katz call the meeting to order and introduce the reports of the following officers, committee chairs and Court officials: Assistant Treasurer (Michael G. Langan), President (Adam J. Katz), President-Elect (Eric C. Nordby), Capital Region Vice President (Zachary C. Oren), Central Region Vice President (Brian J. Butler), Nominations and Elections Committee (Doreen A. Simmons), CLE Committee (Suzanne M. Messer), Membership Committee (Christopher V. Fenlon), Pro Se Assistance Program (Robert G. Wells), the Clerk of Court (Hon. John M. Domurad), and the Hon. Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. Scholarship Committee (Adam Katz, Suzanne O. Galbato and Deborah E. Moore).

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(from left to right) Chief United States District Judge Brenda K. Sannes, United States Bankruptcy Judge Wendy Kinsella, Lippes Mathias Partner Joann Sternheimer, and Bankruptcy Court Career Law Clerk Kelly Griffith (photo credit: Maria Bullock)

President-Elect Eric Nordby then reported that he, President Katz, and FCBA Executive Director Tina Versaci have been working on a seamless transition of FCBA Officers and Trustees effective January 1, 2024. They are also working to identify FCBA members to serve as Committee chairpersons in 2024.  Most notably, after three years of dedicated work, Suzanne Messer has stepped down as chair of the important CLE Committee, and two individuals have agreed to replace her: Mara D. Afzali of Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, and Amanda K. Kuryluk of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.  Finally, Eric announced that the FCBA has built and is testing a new Listserv, which will enable members to ask questions of each other (and post answers) regarding federal practice starting the first week of January.

Vice President Zach Oren reported that the FCBA held and sponsored five events this year in the Capital Region: (1) the investiture of U.S. District Judge Anne M. Nardacci at the Foley Courthouse in Albany in March; (2) the second annual Hike for Mental Health Awareness with the Adirondack Women’s Bar Association at the Pinnacle Trail near Lake George in May; (3) “Cocktails and Conversation with the Judges of the NDNY” at the Lost Dog Cafe in Binghamton in October; (4) the inaugural Federal Trial Advocacy Training Program at the Foley Courthouse in Albany in October (featuring a class of 12 students); and (5) “Judicial Decision Making” at Albany Law School in November, featuring a panel of judges from the NDNY.

Vice President Brian Butler reported that the FCBA held and sponsored seven events this year in the Central Region: (1) “Introduction to Federal Court Practice & Judicial Clerkships” at Syracuse University College of Law in March; (2) “Roadways to the Bench” at the College of Law in April; (3) “A Conversation with Judges of the NDNY” at the Rail Line in Syracuse in June; (4) a JAG Admission Ceremony at Fort Drum in June; (5) the Annual Golf Tournament at Bellevue Golf Club in Syracuse in September; (6) the Hon. Norman A. Mordue Scholarship Brunch (and half-time presentation at the S.U.-Army football game) at Syracuse University in September; and (7) the Supreme Court Preview at the College of Law in September.

FCBA Co-Founder and former President Doreen Simmons reported that the following officers and directors have been elected or confirmed for 2024: President Eric Nordby; President-Elect Brian Butler; Central Region Vice President Suzanne Galbato; Capital Region Vice President Zach Oren; Secretary Michael Langan; Treasurer Gabriel M. Nugent; and Assistant Treasurer Molly C. Casey.  In addition, six Trustees have been elected or confirmed with a term to expire on December 31, 2025 (Suzanne Messer, Angelo Catalano, John Powers, Debbie Moore, Daniel S. Rubin, and Brienna L. Braman), and five Trustees have been elected or confirmed with a term to expire on December 31, 2024 (Paul J. Evangelista, John D. Cook, Michael Barnett, Dwight E. Austin, and Benjamin J. Hill).

CLE Committee Chair Suzanne Messer reported that in 2023, the FCBA administered 14 CLEs offering 35.5 credit hours. Six of the programs were offered in virtual format, consisting of a live simultaneous transmission that allowed questions.  Moreover, in February 2023, the FCBA received approval to offer CLE credits for online-video individual programming (a/k/a “self-study”).  Recorded CLE programs for credit are available to members on the FCBA website.

Membership Committee Co-Chair Christopher Fenlon reported that the FCBA currently has 380 active members, a slight increase from last year.  In part, this increase has been due to the FCBA’s new rolling memberships, which allow members to get 12 months of member benefits from the date of purchase rather than benefits for the remainder of a calendar year.  In addition, Honorary Memberships have been extended to all judicial law clerks during their term of service with the Court: Honorary Members will be entitled to all of the privileges of Active Members, except those of voting and holding office, without payment of dues.

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(from left to right) Mitchell Katz, soon-to-be
United States Magistrate Judge, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna Senior Counsel Donald Kinsella, United States District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby, and Jill Suddaby (photo credit: Maria Bullock)

Clerk of Court John Domurad reported that in 2023, the Court saw a 14 percent increase in civil case filings and a 4 percent increase in criminal case filings, which is still somewhat below pre-pandemic filings, but represents a strong rebound compared to 2022.   He discussed the increase in Court fees to account for inflation, effective December 1, 2023: the total cost for filing a civil action, suit, or proceeding in the district court will be $405 (consisting of a filing fee of $350 plus an administrative fee of $55).  He thanked the FCBA’s Local Rules Committee for its valuable guidance with regard to proposed changes to the Local Rules of Practice. Finally, looking ahead, John discussed his office’s goal of “meeting customers where they are as opposed to where we want them to be.” More specifically, he described two attempts by his office to adapt to the new mediums by which external customers seek information.  One such attempt is the adoption of a chat feature on the Court’s external webpage, which allows customers to submit inquiries via an online chat portal (and which has met with overwhelming approval by customers). The second such attempt is the future addition of a “rules engine” on the Court’s external webpage, which will enable users to scan documents – before filing them – and instantaneously identify potential non-conformities with the District’s Local Rules of Practice (i.e., unredacted social security numbers, exceeding page limitations, etc.).

Finally, President Katz, Suzanne Galbato and Debbie Moore presented the Hon. Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. Scholarship Awards to three exemplary law students in the District who are interested in federal practice.  The recipients were Solomon Landsberg from Albany Law School, Grace Braider from Cornell Law School, and Brian Commaroto-Roverini from Syracuse University College of Law.  Each winner received a scholarship in the sum of $2,000.

Annual Dinner & Awards Ceremony

Following a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m., the Annual Dinner started at 6:30 p.m., in the hotel’s 1920s-era Persian Terrace.

President Katz began his welcoming remarks by congratulating United States Magistrate Judge Andrew T. Baxter on his upcoming “retirement” on January 4, 2024, and his upcoming “recall” from that retirement on January 5, 2024. Adam also congratulated former FCBA President Mitchell J. Katz on his appointment as a United States Magistrate Judge. Adam then reported on the state of the FCBA, which remains strong.  During the past year, the FCBA added 55 more Active Members than in 2022, and held a record 14 separate CLEs.  It partnered with several other bar associations to host a new “Meet the Judges” series in Syracuse and Binghamton.  It also partnered with Syracuse University College of Law to create an endowed scholarship in Judge Mordue’s name, and welcomed the inaugural recipient of that scholarship, Air Force veteran and Syracuse University College of Law student Tyrese Robinson. Finally, the FCBA developed and implemented a Federal Trial Advocacy Training Program, in which experienced litigators teach trial skills to newer attorneys, each of whom then agrees to take a trial-ready civil rights case from the court on a pro bono basis.

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Jones Hacker Murphy Partner Julie Nociolo (center), and firm associates Kathryn Seely (left) and Alishah Bhimani (right) (photo credit: Maria Bullock)

President-Elect Eric Nordby then thanked Adam for his two years of service as President and announced that the FCBA would be donating $250 in his name to The Legal Project.  Eric thanked Senior United States District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., and FCBA co-founder Doreen Simmons for all they do for the FCBA.  He wished a happy birthday to past President Michael J. Sciotti, who was absent due to illness, and asked everyone to keep him in their thoughts.  Finally, he recognized Dante M. Scaccia who, at age 99, is still an Active Member of the FCBA and participates in all FCBA programs.

Trustee John G. Powers presented a gift of $2,500 from the FCBA to the U.S. Military Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fund, which was accepted by Lt. Col. Jessica Reis on behalf of the four other U.S. Army JAG officers from Fort Drum in attendance.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes then gave her State of the District Report. She began by congratulating U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patrick G. Radel and future U.S. Magistrate Judge Mitch Katz on their appointments.  She thanked the FCBA for its development of its Federal Trial Advocacy Training Program, and recognized the five members of the Program’s inaugural class in attendance: Angelo D. Catalano, Mary L. D’Agostino, Jenna M. DiBenedetto, Gregg D. Eriksen, and Kieran T. Murphy.  She thanked former U.S. Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe and William J. Dreyer for developing a pilot Mentorship Program for Attorneys Trying a Pro Bono Civil Rights Case, as well as the score of talented trial lawyers who have agreed to serve as mentors in the Program. She invited attorneys to volunteer to help judges administer the District’s Law Day Program in May, the theme of which is “Voices of Democracy” and the purpose of which is to encourage Americans to participate in the 2024 elections by deepening their understanding of the electoral process, and discussing issues in honest and civil ways.  She announced that the recipient the Hon. George H. Lowe Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service was Ben Hill for his service as the FCBA’s Pro Se Assistance Coordinator for the Capital Region, a trainer in the Federal Trial Advocacy Training Program, and pro bono trial counsel in eight civil rights cases (several of which he has won).  She recognized two attorneys present who have been members of the bar for 50 or more years: Hon. Bernard J. (“Bud”) Malone, Jr., and Dennis B. Schlenker.  Finally, Chief Judge Sannes presented U.S. Magistrate Judges David E. Peebles and Andrew Baxter with engraved clocks as “retirement” gifts, even though both judges will continue to work on a part-time basis.

Finally, Judge Scullin gave a tribute in honor of U.S. Magistrate Judge Gustave J. (“Gus”) DiBianco, with the help of Judge Bianco’s career law clerk for more than 20 years, Gioia A. Gensini.  In attendance were Judge DiBianco’s family (including Jennifer DiBianco, Gary and Sczerina DiBianco, Rick DiBianco, and Joe and Phyllis DiBianco) and closest colleagues (including former law partner William H. Pease, former Acting U.S. Attorney Joseph A. Pavone, and former U.S. Attorney Tom Maroney).  Similarly, U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby gave a tribute in honor of Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue, before Judge Mordue’s family (including his wife, Chris, and their children Mike, Danny and Jackie) and countless friends and colleagues.

On this note of fond remembrance and appreciation, the Annual Dinner concluded at 9 p.m.