On May 2, 2019, former ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas received the ACLU-NJ's highest honor, the Roger N. Baldwin Award, given for lifetime contributions to civil liberties or an exceptional contribution to civil liberties in the United States.
Ed retired in 2018 after 17 years of leading the ACLU-NJ's litigation strategy as legal director. He delivered the following remarks at the ACLU-NJ's 2019 Lights of Liberty Awards Dinner at The Manor in West Orange:
I want to thank the Board for granting me the Roger N. Baldwin Award. It is an incredible honor. I’m humbled to be considered alongside other recipients who are giants in the field and whom I admire deeply. And I will forever treasure this as a testimonial to a work-life well lived – with an organization that I love.
18 years ago, I was more than slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of being hired as legal director of the ACLU of NJ. So I whipped out my handy dandy nutshell books from law school – “Free Speech in a Nutshell,” and “Religious Freedom in a Nutshell” (for those who don’t know, these are the law school versions of Cliff’s Notes or “Constitutional Law for Dummies”) – and tried to learn the entire Constitutional law Jurisprudence while sitting in Verona Park during the two week period between my old job and new. That of course wasn’t going to cut it, and it would be on the job training. And throughout my time, thanks to new laws, new challenges, and new opportunities, that on the job training never stopped. For the next 17 years, the work was never dull, and, as a guardian of liberty, was never complete.
Since retiring, I’ve thought about what makes a good work life and what contributes to a good life overall. We spend so much of our time at our jobs so we are truly blessed or lucky when we can be fulfilled by our work. My working years were abundantly joyful because of three reasons: it allowed me to live out what I felt I was meant to do in life, it allowed me to make some positive impact in this world of ours, and because of the wonderful people – all of you – with whom I worked, who shared this same passion and mission for fairness, justice, and equality for all.
Since I was young, I was a lover of humor who also stood up for the underdog. It’s a blessing and curse to see both humor in life and a society that can be awfully unjust, and feel driven to figure out how to remedy the latter. Perhaps that drive came from the fact that I knew I was different and an underdog. Perhaps it came from my parents.
My dad nurtured my problem solving side challenging me with logic problems and brain teasers, while my mom helped me to step away from the details and see the big picture. One particular statement of hers stuck with me, one that was about individual rights. I was 16 working at a summer camp. I grew long hair, a beard, wore flowing cotton shirts, and wore seven or eight bead necklaces all at once. And this wasn’t the ‘60s, this was the Reagan-era ‘80s.
When my parents came to visit, I expected quite a response. Receiving none, I told my mom her silence surprised me. To which she said in the perfect words of a Jewish mother: “If you want to look ridiculous, it is your right to look ridiculous.” And she was right. I had the right to look or, in the view of others, to be ridiculous. And I occasionally exercised that right. But I was imbued by my parents with the idea that people who are different have a right to be different. They instilled in me a sense of fairness and justice, and I felt the need to act on that.
The ACLU-NJ and my prior legal positions gave me an outlet for this energy in a way that could actually make a difference instead of just ranting into the wind. In the last two decades, I was able to work on, supervise and often help craft what I felt were the most exciting cases in our state: Cutting edge cases on free speech, religion, police misconduct, LGBTQ rights, student rights, and yes, the constitutional right of a person with differing ways of thought or being to be or look different. Thankfully, many, if not most, of these cases were successful. Together, we were able to alter the status quo to one that was at least slightly more fair and more just.
Now, of course, the need to stand up to bullies, stand up for fairness and justice, and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, is greater than ever. I am so proud that the ACLU is at the forefront of that battle – as you’ll hear more about tonight.
Although one person alone can make an impact, it sometimes takes a village. I was most fortunate to have had a vast village of people who supported me throughout my career.
Before I ever got to the ACLU, there was Michael Buncher, my boss at the Public Advocate’s Office. That is where I honed my legal chops as we brought class action cases by the seat of our pants. He gave me my first opportunity while still a young legal pup to argue before the NJ Supreme Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Each of my three Executive Directors over the years:
- Deborah Jacobs, without whom I would not be here and with whom I remain so close. She brought me on board and was my work-spouse for over a decade, adeptly guided our organization post-9/11 and in the many challenges that followed, fought for me personally, and crafted such a good work relationship that we gave speeches to other affiliates on Executive Director-Legal Director best practices.
- Udi Ofer, who had great vision, setting big goals for our organization and in three years hit them dead on, and who was always sensitive to my needs.
- Amol Sinha, who in a short time has solidified the ACLU-NJ as a voice and player at the top levels of NJ government; and who is a true mensch who was so understanding and accommodating of me in my final year at the ACLU.
All three were and are great fighters and leaders for our organization; all expanded our organization; and I admire them all.
Our past presidents and current president and members of our Board – who provided excellent governance and stability while helping us build a foundation for the future: particularly in expanding the staff from four to 20 over the past 18 years.
To all the members of my Legal Committee, who provided me with excellent counsel throughout the years, especially in the early years when I was still getting my feet wet.
To the cooperating attorneys who dedicate their time and expertise. Whenever we sued municipalities, their officials always believed we were a much larger organization than we were. Because we were larger than we were, as you helped make up the ACLU army.
While I wish I could single out every one of you, I do need to single out a few:
- Lowenstein Sandler’s pro bono program, currently led by Catherine Weiss, which was a consistent partner and often the leader of so many coalitions of which we were a part.
- And two organizations that handled about 40 cases each during my time: The Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic led by Frank Askin and now Alexis Karteron. And the Gibbons Fellowship directed by Larry Lustberg who was also personally always available to lend his time and thoughts when called upon … so long as it was not during softball practice.
And there are two people who were members of the board, and the legal committee, and were cooperating attorneys, who were indispensable to me … Ron Chen and Frank Corrado. Throughout my entire time with the ACLU, you were my guideposts, my sounding boards, my friends, my consiglieres.
To the ACLU staff: It is incredible when every person in all departments of an organization is such a positive and unique personality that excels at what he or she does. Each piece of our puzzle was incredible and the pieces together made an even greater picture … and I know that continues to be true.
As far as my beloved Legal Department … It is filled by dedicated, brilliant, and compassionate people who are not only phenomenal lawyers, but phenomenal human beings. I am pleased to be leaving an incredibly strong department which we built during my tenure. Over that time, we went from a department of two attorneys to a department of eight full-time attorneys or fellows, plus one support staff member. And in the past year, it expanded by two additional attorneys and a second support staff member. We argue in the New Jersey Supreme Court more than any entity other than the government itself; and I’m told that our work is viewed as being of the highest quality. It was an honor and pleasure working with you all.
And finally two special “thank you”s to Jeanne LoCicero and Alexander Shalom. While I had the title of Legal Director, I felt we were essentially a three-headed “Cerberus for good” directing the department’s efforts to guard not the gates of hell, but to guard the gates of liberty … and it worked so well. You are both incredible legal minds, incredible advocates and good friends. Jeanne, I am so pleased to know the department will flourish and will flower in new directions as well under your leadership.
When I think about all of the people I worked with, and when I look around this room, you are all just such good people. I hope you all are finding fulfillment, joy and passion in what you do, and your very presence here means you are making a positive impact. As I close, let me congratulate the other well-deserving recipients of awards tonight. And I thank you all for the friendships and for helping me fulfill a dream and a work-life well-lived.