Bar News - October 19, 2012
President’s Perspective: Larry Vogelman’s Path from NYC to NH
By: Kristen Senz
Editor’s note: Bar News interviewed Bar President Larry Vogelman about his career before he came to practice law in New Hampshire. Vogelman recently returned to work after undergoing heart surgery this summer.
After years as a law professor and practicing attorney in New York City, where he notched victories in some high-profile cases, Larry Vogelman says he has no regrets about migrating to New Hampshire.
"You don’t realize how difficult it is, living and practicing in a city, until you leave," Vogelman said during a recent interview in his office at the Nixon, Raiche, Vogelman, Barry & Slawsky firm in Manchester. "New Hampshire is small and collegial… People know each other. Practice is just better; the judges are better, the lawyers are better."
Born in Brooklyn, Vogelman cut his teeth as a public defender in the Bronx, where a typical day’s docket had 250 cases.
"Even with the crises in the court, the courts here are nowhere near as overburdened," he said.
In 1979, Vogelman took a year off to travel with his then-wife.
"While I was in Asia, I got a telegram from Barry Scheck," he recalls. Scheck wanted Vogelman to join him as a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. He agreed, and the two taught and practiced law as partners in the city for nearly 15 years. During that time, Vogelman, whose practice centers on federal criminal defense and plaintiff civil rights, represented defendants in many notable cases, including the Wounded Knee occupation, the Brinks’ armored car heist and others.
"B’klyn Jury Acquits IRA Gunrunners," proclaims a New York Post front-page headline from 1982, a framed copy of which hangs on Vogelman’s office wall. His most memorable and exciting case, U.S. v. Falvey, saw five Irishmen in Brooklyn charged with smuggling weapons from New York to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The defense team, which included Vogelman and Scheck, linked the men to the CIA and argued that the intelligence agency, which is permitted to ship arms outside the US without a license, knew about the gunrunners’ activity, leading to a full acquittal.
Witnesses in the case included Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and political activist Bernadette Devlin of Northern Ireland. After the verdict, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called President Ronald Reagan to demand a retrial.
"She, apparently, didn’t have a very good understanding of double jeopardy," says Vogelman.
"It was an interesting experience and it was probably the coolest case that I’ve ever been involved in. For a while, I could walk into any Irish pub, in America probably, and people would recognize me and buy me drinks… A Jewish boy from Brooklyn became sort of a hero to the Irish."
A decade later, in 1992, the Innocence Project was born out of a Bronx case in which Scheck, Vogelman and Peter Neufeld challenged the use of DNA testing in a homicide investigation.
"It started accidentally, almost," Vogelman says of the Innocence Project, which now works to exonerate innocent inmates nationwide through DNA evidence. Initially part of a clinical law program at Cardozo, the Innocence Project became a course of its own after the now-famous Scheck went on The Phil Donahue Show and asked innocent inmates to write to him, "which generated literally thousands of pieces of mail," says Vogelman. Students helped screen and investigate dozens of cases, and Vogelman remembers the first exoneration by the project in 1992 – of a man wrongly convicted of rape – as being "pretty cool."
The IP went on hiatus during the O.J. Simpson trial, and Vogelman moved to New Hampshire in 1994 to work as deputy director of NH Public Defender.
Throughout his career, Vogelman has been a staunch opponent of capital punishment, taking about one death row case per year, usually in southern states where post-appeal inmates sentenced to death aren’t provided with counsel. Vogelman said he would represent death row inmates full-time if he could.
"My basic belief is, I guess, a moral belief," Vogelman explains. "You don’t tell people that killing is wrong by killing other people… It’s vengeance rather than justice."
Vogelman’s most recent death row case ended abruptly when the defendant died of a stroke. He says he’ll wait until after he finishes his year as Bar president before taking another one. "For the first time since I started in private practice, I have no pending death penalty cases," he said.
Instead, Vogelman is digging into the Bar Association initiatives he identified as goals for the year when he assumed his post. He said he takes pride in the position and looks forward to a year of being "the voice and face of the profession."
Larry Vogelman, of Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky and Simoneau in Manchester, is the 2012-13 NHBA President.