October 28, 2012

Challenges at Cornell Law Taught Federal Judge How to ‘Overcome Adversity’

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During his time at Cornell Law School, Frederic Block J.D. ’59 was known, in his own words, as “the class idiot.”

On his first day of law class, Block was labeled a “mistake” by the Dean of the Law School. Not wanting to be “friends of the class idiot,” his classmates would keep their distance from him.

Though he said his experience with being stigmatized was traumatizing at the time, Block added that he learned to overcome those feelings and persevered — ultimately graduating 18th in his class and getting the Dean to accept his initial mistake. Today, he is a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which includes Long Island and Staten Island.

Block said his education at the University “put me in the right frame of mind and helped me try to overcome adversities as I went through life.” The judge has since come a long way in the legal world.

One of his most famous cases is the 2004 sentencing of New York City mobster Peter Gotti, former boss of the Gambino crime family, for money laundering and racketeering charges. He also presided over the Bear Stearns trial — which culminated in June with two former hedge fund managers paying a $1 million settlement to the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid trial.

Block returned to Ithaca this weekend to judge a more low-profile case: the finals of a moot court competition held at the law school. Various student teams prepared and presented briefs on a mock case that dealt with the implications of the Alien Tort Statute — a law that allows foreign nationals to seek remedy for human rights abuses in U.S. courts — on multinational firms, Block said.

Block also held a book reading Saturday, reading excerpts from his latest book, Disrobed, which recounts his time as a Cornell Law student and the progression of his career to becoming a federal judge.

Now, returning to the University years later, Block describes his visit to Cornell with nostalgia.

“My experience at Cornell obviously made a big impact on me,” Block said. “When I come back to Cornell in 2012, I feel like I reach all the way back to 1959, and it gives you a sense of continuity, history and mortality.”

Original Author: Utsav Rai

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