MODEL CITIZEN MAGAZINE
John: I am here with Alan Schwartz. Alan is an attorney who has been nominated for Model Citizen Magazine for September for all the charity work he does. Congratulations!
Alan: Thank you so much, John.
John: I know you get around, so to speak, because I see your daily posts, at least when we’re not in a COVID world. For those who are just getting to know you, do you mind sharing a little bit about your professional background?
Alan: It would be my pleasure. All I ever wanted to do was have my own law practice. This probably goes back to when I was two years old. We always had attorneys in the family, most of them work for big law firms. I knew I wanted to practice law, but that was not the kind of law I wanted to practice. Having grown up watching Perry Mason, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer.
I was fortunate to get my first choice of job after law school with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office in 1980, and sought that career path primarily because I wanted to develop my skills as a trial attorney. My game plan was to stay there for four to five years and then open my own practice, and after four and a half, I went into private practice and formed a firm with a friend who was also in the DA’s office. I did the trial work and he did the paperwork, and we successfully practiced together for seven to eight years. We had started as two lawyers with no staff, and grew to three or four lawyers with a support staff of five or six. At that point, he decided that smaller was better, and I decided that bigger was better, so he went off as a sole practitioner, and I took over the practice and formed my own law firm in 1992, moved it from Mineola to Garden City and have been expanding it ever since. I have been practicing law for over forty years, and two years ago I was asked to become a Village Judge in Centre Island, where I have the privilege of overseeing the lifestyles of the rich and famous like Billy Joel and Sean Hannity. Just to summarize my forty years practicing law, I have had the unique opportunity of looking at criminal matters from not one, or two, but three different perspectives: that of a prosecutor, a defense attorney and now a judge.
I also judge National Mock Trial Competitions and teach for NITA [National Institute of Trial Advocacy], and regularly have interns and summer associates working with us in the practice and serve as a mentor.
Wen I left the DA’s office in 1985, it was apparent to me that if all we did was criminal work, I could be out of business in a relatively short period of time, since all my experience had been in prosecuting criminals, and not in defending them. As a result, we started to diversify, handling residential real estate matters and basic trusts and estate work. We also ended up developing a reputation for representing good kids from good families who did something stupid, as well as their parents, which has really come to the forefront during the current pandemic. The practice also grew into a litigation practice, where we were in court on a daily basis, handling everything from criminal matters to matrimonial matters, personal injury matters and commercial matters, because my feeling has always been that once you have tried felony cases with 12 person juries and someone’s liberty at stake, everything else is just about money.
We got to the point where we were so busy with criminal matters that we decided to take on other lawyers, who as comfortable handling cases in their particular areas of practice as I was in criminal, so we now have a total of twelve lawyers, and each of them has a different area of concentration. The sweet spots of the practice remain criminal defense, ranging from homicide to down to traffic violations, on the local, state, and federal level.
This has all led me to the conclusion that I will never retire because, I enjoy what I do too much, and every day is another adventure.
John: I think you missed in all of that, the ton of work you do with the Melville Chamber of Commerce.
Alan: Well, you know it is interesting because networking came naturally to me as a trial lawyer. It just means dealing with people, being able to read body language, and being ready to be called upon to think quickly by the seat of your pants without notice. I’ve been networking since 1992, and that has led to me currently serve on fifteen boards and committees, about a third of which are charities. The nice thing about being involved in the chamber is that it allows me to live one of my favorite quotes from a Corvette t-shirt: “Lead, follow or get out of the way”. I am a much better leader than I am a follower, and that has led me from one board position to another.
John: Why don’t you talk about the things you do for charity? I know it’s extensive.
Alan: Some of the charities I am currently involved with are familiar to a lot of people on Long Island, such as the Long Island Fight for Charity, which I serve on the executive committee and as legal counsel. That led to a board position with the Long Island Community Chest, with which i know you are familiar. That is a grassroots organization that provides for people who have fallen into unfortunate situations and require assistance from the community. The Long Island Community Chest created the Long Island Fight for Charity over sixteen years, which raises untold amounts of money for Long Islanders. I know you’ve been to the Main Event, where at last count we had about 1,200 people watching others box for charity.
John: I’ve been to every one of them. I donate my time every year as a photographer and, let’s put it this way, if I can walk I’m donating my time. We are similar in our charitable efforts. Even Model Citizens Magazine is very philanthropic with calling attention to individuals like you who spend a good portion of your life helping others. The other charity I know you’re passionate about, that I shot for you, was Voices For Truth and Humanity. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Alan: Voices For Truth and Humanity is a group that started last summer with people who decided there was too much hate around, something that unfortunately we’ve seen really rear its ugly head more and morerecently. Voices was specifically created to bring education regarding genocide and the Holocaust into the schools and the Regents curriculum, but the main message is one of anti-hate. So a group of concerned people got together and, in the course of three months, put together a charity fundraiser with the assistance of a lot of people, with about 230 people at the Crest Hollow at about $136 a ticket, and that was before the organization even had a board in place. That should give you some idea how rapidly things took off.
John: I was amazed at how fast it was put together.
Alan: You were kind enough to join us, as were some other professional photographers. Unfortunately, once the pandemic hit, it hit charities particularly hard, and they are all trying to figure out where they are going to go from here.
We got to meet some incredible people, and it was particularly interesting that the committee was comprised largely of people who were Jewish, but also a large number who were not. Everyone involved simply liked the message they were hearing, and the feeling was while at one point it wa’s Jewish people, the next time it might be the Black, Indians, Muslims or anyone else. The idea was to really stop the hate and ,for me, this was an outgrowth of being an Advisory Council Member of the JCRC-LI [Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island], which is another charity I’m involved with. JCRC is all about diversity, based upon the theory that if we can get diverse groups to come together to learn more about each other, we can stop the hate. By understanding each other and our backgrounds, philosophies and beliefs, we can help eliminate hate. So we brought together disparate groups who worked with each other and, in its simplest form, the theory was if a mosque is being attacked and Jews go to support them, that is going to be much more powerful than having Muslims supporting Muslims, and Jews supporting Jews. So we got to bring a lot of groups together, with the ancillary benefit that the food was always incredible, because it was food from all nations.
I lead a very busy lifestyle, and I’m not sure which thing leads to the other, but they are all my passions. Riva and I were involved for many years in helping run the Long Island Chapter of the Harley Owners Group which, at the time it had 1,703 members. That was like running a corporation, and not a small one at that. At the time, Harley-Davidson allowed each chapter to have two charities, one of which had to be the Muscular Dystrophy Association, because that was the charity selected by Harley-Davidson, so we did a lot of work with MDA Charity runs, and working with kids in a variety of different ways. The Long Island Chapter also selected its own local charity, which was the Little Flower Children Orphanage. The last time we were all together when I was still active with the group, we had 650 motorcycles ride out to the Orphanage for a Holiday Run to surprise all the kids with gifts. We had tremendous support from the Suffolk County Police Department, and even brought our own Santa and Mrs. Santa with us, and was something we will never forget.
John: Yes, it is a way of life. It’s the way of life for me too. That’s why I see you so much, at least pre-COVID.
John: What was it that motivated you to get started with charities? A lot of people have some type of adversity. i don’t know that you had adversity in your life, but was there something that happened to you, or someone that you love, that motivated you?
Alan: I wouldn’t say I haven’t had adversity, but it’s not necessarily what led me to get involved with charities. It’s an interesting question, because one charity that I didn’t mention that I used to do a lot of work with was the Arthritis Foundation. Unfortunately, it is not as active on the Island now as it used to be. Right at the point that I was asked to consider assuming a board position, the organization started to shut down most of their Long Island operations and activities. You may recall that we ran the Annual Salute Your Staff Luncheon, which was a luncheon for administrative professionals and support staff, featuring celebrities would bring them like royal gentry to celebrate their special day. What’s interesting is that when I got involved with the Arthritis Foundation, I really liked what I saw, and I liked helping people who were less fortunate than I was. I found myself sitting in a meeting at one point and almost everyone there or their familiets ad been affected to some degree or another with arthritis. When I was asked who in my family suffered from arthritis and I said fortunately nobody, and that is why I was there because I realized how much more fortunate I was than so many others.
What’s ironic was, years later my mother, who’s now no longer with us having passed away nine years ago, suffered Parkinsons disease, for which there is not as active a presence on the Island as many of the other charities with which I have been involved, like the American Cancer Society.
One interesting thing I did recently was combine my passion for charities and motorcycles, and we put together a charity motorcycle run for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and were part of one of the teams for the Man of the Year competition, where we ended up winning and our Team Leader, Jeff Weiner, who you know, was named the Man of the Year. I find it gratifying to help people, especially when it involves people who are less fortunate, and particularly when it involves children. For example, before the Harley Owners Group, I helped run the Long Island Corvette Owners Association, where one ne of the charities we worked with was the Marty Lyons Foundation. I remember going, a long time ago when my son was young, to a big holiday party at the Uniondale Marriott where we were told we could bring our children, but be advised that it could be very emotionally disturbing to some of them, because they were going to meet kids who, if they come back the following year, might no longer be with us. We brought my son, Robbie, and we dressed him up as an elf, and also bought our own Santa and Mrs. Santa, and I could not have been more proud watching my son interact to the other children. I had the same experience with the Harley Owners Group years ago, when we went out to the MDA Camp out in Suffolk County many years ago to see the kids for a barbecue. We brought out over two dozen motorcycles and entertained the kids with the bikes. The only kid there who was not a member of the camp suffering from Muscular Dystrophy was Robbie. I still treasure pictures of him talking to some of the kids, leaning on a motorcycle and as they sat in their wheelchairs and he was saying to them, “we’re not that different. I have wheels and you have wheels”. He was the hit of the event, to the point where they did an informal motorcycle show and the kids got to vote on the motorcycles there, we won an award from Jerry Lewis for the best black Harley. Our bike motorcycle was much less customized than most, but the kids simply wanted Robbie’s bike to win, so it did, and we ended up with pictures I will never forget.
John: What’s next for you Alan? Where do you go from here? What are you going to do, I’m curious?
Alan: it is interesting, I always said I will never retire because I’m having too much fun, but I’ll tell you, the way things are changing now, a lot of people are starting to rethink that kind of philosophy. Conversely having been in lockdown for a little while made me feel like maybe this is what retirement would be like, which would never work for me. Honestly, I don’t know what’s next, I really don’t. Every day Is another adventure for all of us going through this pandemic, but I’m finding more and more how lucky I am to be where I am. Lucky that my practice is fortunately still up and running although, like everyone else, we’ve definitely taken our share of hits. We are not where we thought we would be or at the level where we were scheduled to be at this point in time, but we are still here and luckier than many. We’ll see what the future holds for all of us. In the meantime, there are so many people less fortunate.
John: I was worth nearly a million dollars in my 20s but by the time I was 30 I had to sell my house and liquidate my 401k to survive and pay medical bills. So I’ve seen poverty, not only as an onlooker, but for myself. I know what it’s like to say, “oh my God, I can’t believe this happened.” I totally get it when people don’t say anything. You are standing right next to them, but they may be coming to an event because they don’t have any food at home.
Alan: That’s absolutely right, John..
John: Even here on Long Island. Even now, I hear stories all the time.
Alan: I’ll give you an example, in one of the charities I work with, we got an application from someone who fell on hard times, who was working as hard as they could to support their family. Just hard enough that they weren not eligible for any assistance from the government whatsoever. All the hard work was being rewarded by not being able to pay bills and running the risk of losing their car or and their home. That is where the Community Chest came in and, in verry short order, made an award to this person to get them through a very difficult period.
John: What people don’t understand is that the poverty level on Long Island is skewed from the rest of the country. It doesn’t really reflect the real cost of living here and it’s a major mistake in how they do things.
John: Congratulations again on being a Model Citizen, it is very well deserved, and I hope to hear more from you in the future.
Alan: Thank you again, John. It’s a pleasure, a privilege, and my honor.
Categories: Model Citizens Magazine