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Alumni Profiles

Learn more about our most accomplished alumni. They are a distinguished group of leading public officials & judges, law firm partners, public interest advocates, and business leaders. In each of our BLSLawNotes magazine issues, we profile a few of our best and most loyal assets - our graduates.

Read more about alumni in the news.

  • Claudine K. Brown

    Claudine K. Brown was named the new Director of Education for the Smithsonian Institution this June. Brown was previously the director of the arts and culture program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, a position she held since 1995.

    In her new position, Brown is responsible for defining the Smithsonian’s education programming and developing an Institution-wide plan for educational initiatives, assessment strategies, and funding for students in the K-12 range. Brown is also charged with overseeing five of the Smithsonian’s educational organizations — the National Science Resources Center, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibitions Service, the Smithsonian Affiliates, The Smithsonian Associates and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. She will coordinate and support the efforts of 32 education-based offices in Smithsonian museums and science centers as well.

    Brown wasted no time immersing herself in the formation of dynamic new initiatives at the Smithsonian. Her first project is to expand and enhance the Smithsonian’s ability to reach a wider audience. “We are trying to reach both those who attend programming and those who may never come to our museums,” she said. She is coordinating an effort to support the development of Smithsonian “apps” for mobile devices, interactive games, and online conferences that research diverse learners throughout the country. She is also working on creating a learning community within the institution so that Smithsonian educators and scholars can work across disciplines. “I hope that we can grow into a more collaborative organization with the ability to deliver a wider range of high quality educational experiences,” she said.

    Originally from Baltimore, Brown moved to Brooklyn to attend Pratt Institute, where she spent her undergraduate years studying fashion design and art education. While in college, she took a job at the Brooklyn Museum, starting out in 1976 as an intern in the education department. She worked her way up to instructor, and then senior instructor, so that by the time she started Brooklyn Law School in 1981 as a night student, she was the manager of school and youth programs.

    Though she was already well on her way to a career as a successful museum educator at the Brooklyn Museum, Brown said that she still felt the need to get a legal education in order to have a better grounding in the legal aspects of artist advocacy and to earn a better salary.

    Brown remained at the Brooklyn Museum for 14 years in various capacities, building a vibrant and diverse community around the museum’s programming. “Communities are really important to me,” she said. “I have always been interested in how large institutions interact and engage with their communities.”
    Brown joined the Smithsonian in 1990 as director of the National African American Museum Project, where she coordinated the efforts of advisory committees that considered the role of the Smithsonian in the development of a national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of the African-American life, art, history, and culture. She developed the Institution’s initial program plan for the proposed museum, and in 1991 also became the assistant secretary for the arts and humanities and developed policy for many of the Smithsonian museums.

    A position at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a nonprofit committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community, lured her away from the Smithsonian in 1995. She positioned the organization as a leading arts grantmaker and in doing so, fulfilled her pre-lawschool goal of being able to advocate for artists. She worked to strengthen community-based arts programs and to build the emerging field of art and social justice.

    While Brown never did formally practice law, she says she is indebted to the Law School for teaching her a new way of thinking. “Law school helps one to become a clear thinker,” she said. “The process of having to marshal facts and examine what is in dispute and what is on the table is a great skill, no matter what path you choose as a professional.”

  • Fred Cohen

    Fifteen years ago, recalls Fred Cohen, it all began over a 90-second conversation with Dean David G. Trager at a Brooklyn Law School holiday party. “I walked into the party, and Dean Trager was greeting people. “I introduced myself and told him I was a construction lawyer. He asked for my card and said: ‘I may need you some day.’ Two years later, my phone rang. Dean Trager was on the line. ‘Fred,’ he said, ‘I need you’.”

    As it turned out, the Law School was dealing with a few issues relating to the construction of the new addition at 250 Joralemon Street. A seasoned construction attorney with 35 years of experience as a trial lawyer, Cohen swiftly and surely resolved the issues. Cohen remained a trusted advisor to the Law School, and in 1997, he was elected to the Board of Trustees. “It’s a position I really enjoy. I am very happy to help to guide the Law School in making important strategic decisions, especially in my particular areas of expertise: real estate and construction. It’s an opportunity to give back which is very important to me and in the process I meet lots of interesting people,” he said. Since joining the Board, Cohen has certainly done his share of giving back. He has been indispensible to the Law School, playing a dual role as trustee and lawyer in the selection of the contractor and the negotiation of the contract for the construction of Feil Hall, the Law School’s 22-story residential building. He continues to advise the School with respect to ongoing real estate issues.

    Cohen, a Brooklyn native who hails from the Flatbush neighborhood, fell into a career in construction law almost by accident. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1967 and began searching for a job during the height of the Vietnam War. Many firms were shying away from hiring draft-age lawyers, who might be called up for military service at any moment. But a small construction firm gave him a start. He joined the practice, loved the work, and stayed. “Construction law is basically contract law, with lots of other elements within it — insolvency, labor, insurance, and suretyship,” he said. “That’s what makes the field interesting.” He remained at the firm for 11 years then opened up his own shop with colleague Allen Ross in 1978.

    More than 40 years later, the two are still partners, but now at Duane Morris, where their practice focuses on the representation of some of the largest owners, developers, and non-profit institutions in the country. They also represent contractors and sureties in the private and public sectors. Cohen is known for his skill at negotiating and drafting complex construction contracts for hospitals, university facilities, office buildings and high-rise residential buildings. His experience also includes litigating issues involving delays, defective performance, and structural failures. Cohen was recognized as one of the leading construction attorneys in New York in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 Chambers USA Guide to America’s Leading Business Lawyers.

    Cohen is known as much for his skill as a negotiator and litigator as he is for his distinctive style — and in particular, his bow ties. “I used to wear regular ties for fear that juries would judge me and think my taste for bow ties was odd. Ultimately I got the self-confidence to wear them, and now I only wear them,” said Cohen, who favors the elegant and avant garde designs by Carrot and Gibbs, a Colorado-based manufacturer of the “definitive bow.”

    Over the decades since he graduated, Cohen has witnessed the remarkable growth of the Law School, and is proud to continue helping guide its development. “It has a faculty that inspires, an outstanding curriculum that gives students many choices, and a strong and growing alumni community,” he said. “But it has been the untiring leadership of two deans, David Trager and Joan Wexler, in particular, and the shared vision of my fellow board members that have brought BLS to its prominent status today. As a board member I am looking forward to the challenges of the future.’’

  • Dave S. Hattem

    In February, Dave S. Hattem was elected Senior Vice President and General Counsel of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, a leading financial protection company and one of the nation’s premier providers of life insurance and annuity products, as well as investment products and services.

    In his new position as General Counsel (he was previously Deputy General Counsel), Hattem is responsible for the overall running of the company’s 200 person Law Department. In addition to the National Compliance Office, the Department is comprised of the Litigation, Customer Relations, Corporate, Insurance Products and Funds Management Practice Groups.

    The youngest of four children, Hattem was born in Queens and attended New York City’s public schools. His mother worked for the Lefrak Organization, and his father, who never went to college, ran a chain of popular luncheonettes in Manhattan, rising every morning at 4:00 to commute to the city in time for the breakfast rush. As a youngster, Hattem’s love of the law sprang from a very particular source. “I grew up on Perry Mason and my idea of a lawyer was a trial lawyer,” he said. “I always wanted to be a prosecutor, but I really had no idea how to make it happen.”

    He decided, however, that Brooklyn Law School was the first step. There, he participated in the Manhattan District Attorney’s clinic, was the managing editor of the Law Review, and became a fan of Professor Henry Holzer’s constitutional law classes. “He had a real ‘Ayn Randian’ view of the world, and he applied the concepts of individualism and self-determination to constitutional law,” said Hattem. “He was my most influential teacher.”

    After graduating, Hattem took a job in corporate litigation at a mid-sized Wall Street firm. Three years later, he made his Perry Mason career move and became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. His caseload read like a Scorsese film: a high-profile mix of bank robberies, drug cases and white-collar crime. In 1994, after nine years with the office, Hattem decided it was time for a change. Rather than choose a big firm or a criminal defense shop, which were more expected moves at the time, he found a home at AXA Equitable.

    For Hattem, the work is incredibly diverse and very rewarding. “As general counsel, you are in touch with the human aspect of management, of making sure people are being developed, engaged and rewarded in their careers,” he said. “You are also charged with making sure that the Law Department functions well as an integral part of the company, and that everyone is doing a high-quality job. You are doing the real counseling and dispensing wisdom on a variety of matters from high-profile litigations to sensitive regulatory matters to security law issues. I really enjoy the fact that my job is different every day and that it calls on a number of different skill sets. It keeps me intellectually stimulated.”

    Hattem credits his Law School education with teaching him a skill that will never grow old. “One of my greatest strengths is that I am very analytical thinker,” he said. “No matter what you do as a lawyer, you have to figure out the facts, analyze them appropriately, and exercise the right judgment. Without analytical skills you cannot do your job. Brooklyn Law School helped me learn those skills, and I also met a terrific group of people, a number of whom I’m still friends with today.”

  • Stacey Levine

    If you were to play an episode of “Law & Order” against a day in the life of Stacey Levine, chances are Jack McCoy and Michael Cutter would end up looking rather dull in comparison. Levine has been a federal prosecutor for 15 years and during that time she has taken down drug lords, dismantled gangs, tried kidnappers and child pornographers, and uncovered Medicaid fraud and Ponzi schemes.

    In July, Levine, who is currently an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of New Jersey, made headlines for her work on the case of Leonid Zatlsberg, a New Jersey UBS client who pled guilty to failing to report $2 million concealed in a Swiss Bank account. And in August, Levine was in the news again for her work in US v. Bent, et al., a multi-defendant investment fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion case involving over 80 victims who were defrauded out of millions of dollars.

    Levine graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1994 and began her career in the Southern District of Florida as a law clerk to Judge Edward B. Davis, who recently passed away. “He became a treasured mentor,” said Levine. “He taught me so much about the law — and about life generally. He was known for the fairness he showed attorneys, litigants, and defendants who appeared before him.”

    While offers at big law firms loomed, her experience with Judge Davis changed her career outlook. “I spent a year watching federal prosecutors go head-to-head with some of the most prominent defense attorneys in the country,” she said. “After that I knew I wanted to work in the public sector.”

    Levine accepted an offer from the U.S. Attorney in Miami. She spent her first year in the appellate office, where she wrote nearly a dozen briefs and argued three before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. “Standing before the brightest minds in the nation was an incredible experience, and it’s one that I was better prepared for thanks to my experience on Moot Court,” she said. “We were accustomed to brief writing and oral argument. It gave me a great foundation.”

    A year later, when Levine moved to trials, she sought out AUSA Christopher J. Clark as a mentor. The decision to shadow Clark was a wise one; it landed her on one of the most high profile cases in Miami crime history — the prosecution of Kenneth “Boobie” Williams, who was featured on America’s Most Wanted. The 11-defendant “Boobie Boys” gang case involved 35 homicides, a corrupt police officer, wiretap evidence, and the importation of three tons of cocaine. When the arrests were made, the homicide rate in Miami dropped by 50 percent. For her work on the case, Levine received the Director’s Award, one of the most prestigious awards given by the U.S. Department of Justice.

    While working the Boobie Boys case, Levine worked on a high-profile kidnapping case involving a mother and her two young children who were held captive for five days until they were located and rescued by the FBI in a scene that could have come straight from a Jerry Bruckheimer film.

    Through these trials she learned how to manage the emotional toll of working with victims of violent crime. “I really had to separate my emotions from the work. My biggest challenge in this job is my greatest reward — working with victims to get them justice and by extension some kind of closure in cases involving horrible crimes,” Levine said.

    In addition to prosecuting violent crime in Miami, Levine also tried several computer crime cases, which landed her a position with the Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. While there, Levine worked on legislative, investigative, and prosecutorial aspects of high-tech crime.

    In 2002, Levine joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in her home state of New Jersey. As part of the Securities and Heath Care Fraud Unit, Levine directed complex high-profile investigations, including drafting the first deferred prosecution agreement in a heath care fraud case involving the largest public heath institution in the nation. For her work on that case, she received the Inspector General’s Integrity Award, one of the most esteemed awards given by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

    Levine’s life continues to read like an episode of “Law & Order,” as she fights for justice and for victims without a voice. It’s all she has ever wanted to do. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “I love having the opportunity to make a difference.”

  • Thomas P. Vartanian

    Thomas P. Vartanian has no regrets about the choices he has made in his professional life. A fiercely talented rock drummer who was studying to be a Catholic priest, Vartanian was offered a job with a new Long Island band. A dutiful son, he discussed the opportunity with his mother, who told him the seminary would not approve. He referred the job to a friend, Liberty DeVitto, who went on to become Billy Joel’s drummer for more than 40 years. Eight years later, Vartanian left the seminary. But he has found other ways to be the master of his destiny — and a very successful destiny it turned out to be.

    Today, Vartanian is a renowned corporate banking lawyer and a partner at the international law firm of Dechert LLP, a firm he joined this spring after a quarter of a century at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, where he served as chair of the Financial Institutions Transaction Group.

    The son of a postmaster and a homemaker, Vartanian began his non-seminary, non-Billy Joel career as a commercial casualty underwriter at Aetna Casualty & Surety, which was then located on Remsen Street. After five years, he was ready for a bigger challenge and enrolled in the evening program at Brooklyn Law School. He graduated cum laude, and started out as a staff attorney at the office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal regulator of national banks. “The first time I ever walked into a court room as a government litigator, I had zero experience,” he recalled. “That’s the difficulty and the beauty of working for the government.”

    Within four years, Vartanian became the Special Assistant to the Chief Counsel and Senior Trial Litigator. By the age of 33, he left the office to serve in the Reagan Administration as General Counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (now part of the FDIC), where he was responsible for a range of legal issues affecting all savings institutions, the FSLIC, the Federal Home Loan Bank System, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”). During his tenure, he guided the drafting of the Garn-St. Germain Act of 1982 and the seizure, receivership, and sale of 400 savings institutions.

    After two years with the Reagan Administration, Vartanian joined Fried Frank where he structured and engineered deals between banks and lending institutions. He continued to make a name for himself as a lawyer with a sixth sense for the intricacies of federal banking regulation. Vartanian has structured many of the first interstate and inter-industry mergers and acquisitions in the financial services business. He has been described by Chambers as “an icon in the financial services space,” which further noted, “he is equally adept at regulatory, enforcement and transactional matters. He knows the law exceptionally well, has exemplary judgment and is just a class act.’”

    His considerable experience had him tackling the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 as the principal co-author of the American Bankers Association’s published analysis. “These 2,500 pages have changed the landscape of financial services for years to come,” he said.

    While the legal nooks and crannies of the banking business are what drive Vartanian’s professional life, he admits that at 60, he is still a slave to rock and roll. But now he has taken up the electric guitar. He may not be Billy Joel’s sideman, but he is a proud member of The Johnny Esquire Band, a classic rock band that plays the charity circuit. Vartanian is also an avid baseball player, having co-founded the Washington All Stars, an over-40 baseball team that has competed in the Roy Hobbs World Series (a world series for senior baseball players held in Fort Meyers) since 1998, and has helped raise more than $250,000 for Special Olympics.

    “About 20 years ago at Fried Frank, I was losing the balance in my life. Work was overwhelming me, and Harvey Pitt, who recruited me to Fried Frank, gave me a piece of wise advice. He said, ‘At this firm, we provide a culture for our lawyers to be the best human beings that they can be, and if they do that, they will be the best lawyers that they can be.’ I still remember that advice. As lawyers we can do things we are proud of professionally, but at the end of the day it’s what you do as a human being that makes a difference.”

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