Creating a dialogue with Jonathan Moore

Jonathan Moore (JD ’77) is more than just a successful lawyer. His enthusiastic and dedicated litigation in important civil rights cases is the definition of a social justice advocate, and reminds us there is still much to be done to help people access the justice system. As a law student, Moore advocated for his fellow students while president of the Student Bar Association and for the community while participating in the school’s newly established and cutting-edge legal clinics. Those opportunities inspired Moore to represent people whose voices might otherwise not be heard.

As a dedicated civil rights attorney and partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, Moore gained increasing recognition this past year for his work and leadership in the landmark New York stop-and-frisk case, Floyd, et al v. City of New York. Moore estimates the victory will save nearly 600,000 people from undue harassment and embarrassment by police this year.

The high-profile civil suit filed on behalf of the “Central Park Five” will soon reach settlement. The case involves violent police coercion of five minority youths which lead to false confessions to a brutal crime in which exculpatory evidence was ignored. Moore also recently settled MacNamara v. City of New York, a case filed after the mass false arrests of about 1,800 protestors during the 2004 National Republican Convention.

“We have a gift as lawyers to be the voice for the people,” stated Moore, “and to confront those responsible for the violation of rights under the Constitution.” He sees the law as a tool not only for social change, but for psychological empowerment. “Our clients can’t just walk up to a police officer and grill them about what they did or could have done. Depositions are an opportunity for us to do that.” He continued, “I invite clients [to depositions] because, for them, it feels like someone is finally listening and asking the real questions.”

While clients’ interests come first, Moore recognizes that the matters he litigates arise from social and political dialogue. He noted the importance of community and grassroots organizing, and speaks about change holistically. Representative of that approach, Moore’s cases tend to focus on patterns and policies that discriminate, and target systemic issues that disenfranchise large groups of people.

Moore reflected on the settlement of the three cases, emphasizing that it is not always about the win. “Even if you don’t win, there’s a cathartic effect for clients. That matters.” Going further, he criticized viewing cases as being “good” or “bad,” and stressed that “any case that vindicates the violation of civil rights is a good one.” The impact of Moore’s work extends far beyond New York. On a national and international level, he and others are helping to call attention and much needed reform to how the police and authorities interact with people, especially people of color. Moore suggests that anyone interested in entering the civil rights field should “just do it. Go out there and hang your shingle. There’s something to be said about perseverance and sticking it out.”

He would know.