YORKTOWN, N.Y. - There was a time early in Marvin Raskin’s legal career when he couldn’t afford to give back. As a husband and father of three, his top priority was providing for his family, and he recalls working nearly 60 hours a week trying to do that.
Years later, after his Bronx law practice took off, the well-respected criminal defense attorney found himself in the fortunate position of being able to donate his time and expertise by sitting on various volunteer councils and mentoring young lawyers, which he has done continuously for the past two decades.
“I’ve been real fortunate,” Raskin said. “I’ve been dealt a great hand and I think giving back is important.”
Occasionally, he will take on the case on an indigent person without charging a fee, but Raskin said most of his pro bono work is serving on committees and lecturing lawyers. In 2007, he was appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. The committee, comprised of 19 attorneys, is by appointment only and there is no compensation for serving. The committee recruits, screens and nominates candidates for judicial appointment to the Family Court and Criminal Court of New York City. He was re-appointed to the committee by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“If you came to the committee and got past us, the mayor would consider you for appointment,” Raskin said. “But if you did not, he would not consider you for appointment, whether he liked you or not. I think [serving on the committee] takes a lot of work and I work with some great folks.”
Raskin also teaches many CLE (Continuing Legal Education) classes; serves on the Criminal Court Committee for the Bronx County Bar Association; and was appointed to the First Department Central Screening Committee in 1994 for what was supposed to be a three-year term.
“It’s now 2016 and I’m the vice chair and that’s the longest three-year appointment I ever got,” Raskin said.
The Central Screening Committee screens and disciplines panel attorneys appointed by the court to represent indigents.
“If a panel attorney does something improper, they’re brought up on discipline charges by our committee,” Raskin said.
Raskin, who has lived in Yorktown for 32 years, was recognized for his public service in October 2015, when he received the Lawyers Who Lead by Example award from the New York Law Journal.
“It was exceptionally gratifying, since I was the only solo practitioner to get the award and the only lawyer from the Bronx,” Raskin said. “It’s very gratifying to be recognized by your peers.”
The award is one of many on display in Raskin’s office. On five occasions he has received the New York County Lawyers Pro Bono Award for free legal services rendered to the courts.
“I was raised by my family to give back,” he said. “I’m in a position to give back and I think lawyers, who attain a position as they get older where they have the time to give to worthy causes, should do so.”
Raskin, who has tried more than 80 murder cases, said his profile was raised as a young attorney in the 1980s, when he represented a 62-year-old female employee of a daycare center accused of sexual abuse. The scandal received national notoriety and his client was eventually found not guilty. He said he also received a “lucky break” by representing several judges and politicians.
“I’ve been very fortunate to get a couple of cases that were good,” Raskin said. “I don’t think I’m a great lawyer; I think I’m an average lawyer that got some good luck.”
In 2002, he also defended Susan Mooney, a woman from northern Westchester accused of murdering her infant son. He successfully argued that Mooney was mentally ill and she was remanded to a psychiatric center before being released in 2008.
Several times, Raskin has been named a special prosecutor in instances where the district attorney of a particular county had to recuse himself over conflicts of interest. He recalls one time when an employee of a district attorney’s office was arrested for purchasing marijuana.
“When they caught her, the DA couldn’t prosecute her because she was his employee,” Raskin said.
Al Capellini, an attorney and former Yorktown supervisor, praised Raskin for his pro bono and instructional work. He also said Raskin is a “first-class criminal defense lawyer.”
Raskin, who worked under Capellini in the district attorney’s office, returned the praise, saying Capellini was an exceptional trial attorney. While never his direct supervisor, Raskin said he often sought out Capellini for advice.
The wisdom imparted on him by Capellini is the same advice Raskin shares with young attorneys today.
“It’s always rewarding to work with a young lawyer and instruct them on the proprieties of conduct in a courtroom and effective skills, because that’s how I learned,” he said. “I learned from people like Al Capellini and others who taught me the right way, and I think I have an obligation to share that knowledge.”