September 30, 2013
Joel Seidemann, Assistant District Attorney Script
JAKE BECKER: Trial lawyer Joel Seidemann broke out of law school with a high-paying job at a big-time New York firm, but the corporate world quickly tired him out. Leaving his post at Shearman & Sterling for the Manhattan district attorney’s office meant taking a major pay cut, but 31 years later, he doesn’t feel any regret.
JOEL SEIDEMANN (0:12): The difference between the big firm and the DA’s office was the big firm was all perks, horrible work, horrible people, and the DA’s office was no perks, wonderful work, wonderful people.
JAKE BECKER: Wonderful, but many. Office space in the DA’s office is rather tight. Lawyers’ desks replace those that would otherwise belong to receptionists, and attorneys share facilities with those less keen on the law.
JOEL SEIDEMANN (0:15): In the DA’s office, you’re in an alcove, a little 6×6 entry room to a senior person’s office. The toilets are used by defendants. The toilets are used by witnesses who are semi-criminals, they’re always filthy.
JAKE BECKER: I spoke to Seidemann at his clean, comfortable home in Westchester County. He lit up the rom with his Sunday afternoon outfit: blue jeans and a bright orange Syracuse T-shirt, showing support for his hometown and his daughter’s current university. The work can be especially stressful when handling high profile cases, such as the 2009 trial against the son of deceased New York City grand dame Brooke Astor, which Seidemann won as lead prosecutor. Though he often has to work with convicts, he enjoys finding humor wherever he can.
SEIDEMANN (0:16): My witnesses have criminal records, I mean I put murderers on the stand. I remember one guy had murdered somebody, he was cooperating with us and was testifying and he’s sitting in my office smoking a cigarette, and his mother said, “Bernard, don’t smoke!” And he said, “Ma, get a grip, I’m doing 25 to life.” [laughs]
JAKE BECKER: To help compensate for the lower state attorney salary, Seidemann, who turns 60 next year, has for the last 18 years taught a trial advocacy course at Pace University. He finds that the best way to teach students how to build a case and work a courtroom is by using his everyday skills: discussion and debate.
SEIDEMANN (0:04): It helps keep your skills sharp. It’s the most transferrable.
JAKE BECKER: Though supporting a wife and 2 children on a DA’s salary has proven to be difficult, he continues to provide through his knowledge and love of the law.
In Manhattan, I’m Jake Becker.