The Mother Court

Foreword by Robert M. Morgenthau

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is undoubtedly the preeminent trial court in the nation. It is a veritable “crucible of justice.” Its story goes back to the dawn of the Republic when Congress created the court in the Judiciary Act of 1789. But the court elaborated its reputation for excellence in the 20th century as America became more industrialized, and New York City emerged as a more densely populated commercial, cultural, and financial center.
The Southern District conducted some of the most important trials of our time transparently, fairly, and with rigid adherence to due process of law. The historic cases that unfolded in its courtrooms in the period following World War II represent a metaphor for what was going on during a time of radical transformation, and even hysteria, in American society. Lawyers call the Southern District the “Mother Court, ” not only because it is generally acknowledged to be the best in the justice business, but also because of the excellence of its judges, the quality of the lawyers who appear before it, and its fierce traditions of prosecutorial and judicial independence, and because it’s the oldest court in the country, antedating even the Supreme Court.
I had the good fortune to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the decade of the 1960s. The outstandingly able young lawyers attracted to my office represented the government in some of the most important cases of the period. Our lawyers struck hard blows for the government, but they were always fair ones. We prosecuted high-profile cases without fear or favor, featuring the fields of organized crime, official corruption, white-collar fraud, Swiss bank secrecy, and narcotics, as well as criminal cases brought for the first time against senior auditors in nationally known firms. All these cases enforced and vindicated the rule of law. It was here that the rubber truly met the road.
Jim Zirin is a talented trial lawyer, an able writer, and a keen observer. It is not surprising, therefore, that he has crafted an extraordinary behind-the-scenes story, describing many of the peo- ple, cases, and events of the Mother Court. The reader will have a ringside seat at some of the major trials that unfolded in the South- ern District in mid-20th century America. In a well-researched and highly readable chronicle, laced with some memorable and often hilarious anecdotes, he has captured the essence of what went on in Southern District courtrooms. He has made a valuable contribution to the history of the court that will be of interest to all citizens, not just judges, lawyers, and law students, but not excluding them either.
The book pushes forward the reader’s knowledge of the American justice system. For those wishing to acquire a deeper understanding of why the Southern District is the special place it is, Jim Zirin’s The Mother Court is both guidebook and testament.

Robert M. Morgenthau New York June 2013