Twenty-Third Annual Abrams Public Service Lecture: Josh Shapiro

– Well good evening and welcome all of you to the newly refurbished Greenberg Lounge, and we are thrilled
that it can be the venue for this year’s continuation
of our attorney general, Robert Abram’s public service lecture. This is one of the most
important annual events on the law school’s calendar. It’s a hallmark event at the law school. It provides us an opportunity, of course, to bring a leader in public service here to the school and to
hear directly from them. And it’s also an opportunity
for us to honor and thank so many people in our community, among our current
students and our graduates who have or who will devote their careers to public service, and
in particular to honor one prime exemplar of
excellence in public service, and that is Robert Abrams, NYU
Class, NYU Law Class of 1963. And so Bob, we are
tremendously grateful to you and thank you for establishing
this lecture with us and for providing throughout your career the amazing example
that you have provided. More on that in a moment. Let me also say that I wanna
thank tonight’s speaker, Attorney General Josh
Shapiro, for joining us. You really continue the
traditions of this lecture, and we thank you for honoring
us with your presence. He will be introduced in a moment. But it is my great and happy task to introduce Robert Abrams. And as I say, he is a wonderful example of dedication to public
service throughout his career. Indeed, a nearly 30-year
career in government, he was a member of the
New York State Assembly having served three terms also as the Bronx Borough President. In 1978 was elected to serve
the first of four terms as New York State’s Attorney General. While serving in that role
he received many awards and received national acclaim for the many groundbreaking achievements and important problem-solving initiatives that he led in that office. And just as much as that, just as much as the very
important policy initiatives that Bob spearheaded over
his many years in the office, is the way that he did it, that he led that office
with deep integrity, with a commitment to public service, and to serving the public and really sort of led by that example, not only those within his office, but I think if you talk to people in the New York Attorney
General’s Office today, they will point to Bob
Abrams as the kind of example to which all attorneys
general ought to aspire. And so when someone of
that stature graduates from a law school that is ours
we claim him with both arms and wanna really encourage our students as they think about
models in their own career to look to Bob Abrams for exactly that. His legacy and expertise continues to be deeply important to
us here at the law school and to many institutions
in law and public life. So after completing his
time as attorney general he has continued to serve
the public in myriad ways. And as I say we are deeply,
deeply proud of him. Bob, thanks for all that
you do for this law school and this community, but more than that for this state and for the rule of law
and for public service. So without further ado, let me ask you all to join me in welcoming Bob Abrams. (audience applauding) – Dean, thank you very, very much. That was very gracious
and I’m appreciative. As I look out before you I can’t believe that we’ve been doing this for 23 years. And actually the reason why
we established this program is as important and relevant today as when we did it a couple of decades ago. I was talking to the then dean John Sexton and was telling him at that time, “You know, Dean, I’m really worried. “I’m worried that students, “because of what they
read in the newspaper “and what they believe
to be a pretty dirty “and cruddy business of
politics and government “will drop out, will not want to aspire “to spend some portion
of their life or career “in public service or even into government “and run for public office “when the fact is that sure, “we’ve got issues and problems “and we need that youthful
energy, integrity, “conscience, commitment
to help remold our society “and make it a better place.” And my own experience has been that, yes, there are those in public life who betrayed the public trust, but my experience was
that the bulk of those who I worked with were men
and women of genuine ability, real commitment to public service, and I was overwhelmingly
impressed with them. And I just felt that it was important for students to see what I experienced. And I wanted to bring to
the law school every year somebody who’s life, career, value system would be important, emblematic of what a public career would be all about, and hopefully inspirational enough for them to want to spend some part of their career in public service, and perhaps even run for public office or serve on the staff
of an elected official. And so that’s the genesis of this program. And certainly today there is
much that can discourage people based upon what’s going on. And so that’s why we need
Josh Shapiro here tonight. Because he, like his
predecessors at this podium, is going to be a symbol for you of what public service can be all about. Let me tell you a few things about Josh. His father was a pediatrician. His mother was a public school teacher. He went to the University of Rochester, was elected student body president, graduates magna cum laude, and right within minutes of graduating from the University of Rochester
he gets a job on The Hill to work for a pretty good congressman, Congressman Deutsch from Florida. And he becomes a senior
advisor to the congressman. Couple years later
becomes the senior advisor to the United States Senator, Bob Torricelli from New Jersey. Couple years later becomes the chief of staff of a congressman. The youngest chief of staff
on The Hill that year. In the interim he decides
to go to law school at night and goes to the Georgetown Center of Law. He then, after doing that
stint of public service, decides that he wants to spend some time in the private sector and spends 10 years as a private attorney. But in the midst of that decides
he wants to run for office, becomes a candidate and wins
a seat in the Statehouse. Within two years of winning that seat he gets appointed the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the state of Pennsylvania. An extraordinary achievement because he’s an extraordinary guy. He then runs for county
commissioner in Montgomery County, gets the biggest vote in
the history of that office, and a couple years later runs in a primary and a general election, tough fights, both of them, and becomes the Attorney
General of Pennsylvania. And as attorney general he instantly, because of his charisma, because of his dedication,
because of his independence and his integrity and
his leadership skills, becomes a leader among attorneys
general in the country. He fights for consumers, for
senior citizens, for veterans. He’s a defender of women’s
reproductive rights. He’s right out there in the vanguard, and as the Trump administration
begins to take incursions into gains that were made over
the last number of decades for women’s reproductive freedom, on issues of immigration
and the right to travel, on issues relating to the environment, Attorney General Josh
Shapiro was out there filing more than two dozen lawsuits, working cooperatively with
other attorneys general. And then came a blockbuster. Courageously he was
involved in an investigation that led to a bombshell report, investigating inappropriate behavior on the part of Roman Catholic clergy. And as a result of his investigation, he released a report that
indicated that over the decades more than 1,000 documented
children, young people, were abused by 301 clergy,
priests, predators, naming names, taking the lead, causing ripples not only in
the state of Pennsylvania and throughout the United
States but throughout the world with the Pope convening a conference to deal with the issue and
Attorney General Shapiro has spoken personally with
the Pope about these issues, and being an inspiration to
other state attorneys general to launch similar
investigations in their states. And in fact, a week and a half ago it was the Attorney General of Missouri, a republican attorney
general, a Roman Catholic, I mean it was pretty gutsy and courageous for Josh Shapiro, a member
of the Jewish faith, to take on an issue like this. And we were chatting before
and he had a premonition that if he took on this case, it would probably be the
end of his political career. The investigation was actually launched, started, by his predecessor. And early on he was told about this secret grand jury investigation
that was going on, and at that point he had the ability to stop it in its tracks, but said that the imperative of morality compelled him to say full speed ahead and let’s take it wherever it goes. And so Josh Shapiro is
a guy who is an exemplar of somebody who went into public service and is engaged in the important struggles of our day and our time. And so for all these
reasons it’s my privilege and pleasure and honor to introduce you to the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro. (audience applauding) – Thank you. I actually don’t know how to follow that. Typically they read a short bio and then you come up
and you give your spiel. That was beautiful. Bob, thank you very
much for the kind words and thank you for summarizing
some of the work we’ve done in the beautiful way that you did. Bob Abrams is one of the first people I sought out when I was
running for attorney general back in 2015, 2016. I had heard about Bob and
I had heard about the way in which he ran his office, and I heard about the fact that he liked to mentor
other attorneys general. And it meant a lot to me
that he gave me a meeting. It meant a lot to me that, actually, you invested early in my campaign, which I was grateful for. And it means a lot to
be able to call on Bob and it means an incredible amount to be able to stand here today, in front of this NYU Law School symbol, and have the honor to speak to all of you at Bob’s invitation,
and I’m truly grateful. So thank you, Bob, I appreciate it. And I’m grateful to the Dean. And most importantly I’m grateful to all of you for being here because there are lots of other things that you could be doing this evening, and I’m grateful that
we have the opportunity that we have the opportunity
to spend some time together. I was hoping to speak for 15 or 20 minutes and then most importantly
take your questions. ‘Cause I think it’s important
that we have an opportunity to engage in dialogue. I wanna hear what’s on your mind. Bob talked a little bit about
my path in public service. What he didn’t tell you, though, is why I got involved in public
service in the first place. And the truth is, it really
emanates from two things that Bob spoke about and a
third that I’ll touch on. One was my mom, the public school teacher. Two is my dad, the pediatrician. I loved how people in the community would seek out both of them for help and assistance and guidance when they had a challenge or they had an issue. I loved the way they could nurture people and bring them along. But the third thing I drew
strength from and purpose from was my faith. And I’m not here to
lecture you on your faith or the absence thereof. But I’m here to tell you why
I’m involved in public service. I’m involved because scripture teaches us that no one is required
to complete the task, but neither are we free
to refrain from it. I’ve taken that very
seriously throughout my life. A deep belief that you’ve
gotta get off the sidelines and get in the game and do your part. And for some people that involves being a law school professor. For others, it’s a teacher
or a doctor or whatever. For me it was a life of public service, a life of engagement
to try to help others. And it began for me on
Capitol Hill, as you heard, until I had that moment where I was tired of whispering in somebody’s ear. I wanted to get out and shout from the rooftops and tell
people what was on my mind. And that took me back home to
the community where I grew up and service in the State
House of Representative, service in our county government, now ultimately service
as the attorney general. I wanna talk a little bit about that work and then have a dialogue with you. I think now more than ever the
rule of law is being tested. Now more than ever we’ve
gotta work together to defend the rule of law and to recognize that we live in a world that
is much bigger than just us. I think you understand that instinctively. Probably in part, you’re here tonight. That demonstrates that
you care about something broader than yourself. Another thing that I’ve noticed, and I’ve read this in
some of the books about, or some of the articles
about why more people are turning to the law
and going to law schools. Got this fly flying around my face here. The first reason why students
say they applied to law school in surveys over the last two decades is they wanna be able to provide for them and their families. And that’s understandable. It’s a great profession, a great way to be able to
provide for you and your family. But the second reason, and for the first time
in the last couple years, the second reason has cropped
up to place number two, is that people want to be able to go out and defend our constitution, defend the rule of law. And that’s not necessarily a liberal or conservative ideology, but it’s a belief that we’ve got to engage more broadly in the system. I believe that there is no better, more significant job
in public service today where you can defend that rule of law, where you can make those contributions, then to serve as a state attorney general. And that’s what I’ve tried
to do in my time as the AG, making sure that the rule
of law applies to everyone, no matter what they look
like or where they come from or who they love or who they pray to or choose not to pray to. The rule of law must apply to everyone. And when we create others in our system, when we separate people out, when we apply the laws unfairly we erode our democracy,
we erode the rule of law, and we make everyone less safe. We make everyone weaker. It’s that that I have in mind
when I go to work every day. It’s that that I had in mind
two and a half years ago when we assembled the strongest, smartest, most diverse staff in the history of the Office of Attorney
General of Pennsylvania. I’m proud, for example, that we have more women in
positions of leadership then men, that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters sit around the table with
me when we make a decision, that we have more people
of color represented in my office than ever before. Because I fundamentally
believe that in the law, that if you look like the
people you are sworn to serve you are going to make
fair and just decisions. And so everything we do starts with who gets to sit around
the table doing that work. And then the question is, when you are sitting around the table, when you do have that power,
what are you gonna do with it? First and foremost as the attorney general you gotta keep people safe. You’ve gotta protect them. For me there’s no more
vulnerable population than our children in Pennsylvania. It’s why on day two, when I was briefed on our
grand jury investigations, when I was told what was going on and I was told that there was a priest that may or may not have
abused a child or two and was asked do you want to move forward with this investigation, I said yes because we’ve
gotta protect our children. A year and a half later, after bringing 150 people
in my organization, in our operation, to work on this matter, we released a grand jury
report that unearthed horrors. 301 predator priests, as you heard. Thousands of child victims
the grand jurors found. And a conspiracy and coverup that went from Pennsylvania all
the way to the Vatican. What’s happened since then
has been profoundly impactful. 21 state attorneys general
have publicly announced that they’ve opened investigations. The Feds have launched a probe. Imagine what it’s like
sitting across the table from Attorney General Sessions
and Attorney General Barr when you’re suing them on a
whole bunch of other stuff, but you’re working with them on this. The Feds are doing their part to try and unearth the truth as well. We are in probably the third
or fourth inning of this. Not to say it’s a game, but just to give you a sense
of the timeframe we’re in. More truth will come out. More horrors will be exposed. Well what has changed in
this country as a result of our work is that survivors
are now being listened to. The prosecutors are understanding, you’ve gotta prosecute these cases of sexual abuse and sexual violence. And I’m proud of the fact that Pennsylvania took
a lead on that issue. Public safety is paramount. When we think about public safety, we also recognize we’ve gotta grapple with one of the biggest threats
in our communities today and that is gun violence. Mass shootings. Everyday gun violence that
is gripping our communities. The 1500 people that
died from gun violence in Pennsylvania in the last year alone. And I think we’ve gotta
be honest with ourselves about how we combat this. We combat this, yes, by passing new laws, like getting weapons
of war off our streets and making sure we have
universal background checks. But we also have to make sure the prosecutors are doing their jobs. We found out after I
took office, for example, that crime guns weren’t
being put into the database that state law required. And so you know that refrain
when people are against you pushing for new laws
they say enforce the laws that are already on the books. I actually asked that question, what laws aren’t we enforcing
that are on the books? And that was a straightforward one. We weren’t putting crime
guns in a database. It was making it harder
to combat gun violence. It was making it harder
to hold those accountable that would go out and harm others. Today that’s changed in the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and we’re hopefully gonna
be a model for others. We’ve got to address gun
violence in our communities. And when it comes to the loss of life, nothing is claiming more lives in Pennsylvania or
across this country today than the heroin, fentanyl,
and opioid crisis that is gripping our nation. We lose 12 Pennsylvanians
each and every day. And you know, in law enforcement what you do when you’re trying to solve one of these challenges, is you go to the supply chain. And for a long time that meant that you went to the street corners
and you arrested dealers. And we do our fair share of that. But if you really wanna
find the supply chain, the root cause of this crisis, you’ve gotta have the courage to go to pharmaceutical company boardrooms and hold those executives accountable for the products they
pushed out in the community that have created this cycle of addiction in places like Pennsylvania. And so to that end we’re a state that is suing these opioid manufacturers, both personally when
it comes to the owners who have pocketed ill-gotten gains to the tunes of billions of dollars, as well as holding the
companies accountable. If we’re really gonna address this crisis and get at the root cause you’ve gotta hold the pharmaceutical
companies accountable. And, we in law enforcement
have to understand the drug addiction is
a disease, not a crime. And you’ve gotta have
compassion in your heart when you help those individuals. It’s not just criminal work that we do in the Pennsylvania
Attorney Generals Office, we work very hard to protect consumers, to make sure that there’s an
economic fairness and balance. Let me tell you an area that has gotten totally out of whack, and you know this better than anyone, that is the student debt
crisis in this country. By the way, I’m still
paying off my student loans to Georgetown Law, can I say Georgetown Law School in here? Is that okay?
(audience laughing) I’m still paying off my student loans to Georgetown Law School, and our daughter, God willing, is gonna go to college next year. We’ll be paying loans for her as well. It shouldn’t be this way. And what’s happened in
Pennsylvania is we have a company that has actually exacerbated
the student debt crisis by adding $4 billion on
the backs of students, on the backs of their families
through predatory practices. We’ve taken them to court, we’re gonna hold them accountable, and we’re gonna get that $4
billion sent back to students and their families, where it belongs. Just one example of the consumer type work that we’re doing in the
AG’s office every day. We’ve also tried to dramatically expand the work of our office. We have a fair labor division protecting workers rights for the first time ever. We have a civil rights division, making sure that everyone
is protected under the rules in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We have a policy shop that’s working to advance criminal justice reform because we need that to happen now if we’re truly gonna have
fairness in our system. We started the first ever
statewide reentry council, focusing on returning citizens. When someone’s released
from jail today in America, 66% of them end up going back into jail. They end up either committing a crime or violating the terms of their probation. Think about it, if you got
66% of the questions wrong on your exams you would not be an NYU law student much longer. Yet in this country, we
are willing to accept a 66% fail rate in our
criminal justice system. That’s wrong and we’re
workin’ hard to change that. We know what the tools are. We know what the mechanisms
are to make that better, and we are all safer,
we are all better off. Human capital is improved if
we’re able to get that right. We have got to advance
criminal justice reform. And we gotta make sure that
our system works for everyone. Now when I became attorney general, actually when I ran for attorney general, I never imagined that in
order to protect everyone, in order to make sure that our
system was fair for everyone, that I would be called upon
as the attorney general to sue the President of
the United States to ensure people’s rights and
protect their interests. Yet that’s exactly what’s had to happen. I’ve gone to court 23 times against the Trump administration
and won each and every time. And I’ve gone to court, not just when I disagree
with this President. Otherwise, candidly, I probably
would have gone to court about 10,000 times.
(audience laughing) I go to court when the
President and his administration violate the rule of law. You know, I was talking to my, I have four kids, I’m trying
to remember which one it was. (audience laughing)
I was talking to my fifth grader who had a
lesson in checks and balances. And of course he learned,
as we all did in school, about horizontal checks and balances, about the president and
congress and the courts all being a check on one another. What he didn’t learn, though, are vertical checks and balances. The role that the states
have in order to be a shield, to protect the interests
of our state citizens from unwarranted federal overreach, and a sword to advance the
rights of our citizens. Right now you are seeing
states, and states rights, become a progressive force
for good in this country. Being a check on the president, being a check on this administration that disrespects the rule
of law day in and day out. Now I realize that some
of you in this room, as I say that, disagree with my politics. But I ask you not to think
about this in political terms, I ask you to think about this in terms of what you’re studying
day in and day out, what matters most to
you, and that is the law. And so for example, when the
president went to congress to do away with the Affordable Care Act, like the Affordable Care Act or not, he failed to muster a majority
of votes to get that done. And he came back to the Oval Office and he signed one of
those big executive orders with his Sharpie and he held
it up for everybody to see, and the words on this executive order were to take away women’s access to contraception in this country. Something guaranteed under
the Affordable Care Act. The next day we were
on the courthouse steps in Philadelphia and filed a lawsuit. 19 states joined us in that effort. Today in America women
continue to have access to contraception because
of the rule of law. Because our institutions
of law still matter even when people have political agendas that would try and push otherwise. Our planet is being
attacked day in and day out by the unlawful policies being put forth by this administration. And time and time again I’ve
been forced to go to court to make sure, for example, that the Clean Air Act would be enforced. And we’re gonna continue to do that work. Protecting productive rights,
protecting our planet, protecting student interests
as we’ve had to go to court multiple times to file
suit against Betsy DeVos who wants to take away
rights from students and do things that are unlawful. Time and time again we’ve
been called on to act and we’ll continue to do that. The last thing I wanna say to you is really what I said at the outset of my comments here tonight, and that is to think about the importance of the rule of law, to think about your
role in this discussion, to think about getting off the sidelines and get in the game and doing your part to help others. You have an awesome amount of capability as an NYU law student and soon to be an NYU graduate who’s practicing law. Use that power for the common good. Yes, use that power to make a good living. Use that power to care
for you and your family. But make sure you use your big brains and your know how to go out
and do some good in the world. I find such great satisfaction
in public service. I find great honor in
being able to do this work on behalf of the 13
million Pennsylvanians, and it’s a real honor to be able to speak to you here tonight. So thank you for having me, and I look forward to
hearing what’s on your mind. (audience applauding)
Thank you, thank you. – So I’m sure you have some questions. Please, here we go. – [Adam] Hi, my name’s Adam I’m a 1L. So you’ve worked in politics before and now you’re the commonwealth’s chief law enforcement officer, and you’re saying your priority is to preserve the rule of law, but in terms of how you allocate resources and hiring decisions and what
cases you choose to pursue, you are also making policy decisions, so what’s your sort of
personal calculus for balancing your role as a
law enforcement officer with what may be your
personal policy objectives or political leanings as you
are also an elected official? – Yeah, I think very little
about the political leanings. I tend to view politics through this prism that if you do good work
and you get good results, the politics kinda work themselves out. But you did raise a really
important point about your own sort of philosophical
views or your policy views, I think was the word you used. And you also used the
word resources, right? Because you have limited resources. We have about 1,000 people in our office, but it’s still not enough resources to be able to deal with all
the different things you have. You have to deal with
the top clear priorities. So I touched on just a few of them today. The opioid crisis, for example. Combating gun violence, dealing with the student debt crisis, just a few examples that I use here. So what you do is you try and say, these are the priorities,
these are the things that I think are
impacting the most people. And then the issue is how do
you go about doing that work? How do you allocate your resource? So if we can let’s take the opioid crisis for a second, right? Historically, my predecessors would put nearly 100% of their resources into locking up dealers
on the street corners. We still do that. But we also hold doctors accountable who are running pill mills. And so we have a whole new diversion unit who’s just focused on that. We’re also, as I talked about before, going after the pharmaceutical executives and the pharmaceutical companies for their role in this epidemic. And for the first time ever, we’re actually investing our time in making sure people who are dealing with the disease of
addiction get treatment. Not typically something
reserved for law enforcement. So you might put that more
in the kid of policy bucket as opposed to the legal bucket. We’re working, for example,
with police departments all across Pennsylvania. We started with zero. We’re up to more than
50 police departments where if you are suffering
the disease of addiction and you walk into one of
those police departments, no questions asked, they will
put you into a treatment slot in that community because they’ve been specially trained to do that. I mean, that’s just a
total different mindset in terms of how you deal with this crisis. So the first thing you do is figure out what your priorities are. The second thing you do is
within those priorities, how do you sort of allocate your resources within those buckets. The opioid crisis is an example of that. There’s a lot I’d love to be doing, but because you’ve got a limited resource, because you’ve got limited budgets, you are really forced to pick and choose the things that are most impactful to the people that you try and serve. Thank you. Yeah. – Hi, I’m Josh.
– Good name. (audience laughing) – [Josh] And I’m also from the Philly area.
– Awesome. Delaware County.
– Montgomery County. All right. – [Josh] And so you’re
talking the opioid stuff and holding the companies
accountable and stuff. Your peers on this case
have been starting to settle and all that stuff. Do you think settling with the companies will be sufficient to
fight the opioid crisis or should other, you and your peers look for
something (voice muffled)? – Sure, there’s a handful of states that are leading the
multi-state coalition, myself, we’re one of the lead states, and when you’re sitting
across the table negotiating with the different
companies you reach a point where you’ve pushed them as
far as they can be pushed. They’ve put their best offer on the table. In some instances it’s
worth taking the deal. In other instances, as the case of Purdue, which is what you’re referring to, Purdue Pharmaceutical, I felt that that was a slap in the face to the people of Pennsylvania. I felt that this was a
crisis they largely created. They manufactured this crisis. They made tens of billions of dollars off of this crisis that they manufactured. And then they put a paltry
sum of money on the table, refused to admit wrongdoing,
and weren’t as transparent as I would like. That’s why I decided not
to accept that settlement and to continue to try
to litigate this case. There are times to settle,
there are times to litigate. And it really all
depends on whether or not you feel like you can get, this is the best deal you
can get for your citizens. Whether there’s some kind
of admission of wrongdoing and whether there are provisions in place to ensure that whatever that bad act is, whatever that wrong deed
is, doesn’t happen again. I felt that those things were
absent in this Purdue case, which is why I didn’t settle and I’m gonna continue
to fight them in court. Thanks. Yeah. – [Gabriel] Gabriel, (voice muffled)
– Thank you Gabriel, all right.
– And so– – Delaware County,
Philadelphia, I like it. That’s great.
– Pennsylvania’s a pretty divided state. Obviously Philadelphia’s one of the biggest cities in the
country (voice muffled), how do you manage being
a statewide official that has to work with (voice muffled)? – Sure. Here’s what I’ve learned in a diverse state like
Pennsylvania, 13 million people, people don’t think about these jobs from the standpoint of
how far left are you? How close to center are you? I mean, you’re gonna go home tonight, turn no MSNBC, Fox, CNN, whatever, and they’re gonna have
a whole conversation about these presidential candidates and who’s further left than this person? Who’s in the middle? Is it good to be in the middle? Is it good to be on the left? Voters don’t think like that. True, there are certain issues that we care deeply about, right? And we wanna make sure that those candidates share our views. But what I have found in Pennsylvania, and I think it’s probably true of places like in upstate New York and otherwise is that if you’re authentic and people really know who
you are and where you stand, even if it’s not a place that they agree, they’re gonna appreciate the fact that you’re willing to be yourself and most importantly fight for them because elections are not
about you the candidate, it’s about you the people. It’s about them and their future and what we’re going to do for them. I remember in my campaign 2016 I ran an ad about how I had been involved
in an effort to advance the rights of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. And I ran it in Pittsburgh
in Western Pennsylvania. And my friend from Delaware
County and Philadelphia know, Western Pennsylvania is different
from Eastern Pennsylvania. And people said, “You are crazy. “Why would you run an ad like that “out in Western Pennsylvania?” And the truth is it’s
because I’d be willing to run that ad in Eastern Pennsylvania. It’s who I am. And I want people to know I’m
willing to fight for folks who were being forgotten in our community, at the time, our LGBTQ
brothers and sisters. And I think that if you are
authentic and true to yourself, if you let people know that you understand the challenges they face and you’ve got a plan to dealing with them, that it’s far less about where you are on the left, right, center pendulum and more about just gettin’ out there and showing that you can
fight and work hard for them. Yes, the political dynamics in
Pennsylvania are challenging. Yes we’ve got a democratic governor and republican majorities
in the House and Senate. But I’m also someone who recognizes that if you’re gonna be any good
to the people who elected you you had to get stuff done and you gotta be able to work with people, and so I pride myself on
being able to work with people from all different walks of life, rural, urban, suburban,
republican, democrat, and I think that’s really not as apparent in our politics today
and we need more of it. You gotta be willing to
be true to your values, be authentic to yourself, but
be willing to work with others and folks of all different stripes. Yeah. (voice muffled) Look, the one thing Mitch
McConnell has done incredibly well is confirm conservative judges. And that is going to have an
impact for generations to come. I think if you try to talk to
the average person out there about conservative versus liberal judges and a lot of them don’t even
know how judges become judges, how they go through the process. I think it’s lost. But when you begin to talk
about two or three issues, particularly economic issues,
issues that effect them, and how these judges are unilaterally making these decisions, then I think they can get
their mind around the fact that this is a serious issue. It’s another reason I should care about United States senate races, and it’s the reason why I should be more politically engaged. Probably the easiest example
to talk about right now is what’s happening in
federal court in Texas where the Affordable Care Act
is likely to be overturned by a group of federal
appellate court judges, and that is something that I
think everybody can understand, that you will no longer
have the security you have in your healthcare system, albeit, a healthcare system
that needs dramatic reform and needs a lot of change. But you will no longer have that if this judge gets their way. And so I think it’s really important that we take actual concrete examples of how these judges are
impacting your lives and help put that on the ballot and make it less partisan and
more about the individuals who are being negatively impacted. – [Student] (voice muffled)
also from Pennsylvania. – I love this. I didn’t know this, by
the way, as I go around. (audience laughing) (voice muffled) – Nice, I’m an Abbington
guy, so there you go. All right. – [Student] Well I’m glad
that you spoke to your faith and also your commitment
to criminal justice reform. I’m also Jewish. And we are on the Yom
Kippur is coming up soon, the holiday of atonement, redemption, and you sitting on the Board
of Pardons in Pennsylvania, have the opportunity through the clemency and clementation process, to essentially right
people in the book of life, and in the past you have been the soul dissenting vote on commutation
in numerous instances, and going forward I’m
wondering if you would support or end that practice of
denying people the opportunity of commutation so that more people with life sentences have the opportunity, who have been redeemed have
the opportunity to go home. – Sure, thanks for asking your question. And for those of you who
aren’t from Elkins Park or follow Pennsylvania and
our Board of Pardons process is as the attorney general
I am one of five votes on our Board of Pardons,
and we, from time to time, will hear clemency cases and
it requires a unanimous vote in order to recommend
clemency to the governor who ultimately then has to
sign off on the clemency. And I think that’s a really
fair question that you asked. I have been the lone dissenting
vote on a handful of cases. And when I make these
decisions on clemency I make a decision focused
on numerous factors, and one thing the other
members of the board don’t do is tell you what those factors
are so let me tell you mine, and then let me tell you
where things stand today, and if you’re not satisfied
with the answer to my question then you can follow up, okay? Number one, I consider public safety. If you’re gonna release
someone from prison, are they gonna create
a public safety threat? Number two, I think a
lot about the victims, whether it’s a victim who’s still living or the family members of victims who have been killed by
this person who’s in jail. Number three, I think a
lot about whether or not fairness and justice was
done during the trial. There have been instances
where I’ve been able to get the DA or the judge, the original
DA or the original judge, from the case on the phone
where they have said, “We screwed this up.” I had one judge and one
DA that I brought forth to the Board of Pardons
who actually admitted that they added years on this conviction because they were trying to curry favor with the Pro-Life Federation
for their next election, and obviously immediately voted for clemency for that person. So I think about public safety, I think about the victims,
I think about whether or not there was an injustice in
the underlying conviction. And then the fourth thing I think about is whether or not the
underlying law is fair. So for example, I firmly believe that the felony murder
statute in Pennsylvania, which says if you’re the get away driver you get life in prison the same as the person that pulled the trigger. So we’ve got people in
prison in Pennsylvania today who didn’t take a life but
who were in prison for life. So those are the different
factors I think about. Now it is true that I’ve been the lone dissenting vote a few times. What you didn’t say, respectfully I would
submit to this group is, if you look at every
single attorney general in the history of Pennsylvania combined and you add up all the times
they voted for clemency, I’ve beat that by a factor of I think 20. Last week I voted for nine clemencies. More than has ever been done in a day. There are example after example where I have voted for clemency because I do believe people
deserve a second chance, and historically my attorney
general predecessors never voted to give them that opportunity. So as I look at these issues
on a case-by-case basis I think about those factors, I think about correcting injustices. And I’m proud of the fact that I’ve given more second
chances than every single one of my attorney general
predecessors combined, and I think that’s what the public wants. They want you to look at this carefully, they want you to look
at it in a sober way, and they want you to make a decision that considers their interests of safety as well as the interests
of the person incarcerated to make sure that you’re doing justice, and that’s what I try to do every day. Yeah. – [Student] So I appreciated
everything you’ve said about your mandate is just to do
authentic and genuine work (voice muffled) what’s most important. But as an elected official,
even though you are the top, sort of legal officiator in your state, you do have a political mandate. And as someone whose from New
York, not from Pennsylvania– – I don’t know why I called on you then. (audience laughing)
I was really trying to limit this to Pennsylvania people. – [Student] I understand how
different the climates are, but I appreciated how
Attorney General James has said she understands that
she has a political mandate to sort of widen her purview under a different administration. And I’m curious, shouldn’t, I see the virtue in trying to appeal to everyone in your state (voice muffled) good authentic work, but
is that mutually exclusive with leaning into your political mandate and understanding that
you’re responsibilities now as an elected official is different than had the election gone differently. And I think it’s curious, as Mr. Abrams served his entire
time under Reagan and Bush, and then I’d be curious to hear, sir, if you think your office and
what your goals would have been would have been different had you served under Bill Clinton’s administration, and just if you see a difference there in your responsibilities depending on what the federal administration– – Sure, that’s a good question. And I think Tish is great. She and I worked together on
a lot of different things. I do have a political mandate. In fact, I got more votes in 2016 than anyone in Pennsylvania. More than Donald Trump,
who won Pennsylvania. So yeah, I do think about
the political mandate I have, but I think it’s important
to use that mandate not for politics but to advance causes that you think are interesting and you think are, not interesting, that’s the wrong word, that
you think are important to the people that you serve. So I think there’s a difference. I think in these jobs as attorneys general you have to be very careful about engaging too much in politics. I think you have to be
viewed as someone who’s, yeah you’re political, you’re
a democrat or republican, but you know, they’re kind
of above the daily fray and the daily grind of politics. You do want to use your bully pulpit. You do want to advance causes. I talked before about our reentry council. Returning citizens in reentry
is a real passion of mine, and sometimes that goes
outside the sort of necessary mandate of an attorney general, but there I would use my bully pulpit, my political mandate, to use your word, to advance that cause. I just think it’s important
that in advancing those cause you don’t do so in a political way, because you do need to make sure that everybody in Pennsylvania, including republicans, has
confidence in the decisions that you’re making and
that you’re making them for the right reasons. And so that’s a different balancing act than say your congressman or your senator or even your governor. And I just think it’s a
different type of job, and I try and do that job
in a different type of way. Yeah. (voice muffled) Nice, okay, thank you. – [Student] And I really
appreciated your response to the question asked
earlier (voice muffled) – Sure, I’m, and the
threshold, as I said before, is five to nothing, there are, and it’s constitutionally mandated that we are assembled the way
we are as a Board of Pardons, and there is legislation to try and change it to four to one. Here’s my view, if the
governor supports it to be four to one I will as well. And I want to explain to
you why I said it that way, ’cause I don’t work for the governor. I don’t take my direction
from the governor. He’s a wonderful man and a good friend, but the reason is we
are an advisory board, a constitutionally mandated advisory board to the governor who ultimately
makes that decision. So man, in my response
to your question before when I said last week we
recommended nine for clemency, ultimately it’ll be up to the governor whether or not he wants
to grant that clemency. I think the governor
should be able to have a Board of Pardons that
reflects his vision, his views, and his approach
to addressing clemency. And if he believes that a lower threshold, so perhaps more cases will get to him, then I would certainly
be in favor of that. I would point out, though, for example, in our meeting last week, I think we had 21 cases for clemency. There was not a single case where there was only one dissenting vote. There were some cases where there were two or three dissenting votes, so this wouldn’t have changed that. But nevertheless, having
more of an opportunity for the governor to get
the cases that he wants, when this is his advisory board, is certainly something I support. – [Man] We have time for one
more question if there is one. – Sure. – [Woman] Your job sounds all consuming. How do you balance your professional and family responsibilities? (audience chuckling) – Your job sounds consuming,
how do you balance your professional and
personal commitments. Well, I said at the top
I’ve got four children, and they are the most
important thing to me. My wife and I have been
together since the 9th grade. She’s pretty darn important,
too, in that equation. And what I try to do is manufacture time that my family can count on me and know that I’m there, and for me it’s not just
about being there for my kids. It’s about having my kids
be able to be there for me. They help keep me healthy
and sane and grounded. So we do a few things. Every Friday night we have
our Sabbath dinner together. And to be honest with you, it’s, in part a religious experience, but it’s way more just
knowing that all six of us are gonna be around the table together at least one time a week. When my kid has a game that’s
really important to them or a performance that’s important to them I’m able to say to my
team, “I’m gonna be there. “And so I’m not gonna be in the office “at eight o’clock this
morning or nine o’clock. “I’ll be there at 11.” But you know what,
they’ll be able to get me at one in the morning
when they need me as well. And I just think it’s an
important lesson for all of you as you go forward to make
sure that while you go out and practice law, whether in a public way or in the private sector, and that job’s gonna be
incredibly important. You’re gonna be doing
serious, serious stuff. You’ve gotta make sure
to carve out that time to remain grounded, to be
committed to your family, and to have those moments during the week where you know that’s your time for yourself and for your family. It’s true of exercise. It’s true of, I’m not into meditation,
if you’re into meditation. Whatever you’re into,
finding that opportunity to have those moments where you can stay centered and grounded. And interestingly enough I
never really appreciated it ’til I was in this job, particularly on white collar crime, public corruption, cases
like that that we prosecute. A lotta times it’s the
people who lost their, the things that grounded them. It’s the people that
kind of lost their way, lost their connection to their family, lost their connection to whatever it was that kept them centered
that tend to get in trouble. And so it’s very interesting for me, given the way I’ve always
tried to conduct myself in public service, the way I’ve tried to conduct myself as a
father and a husband, to see those that maybe
make the wrong choices and what is lacking in their lives or what’s lacking in their
existence in that moment in time. So it’s incredibly important. It’s something I hope you
all pay close attention to as you go out in the workforce is figuring out how to stay grounded and true to yourself. If you’re true to yourself
you’ll be your best self. And with that I am really grateful for the opportunity to
be with you tonight. Thank you for your time. It’s really an honor to speak to you. Thank you.
(audience applauding)

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