Professors Sovern and Livingston Receive Wien Prize for Social Responsibility

Professors Sovern and Livingston Receive Wien Prize for Social Responsibility

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New York, Nov. 18, 2010—Debra A. Livingston, the Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law, and Michael I. Sovern ’55, the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and President Emeritus of Columbia University, each received the Lawrence A. Wien Prize for Social Responsibility at The Pierre.

Lawrence Wien ’27, a prominent lawyer and philanthropist, established the prize in 1982 to honor individual attorneys who put their legal skills to work to benefit the public good. He was guided in his efforts to set up the prize by Sovern, then- president of Columbia University. Sovern remembers Wien as an ardent friend and supporter of Columbia Law School who was a “joy to be with, even when he wasn’t writing a check,” he said jokingly.

“Long before Warren Buffett and Bill Gates became evangelists for philanthropy, Larry was blazing the trail,” Sovern told the audience at the Nov. 8 luncheon. “Larry enjoyed giving. He was an apostle for having the fun of disposing of wealth yourself, rather than leaving it to executors or a foundation.”

Wien was a lawyer and realtor, and an acknowledged pioneer in real estate syndication. A recipient of an honorary degree from Columbia in 1974, Wien was also an active philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to arts, civic, and educational organizations. He endowed several funds at the Law School, including a scholarship program that has provided support to more than 500 students since its inception 51 years ago. He also underwrote the Lawrence A. Wien Chair in Real Estate Law, currently held by Professor Michael A. Heller.

Wien died in 1988 at the age of 83.

In many ways, Sovern’s long career at Columbia, which dates back to 1957, embodies the aims of the Wien Prize. While dean of the Law School from 1970 to1979, Sovern hired the Law School’s first female professor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59, and its first African-America faculty member, Kellis Parker.

Sovern, a labor law expert, also chaired the New York State-City Commission on Integrity in Government, the New York City Charter Revision Commission, and the Japan Society. He is a founding member of the board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now known as LatinoJustice), and Helsinki Watch.

Livingston, who currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, said that in many ways, the prize epitomizes what the Law School represents to her.

“Columbia has a tradition of excellence, and is rightly proud of that tradition. I am lucky to have been and continue to be a part of it,” Livingston said. “Exposure to that tradition doesn’t make hard cases easy and it doesn’t ensure I’ll get them right, but the faculty and students at Columbia have taught me some valuable lessons about our collective responsibility to look for the best answer—lessons I hope to put to good use in the years ahead.”

Livingston has a long record of public service, starting in 1986, when she was an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. She joined the Law School faculty in 1994. While at Columbia, she served nine years as commissioner of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints against police officers.

A popular professor specializing in criminal law topics, Livingston has remained an active faculty member even after being appointed to the bench in 2007. She served as vice dean from 2005 to 2006, and as a member of the faculty appointments committee from 2002 to 2004 with David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law.  

“Debra brings such nuance and sensitivity to difficult issues, and her instincts for the harder problem and finding a solution are the gold standard,” Schizer said during the award presentation.

The luncheon also recognized two Wien Corporate Responsibility Fellows selected annually from among law students who show a desire to use their skills to promote the principles of corporate responsibility. This year’s recipients are Renata Fialho de Oliveira ’11 LL.M. and Christian Meade Hervert ’11 LL.M.

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