Criminal Law Class Welcomes Guest Speakers Mark Berman (‘82) and Judge Charlotte Davidson

Social studies teacher Linda Weissman hosted guest speakers Mark Berman (’82) and Judge Charlotte Davidson in her Criminal Law elective on December 2 and December 4, respectively.

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Social studies teacher Linda Weissman hosted guest speakers Mark Berman (’82) and Judge Charlotte Davidson in her Criminal Law elective on December 2 and December 4, respectively.

Weissman’s Criminal Law elective focuses on the adult criminal justice system. Open to both juniors and seniors, the class often has guest speakers. “I try to set a foundation, and then afterwards, whatever a judge or a guest speaker brings up, I’m sure to try to use an example,” Weissman said. “I think guest speakers show their knowledge. I think they show their experience. I think they show their respect for law and what they do, and that impacts a student in a high school class.”

Through guest lectures, students learn about law from professionals in the field. “Judge Davidson spoke about the criminal procedure and adjudication process. [She] explained the different types of juries there are and how the process of bail works,” senior Samia Islam said in an e-mail interview. “The class also had a prior meeting with [Berman in which] we got to hear more about his job, his experience running for [New York State Bar President], and his experience at Stuy.”

Berman, who is a partner at Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer, has visited both Weissman’s fall Criminal Law class and her spring Civil Law class every term over the past decade. “I enjoyed my time at Stuyvesant, and as a lawyer, I feel I have an ethical and moral obligation to teach students about the law,” Berman said. “That obligation goes not just to high schoolers. I taught law to my sons’ primary school classes, and I taught them about the Constitution and Brown v. Board of Education. I gave the students pocket Constitutions.”

Over the years, Berman’s talks have become an important component of Weissman’s classes. “I wanted the students to get the benefit of getting to know [Berman] because of his relationship with coming to my classes, and I knew he had a lot to offer to the students,” Weissman said. “He spoke to the class about his own background, about having graduated from Stuyvesant, his own educational experience, and his experience in law.”

Berman’s status as a Stuyvesant alumnus further enhanced his appeal as a speaker to Weissman’s class. “Stuy alum[ni] are always excellent speakers, and that’s because they have an understanding of what it’s like to be a Stuyvesant student, and I think that experience brings a lot. I often ask a guest speaker who has graduated from Stuyvesant to spend the first five minutes of a class talking about what they did at Stuyvesant or what was special to them at Stuyvesant,” Weissman said.

Along with speaking, Berman usually chooses one or two judges per year to visit with Weissman’s classes, especially looking for judges with connections to Stuyvesant. “He speaks to each of the classes, and then at the end, we go on a trip,” Weissman said. “We walk over to a judge’s chambers. We sit in; sometimes we watch a trial. The judge speaks to us, and then we often do something else in the courthouse if we time.”

Berman added, “We observe their courtroom and sometimes are invited to visit the judge’s chambers […] in the past, students have toured the former chambers of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and found it awe-inspiring. Actually seeing the chambers of a judge accentuates the importance of the office of being a judge and provides perspective to the importance of their job and the respect they deserve.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Weissman’s classes could not safely participate in a trip, meaning Berman had to come up with an alternative: having Judge Davidson speak with the class virtually. Since 2016, Judge Davidson has been an Interim Civil Court Judge. She previously worked as counsel to a former Chief Judge of the State of New York while serving in the New York State Unified Court System for 13 years. “Judge Davidson agreed to talk to us for the period on Zoom, and it was quite effective,” Weissman said. “She was excellent. She talked a little bit about her background, how she became a judge, and what it’s like to be a judge. The students in the class got to ask her questions, and she was very thoughtful in her responses, so I thought it was a really good interaction.”

Students in Criminal Law found both speakers engaging. “The call with [Berman] and Judge Davidson [has] definitely heightened my interest in the subject because I was able to get an insider perspective on criminal law,” Islam said. “It’s interesting to see what those in charge of our justice system believe in.”

Outside of Berman and Judge Davidson, Weissman has invited a number of other speakers to her class this year, as she believes they introduce her students to the more personal aspects of law as a career. “If you’re in an elective law class and you’re a senior, you might have taken the law class because you’re interested in law. I try to bring experiences, discussions, foundations in law, but I think each of [the speakers] bring life experiences, and that is invaluable,” Weissman said. “They are able to talk about their careers in law, how they got where they are, what they do on a daily basis, and the impact they are having on their own lives, in the law profession and on the lives of others.”