May 30, 2019
May 2019: Seanna Brown
Seanna Brown (she/her)
Member, ACS New York Lawyer Chapter Board of Directors
For the last ten years, I have served as the principal deputy to the Trustee and his chief counsel in the liquidation of Bernard Madoff’s investment firm. Through that representation, I have been afforded the opportunity to grapple with complex legal issues and see the fruits of our labor provide meaningful relief to Madoff’s defrauded investors, with over $12 billion returned to its rightful owners. And for my entire career, I have worked on behalf of individuals and organizations in need of pro bono representation. I represent clients on death row in Georgia and Alabama in their post-conviction capital litigation, and various organizations as amici curiae on constitutional issues such as relief from unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, relief from unconstitutional fines and fees under the Eighth Amendment, and gender equality under Title IX.
For most of my career, this balance of work was more than adequate – it sustained me intellectually and allowed me to do good and important work on behalf of a wide range of clients. Then in 2016, I became pregnant with my daughter—my first child. I worked hard that year, doing the immediate work as well as much preparation as possible to prepare my clients and cases for my forthcoming maternity leave. The 2016 presidential campaigns were always in the background and I paid attention when I could. I donated. I talked to family members and friends to try to get them to vote. I got an absentee ballot to ensure I could vote even if the baby came early. And like many others, I assumed that Hillary Clinton would win.
My last day in the office was the day after the election. I had envisioned my colleagues and me at a celebratory lunch, and then ceremoniously logging out of my computer and skipping off into the sunset to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Instead, I woke up that morning thinking the night before had all been a bad dream. I rode the subway into the office, and it was eerily silent, as if you were riding the train by yourself. In the office, people barely talked to one another because there wasn’t much to say. I finished my last day almost numb, went home, and my daughter arrived shortly after.
I was in the throes of new motherhood, lots of late nights and early mornings where all I could do was read the news constantly. Not only was I separated from the rhythms of the practice of law, I felt as though overnight I had woken up in a country I didn’t recognize. My dreams for my daughter’s future collided with my fears wrought by the (still) shocking marriage of America’s democratic institutions and the forces of modern celebrity. The clash was in part emotional, and in part intellectual. It became my motivation to join the American Constitution Society.
ACS brings together diverse and engaged individuals who share a common goal of supporting our nation’s democratic institutions and strengthening the fabric and resiliency of our democracy. Being a part of ACS makes me feel grounded in a community that aims to foment change, big and small. ACS recognizes that lawyers have a unique role to play in the current political environment and gives us the platform to both use those legal skills and make connections to other like-minded attorneys. For me, it rounds out a broad legal practice by keeping me connected to the issues that are near and dear to my heart. Being an ACS member gives me an entrée to a network of professionals and events where we can bring the activism and change that is required of this moment. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to use our skills to effect meaningful change and ACS is hands down the best outlet for those energies.
Seanna Brown is a partner at BakerHostetler. She represents Irving H. Picard, Trustee in the liquidation of the business of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. Seanna is the co-chair of BakerHostetler’s Pro Bono Committee and is currently serving her second term on the Pro Bono Panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.