Charles D. Adler, Esq., is an experienced criminal
defense attorney, who advocates examining alternatives to current drug policy.
He is the President of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, a new organization of
attorneys that seeks to promote honest and informed discussion of drug policy
within the legal profession and encourages local bar associations to undertake
research on drug policy.He is also the President of the Center for Community
Alternatives. CCA is a not-for-profit agency whose mission is to develop safe
and effective alternatives to incarceration and to foster a more sensible
approach to juvenile and criminal justice. CCA "serves kids in trouble - young
people who face problems with drugs, guns and community violence." CCA works
with youth as individuals, teaching them about alternatives to violence and
drugs and referring them to drug treatment when needed. CCA programs also
provide opportunities for positive community involvement, including work and
community service. CCA youth are trained to become leaders in their own
communities so they can also encourage safe, productive, and healthy lives among
their peers.Mr. Adler is the Chair of the Committee of Criminal Law and a member
of the Criminal Justice Council of the Association of the Bar of the City of New
York. He sits on the Board of Directors of the New York City Legal Aid Society
Alumni Association, is a faculty member in the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program
at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and is a member of the Drug Policy Task
Force of the New York County Lawyers Association. As an attorney, he has
concentrated on federal and state criminal litigation, including trials and
appeals. Noteworthy cases he has been involved in include: U. S. v. Monsanto,
decided by the United States Supreme Court, which rejected the right of criminal
defendants to use restrained funds for attorney fees to defend the charges upon
which the restraint and forfeiture rested; and U.S. v. All Funds on Deposit,
Etc., which extended the Second Circuit's Monsanto hearing requirement to funds
restrained in a civil forfeiture proceeding paralleling a criminal charge. Mr.
Adler graduated with honors from New York Law School in 1970.
The Original Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (1927-33)
By Richard M. Evans
In 1927, nine prominent New York lawyers associated themselves under
the intentionally-bland name, "Voluntary Committee of Lawyers,"
declaring as their purpose "to preserve the spirit of the
Constitution of the United States [by] bringing about the repeal of
the so-called Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment." They propelled
nothing short of a revolution in drug policy, the repeal of the 18th
Amendment, playing a vital role in bringing the "Noble Experiment"
to an end.
With the modest platform they commanded, and reinforced by their
significant stature in the legal community, they undertook first to
draft and encourage local and state bar associations to pass
resolutions calling for the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Their
success led the American Bar Association to call for repeal in 1928,
following scores of city and state bar associations in all regions
of the country which had adopted resolutions containing words and
ideas cultivated, shaped and sharpened by the VCL.
This success was merely prelude to their stunning achievements
several years later. Due in large part to the VCL's extraordinary
contributions, the 18th Amendment was, in less than a year, struck
from the Constitution. Repeal was a reality. People could drink,
without filling the coffers of criminals and corrupting democratic
institutions. Violence abated.
This is how it happened.
Climaxing decades of gathering hostility toward saloons and moral
outrage over the general degeneracy and debauchery said to be
flowing from bottles and kegs, the Constitution of the United States
had been amended, effective 1920, to prohibit the manufacture and
sale of "intoxicating liquors." The Volstead Act, the federal
statute implementing the prohibition amendment, included beer in
that category. At first, prohibition was cheered by its victorious
supporters, and generally tolerated by others. But before long,
unmistakable grumbling was heard in the cities. To meet the barely
interrupted demand for alcohol, there sprang up bathtub ginworks and
basement stills, discreet illegal supply networks, and secret,
illegal bars called speakeasies.
Commerce in alcohol plunged underground, and soon fell under the
control of thugs and gangsters. Violence often settled commercial
differences as suppliers and distributors were denied the services
of lawyers, insurance companies, and the civil courts. On the local
level, widespread disobedience of the prohibition laws by otherwise
law-abiding citizens produced numerous arrests. Courts were badly
clogged, in large part because nearly all defendants demanded jury
trials, confident that a jury of their peers would view their plight
With the growth of well-organized and serious national
anti-prohibition groups like Americans Against the Prohibition
Amendment and the Women's Organization for National Prohibition
Reform, popular support for repeal grew geometrically during the 13
years of prohibition. In the midst of the 1932 presidential election
It was summer. Millions were broken from economic depression,
beleaguered by crime, corruption and violence... and they were
As expected, the Republicans nominated the incumbent President,
Herbert Hoover, who supported prohibition. The VCL made a stalwart
effort to gain a repeal plank in the platform, taking the debate as
far as the convention floor.
The situation was totally different with the Democrats. Governor
Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, the front-runner, had carefully
avoided taking a position on repeal. At the convention a successful
floor fight produced a prorepeal plank--drafted and defended by the
VCL-in the Democratic platform which FDR unambiguously endorsed in
his acceptance speech. "This convention wants repeal," he declared.
"Your candidate wants repeal."
During the election campaign, FDR made one unequivocal speech
endorsing repeal. Otherwise, both candidates successfully avoided
the issue, despite--or perhaps because of--their having taken
opposite positions. When the only thing standing in the way of
repeal was the election of FDR, thousands of "wets" and scores of
"wet" organizations moved solidly behind the Democrat. The message
was clear: Roosevelt meant repeal, and repeal meant Roosevelt.
Public opinion demanded both, and Roosevelt triumphed in the
election. The number of "wets" in Congress grew significantly, and
the "damps" shrank. In nine states, voters passed referenda
repealing the state prohibition laws, shifting the burden of
prohibition enforcement in those states to the federal government.
This is when the VCL stepped forward and took on the remarkable
leadership and responsibility for which they were so uniquely
equipped. It required no particular insight into the nature of
democracy to know that when the weight of public opinion demanded
repeal of prohibition, prohibition would be repealed. The question
was how. A thorough and solid legal plan was essential.
For years, repeal advocates had urged that the repeal question be
resolved by conventions in the states, which is one of two methods
prescribed in the Constitution for ratifying amendments.
Historically, though, this method had never been used. On every
other occasion, constitutional amendments had been ratified by state
legislatures. But state legislatures were notoriously "dry," being
dominated by rural, fundamentalist interests, passionate in their
defense of prohibition. The repeal resolution would have to bypass
state legislatures and go to popularly elected conventions, if it
were to succeed.
By whom were such conventions to be called? How were delegates to be
chosen? When and where were they to convene? Who would preside? By
what rules should the convention conduct itself' What rights and
privileges would delegates have? How were conflicts between state
and federal law to be resolved? Complicated questions, and neither
Congress nor any state had spoken on these issues. Enter the VCL.
Conferring with eminent constitutional scholars, exhaustively
researching law and history, circulating drafts of statutes,
memoranda and briefs, the VCL quickly produced a prototype state
statute which dealt with the organizational problems involved in
setting up constitutional conventions in the states. Called "truly
representative," the conventions were carefully designed to mirror
exactly the preferences of voters by requiring candidates to declare
themselves for or against repeal on the ballot. Thus the convention
process became a two-step referendum: voters would issue orders to
the delegates, and the delegates would carry them out. In no way
were the conventions to be deliberative bodies; debate would not be
allowed to frustrate the popular will.
Copies of the draft bills were sent to governors and legislative
leaders in all states. Utilizing their impressive network of
affiliate members throughout the 48 states, as well as their
exquisite legal skills, the VCL lined up expert witnesses for
legislative hearings, submitted thorough legal briefs, defended
legal challenges, answered Constitutional questions, in short,
prepared for the day that Congress would pass a repeal resolution
and send it to the several states for ratification.
When Congress reconvened in January of 1933, it wasted no time
responding to the "wet" mandate. By February 20, 1933, the repeal
amendment was formally passed, calling for ratification by state
conventions. In the flash of a mere nine and a half months,
legislation setting up state conventions had been enacted, the
conventions called, delegates elected and the conventions held. In
36 states, the requisite three quarters, the repeal of prohibition
was ratified. The final roll-call vote, in Utah, was eagerly
monitored by millions over a national radio broadcast; it is said
that a national cheer could be heard at the moment of passage.
Nearly all the states that ratified the repeal resolution relied on
the prototype statute promulgated by the VCL, either enacting it
verbatim, or borrowing heavily from it.
Several hours after Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, while millions
of Americans were celebrating, the VCL treasurer quietly balanced
the books by making a final contribution from his own pocket in the
amount of $6.66, and closed them permanently.
Who were they?
At its peak, the VCL claimed a total membership of approximately
3,500 affiliate lawyers from all states. The organization was
managed, however, by a tight coterie of nine highly regarded and
well-connected New York attorneys. For the entire term of its
existence, the VCL was chaired by Joseph H. Choate, Jr., a graduate
of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, son of Theodore
Roosevelt's ambassador to England, and an eminent Park Avenue
lawyer. The organization's treasurer was Harrison Tweed, another
Harvard/Harvard Law man, one of the country's most successful
lawyers, and a prime mover in many important civic causes.
Choate and Tweed and seven other colleagues called themselves the
Executive Committee, and prudently managed the affairs of the
organization. While some may have called them elite, none would call
them elitist. They aggressively solicited affiliates in every state
and sought participation by as many lawyers as possible, starting
with advertisements placed in lawyers' magazines. Every inquiry
brought a thoughtful and deliberate response, as well as an appeal
for financial support.
The executive committee hired an Executive Secretary, Mrs. Helena P.
Rhoudy, who ran the national office, and visited many state
capitals, enlisting local lawyers and political figures in the
cause. Her dispatches back to New York ring of diplomacy at its
What motivated the members of the VCL? Their formal corporate
charter, adopted in 1927, declared their grievances:
The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act violate the basic
principles of our law and government and encroach upon the
powers properly reserved to the States and the people.
The attempt to enforce them has been productive of such evils
and abuses as are necessarily incident to a violation of those
- disrespect for law
- obstruction of the due administration of justice
- corruption of public of officials
- abuse of legal process
- resort by the government to improper and illegal acts in the
procurement of evidence; and
- infringement of such constitutional guarantees as immunity
from double jeopardy and illegal search and seizure.
It would be wrong to credit only the VCL for the repeal of
prohibition. Their work would not have mattered had there not been
fast surging public opinion to repeal prohibition. Some have likened
that surging opinion to a train, barreling toward a deep ravine. Had
the VCL, some of whose members made their fortunes and reputations
as railroad lawyers, not provided the legal engineering to design
and erect a sturdy bridge over the ravine, the repeal effort may
well have crashed in challenges, confusion and legal controversy.
When repeal was assured, the Chairman of the Board of the largest
popular anti-prohibitionist organization, wrote a congratulatory
letter to VCL Chairman Choate, observing, " What a remarkable
victory it is, it saves the very foundations of our government, and
no man can tell where we would have gone, or to what we would have
fallen had not this repeal been brought about. "
The best historical account of repeal is Kyvig, David E.,
Repealing National Prohibition,
the University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London), 1979. For more
on the VCL and detailed treatment of the legal issues with which
they contended, see Vose, Clement E.,
Constitutional Change: Amendment
Politics and Supreme Court Litigation Since 1900, Lexington
Books, D.C., Heath and Company, Lexington, Massachusetts, Toronto,
London, 1972. Professor Vose acquired and catalogued a collection of
VCL papers now in the possession of the Olin Library, Wesleyan
University, for access to which the new VCL is grateful.
York City Bar Association is having an
event on the issue of physician prosecution related to prescribed
substances and overdose. May, 26th, 2010, 6:30 to 9pm.
Admission is free.
The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 42 West 44th Street, New
Medical Treatment or Conspiracy?
The Physician's Dilemma in Treating Celebrities
This symposium will cover the criminal and
civil liability and ethical dilemmas facing doctors when treating the
affluent, influential or famous patient. With a case loosely based upon
recent celebrity deaths due to overdose, a panel of medical & legal experts
will engage in a town hall-type discussion about how and why doctors find
themselves in trouble with the law, and what their best defense might be.
Anne Prunty, Assistant District Attorney, New York County;
Roy Nemerson, Deputy Counsel, New York State Office of
Professional Medical Conduct;
Michael Kelton and Alfredo Mendez from Abrams, Fensterman,
Fensterman, Eisman, Greenberg, Formato & Einiger, LLP (physician defense);
William Hunter, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Woodhull
Medical Center of New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation
Russell K. Portenoy, M.D., Chairman, Department of Pain
Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York
Kenneth Prager, M.D. Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Director of Clinical
Ethics and Chairperson of the Medical Ethics Committee at New York
Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center
The moderator of this event is Margaret Mayo, Esq., Gaffin &
Join us for First
Thursday Seattle Art Walkat our office
at the Pioneer
Building, located at 600 First Avenue, Suite 302, Seattle, Washington
(upstairs from the Underground Tour overlooking Pioneer Square)
Thursday, June 3rd, 2010, 3:00pm to 6:00pm
Every first Thursday of the month, Pioneer
Square comes alive for Art Walk. We hope you'll come down, check out the
art, and stop in at our office for a few snacks, drinks and lively
conversation about drug policy reform. This month we will discuss the past
legislative session and start looking forward to the next session,
especially what we would want to see in legislation establishing
05.13.10 Richard M. Evans, Esq., co-founder
of the VCL, has important
letter to the editor published in the Wall Street
Journal emphasizing the historical importance of the repeal
04.22.10 The New England
Journal of Medicine publishes an editorial by two law
professors from the University of Massachusetts,
Medical Marijuana and the Law, arguing that the federal
government should change the status of marijuana so more
research can be done.
The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which
includes the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and
Brazil, released a statement,
Drugs and Democracy: Towards a Paradigm Shift,
declaring the War on Drugs a failure and calling for a
meaningful debate on alternatives.
Article by our President,
Eric E. Sterling, on a way to stimulate the economy: stop
locking up and saddling so many of our citizens with felony
records so that we may increase their spending power.
09.17.08 You can now BECOME A MEMBER of the
VCL at set membership levels or DONATE and
help support the VCL's mission of creating and expanding the
dialogue examining the efficacy of the war on drugs within
the legal, medical and other professional communities.
The VCL is an association of lawyers and judges
whose members share strong misgivings about the wisdom and
consequences of America's perpetual drug war. While favoring no
specific drug control policies, the VCL seeks to promote, within and
by the legal profession, informed discussion about the objectives of
the drug war and its costs to our cherished institutions of liberty
and justice. This is the view of one of our founders, former United
States Attorney General, Elliot Richardson.
The VCL is modeled after a group of the same name
which played a leading role in the repeal of the 18th Amendment in
1933. VCL members see in modern drug prohibition many of the same
harmful and unintended consequences associated with alcohol
prohibition. Like our predecessors, we seek to work quietly through
bar association committees, encouraging study and discussion of drug
policy, especially its impact on criminal justice and Constitutional
Please browse the rest of this site and sign the open letter from
lawyers and judges, and urge your colleagues to do the same. We hope
you will lend your support and participation.