Howell presents award to Stephen M. Block and Jeffrey Berman

Distinguished Service Awards to
Stephen M. Block, ACLU of the National Capital Area
Jeffrey Berman, Public Defender Service

Presented by former GLAA President Craig Howell

GLAA 29th Anniversary Reception
Doyle Washington Hotel
Thursday, April 27, 2000

One of the more memorable moments during my term as GLAA President last year occurred in June, when I walked into the offices of the ACLU/National Capital Area to meet one of their staff attorneys, Steve Block, who had just left me an urgent telephone message about some then-obscure bill pending before the D.C. Council.

After exchanging pleasantries and seating myself, Steve pointed to one particular passage in the proposed bill and calmly observed: “If this language goes into effect, any gay person convicted on a consensual sodomy charge anywhere in the country will have to list himself here in D.C. as a sexual offender on a public register.”

After patiently scraping me off the ceiling, Steve went on to tell me all about the proposed Sexual Offenders Registration Act, a.k.a. SORA, a.k.a. “Megan’s Law.”

And thus commenced one of the most convoluted, complex, exhausting, and vexing legislative battles that I have ever had to endure in more than a quarter of a century with the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. I regret that this battle — which should never have had to be fought — had to absorb so much of GLAA’s time, energy, and political capital during my administration, and I thank Rick and all my other colleagues in GLAA for their vigorous efforts. I also want to thank Councilmembers Jim Graham and Jack Evans for their leadership on our behalf on the Council.

To recap a very long story, the results of our labors were mixed, at best. While the bill as finally enacted was considerably better than the original version I saw in Steve’s office last June, it was still gravely flawed, Constitutionally and otherwise, and remains an unacceptable threat both to our community and to the community at large.

Tonight, we honor the two men whose leadership in this struggle can not be praised too highly: Steve Block of the ACLU/National Capital Area, and Jeffrey Berman of the Public Defender Service.

Steve has been volunteering his awesome talents as a staff attorney for the ACLU for the past eight years. During this period, he has worked on an extremely wide range of civil liberties issues and has earned himself a reputation as an expert on every one of them. Indeed, in recognition of his contributions, the ACLU/National Capital Area presented Steve with its Alan Barth Award at its annual dinner last month.

During our intensive campaign on Megan’s Law, Steve identified numerous objectionable features that were seemingly planted like landmines all over the proposed bill, and developed effective strategies for trying to defuse the worst of them. During the end game, he displayed great skill in negotiating the final details with the bill’s proponents, although we were betrayed when they reneged on crucial provisions on what should have been a settled deal.

Jeff Berman got involved in his capacity as the Acting Special Litigation Counsel for the Public Defender Service, which he joined after graduating from Yale Law School in 1996. His thorough familiarity with the results of Megan’s Laws in other parts of the country made him an absolutely indispensable ally throughout the campaign. He was instrumental in developing language for amendments to the bill that would alleviate if not eliminate its potential dangers. He made himself and the Public Defender Service especially valuable by preparing Question and Answer sheets that explained our objections to the proposed bill both forcibly and fairly. These Q&A sheets constituted a major portion of the briefing papers given to the Councilmembers and their staffs.

But for all the assistance Jeff provided during the legislative phase of this ongoing battle, I suspect his most valuable service may yet lie before us. We expect that Jeff and his colleagues in the Public Defender Service will spearhead the court challenge that hopefully will lead to the overturn of the most dangerous elements of our Megan’s Law on Constitutional grounds.

Steve is here tonight with several members of his family, as is Jeff — whose virtues include, I must point out, being a native Washingtonian, like both Rick and myself.

Therefore, I am honored to present the first of tonight’s GLAA Distinguished Service Awards to Mr. Stephen Block and to Mr. Jeffrey Berman.


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