Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Remarks to The Council for Court Excellence
Justice Potter Stewart Award Dinner
Supreme Court of the United States
May 25, 1999
Mrs. Potter Stewart, Mr. Pickering, honorees, guest and the Council for Court Excellence, it is my pleasure to be here tonight at the Justice Potter Stewart Awards, and it is my honor to be here on the occasion where you recognize among others, the fine work of the Young Lawyers Section for their Operation Crackdown. As I look around this hallowed hall, I am reminded of the principles for which it stands. And as I look around at all of you assembled here, I am struck once again by the large number of people in this great city who care deeply for it and its citizens.
One reason that I am particularly glad to be here this evening is because, in my view, the compassion and dedication that are evident in those whom we honor this evening are often overlooked and under appreciated. In a society which tends to have an unfavorable view of lawyers and the law, these honorees stand as shining examples of how our profession has remained a positive force for good. They also remind us that our focus must remain on making our community better, safer and more productive. We must never forget that every aspect of our community is inextricably connected and, that, in some way, we all share a common fate. Accordingly, we must act in a way to ensure that no segment of our society is without legal recourse and that no segment of our society is so distant that we cannot become partners for a better community.
This is so very true in the case of the Young Lawyers Section of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. In addition to a number of programs which provide for training and community service, the flagship of their endeavors is, in my view, Operation Crackdown. As a former judge and U.S. Attorney in this city, I can vividly remember the issues we faced every day in the criminal justice system. Narcotics trafficking and the deadly violence which attends that insidious trade would at times appear to be overwhelming our resources. Equally troubling was the disastrous impact drug use and violence had upon the younger generations within our community. The simple fact that many youngsters grew up in an environment where these things were commonplace made one reflect upon what type of future they would have. In fact, the degree and extent of these issues could easily have made one a hostage to merely treating the obvious symptoms rather than focusing on the real, difficult causes. In 1994, Operation Crackdown was formed to take a step toward reversing that trend. While traditional law enforcement focused upon the crimes which resulted from those who used houses and apartments to sell drugs, Operation Crackdown used civil statutes and litigation to effectively remove those drug houses from the community. By becoming partners with neighborhood groups, police and prosecutors, Operation Crackdown provided a remedy for citizens. . . .yes, citizens . . . . to reclaim their own neighborhoods from those who would destroy them in order to simply make a profit.
One of the many success stories occurred in the Trinidad neighborhood last year. A local law firm "adopted" the neighborhood to make a coordinated attack on the drug nuisance properties in that area. Over the last year, seven attorneys and sixteen summer associates from Operation Crackdown and the firm have worked to target over fifty properties and have successfully shut down sixteen crackhouses. One of the target properties has been donated to the community group so that an outreach center and police sub-station can be built on the property. According to everyone in law enforcement, Operation Crackdown's efforts have contributed to a significant reduction in drug related crime in Trinidad and significantly improved the quality of life for its citizens.
In addition to using litigation, lawyers in Operation Crackdown successfully lobbied for new legislation which would make it easier for citizens to use their courts to take back their communities. As a result, since this landmark program was started by Bill Lawler, whom I am happy to say was a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Operation Crackdown has closed more than forty drug infested properties. In the daily struggle between our communities and those who are its enemies, Operation Crackdown has been a mighty weapon for peace and has saved lives. There can be no greater accolade than to repeat the praise of one citizen at a community meeting who thanked those in Operation Crackdown by saying, "now, I can let my kids play in the front yard."
On behalf of the Department of Justice and as a member of this community I wish to express my thanks to Operation Crackdown, its founder, and to those lawyers who supported its efforts and changed the face of many neighborhoods. I congratulate you on your award tonight and look forward to the successes and accomplishments which I know lay ahead.
Again thank you for this opportunity, and for all that you have done.