A few minutes with Madoff’s lawyer


The Forward talks to Bernard Madoff’s lawyer Ira Sorkin. Though he doesn’t yield any details about the case, he talks about why he is representing Madoff.

“We represent the despised, the downtrodden, the weak,” Sorkin told the Forward. “I believe in the system, that’s the most important thing. It’s the system that requires us to deal with defending people who are at times vilified.”

In choosing Sorkin, Madoff has selected a lawyer from the top tier, where fees typically hover around $1,000 per hour. Yet Sorkin’s biography, in many ways, reflects Madoff’s own. Like the Queens-raised Madoff, Sorkin grew up in and around New York City in a middle-class family (his father was a printer) and a setting that Sorkin describes as “a strong cultural Jewish environment” but not especially religious.

In fact, Sorkin says, the two men knew each other socially for many years before the scandal had broken, although Sorkin had never before represented him. The attorney declined to speak further about the relationship.

Like Madoff, Sorkin also mingles in the Jewish philanthropic world. Both men have been donors to the UJA-Federation of New York, and Sorkin has been a major donor to the American Friends of Hebrew University, where Sorkin serves as chairman of the board. His presence has added yet another Jewish twist to a case where Jewishness has been a central part of the story, both for Madoff and his victims. It is, however, a lens that Sorkin finds distasteful.

“When Ken Lay of Enron was indicted and convicted, no one said ‘this prominent Episcopalian,’” said Sorkin. “When [Illinois Governor Rod] Blagojevich was arrested, no one said ‘this prominent Serbian governor.’”


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