Winter 2005

Leadership Profile: Ron Tabak

Section Death Penalty Committee Co-Chair Ron Tabak, who is also Special Counsel to the Section’s Council, has been at the forefront of ABA efforts to recruit and train lawyers to represent indigent death row inmates; fund and preserve post-conviction defender organizations; prepare updated counsel standards for capital cases; strive to eliminate racial discrimination in the implementation of capital punishment; eliminate procedural barriers to ruling on meritorious constitutional claims; preserve habeas corpus and; and in large part due to systemic failures to implement ABA policies, seek a moratorium on executions. Ron also currently chairs a Section-created task force that is preparing a proposed policy on circumstances in which people with mental illness should not be subject to execution.

Ron’s involvement in capital cases began in 1983, when former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Director Jack Greenberg requested that he represent death row inmate Raymond Franklin in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. After winning the case there, Ron later argued Francis v. Franklin before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since then, Ron has written, organized, and spoken frequently about the systemic problems associated with capital punishment. The ABA's passage in 1997 of its moratorium policy was greatly advanced by Ron's documentation of the fundamental unfairness of death penalty implementation, through a series of panel discussions, many of which were published in law review articles. Thereafter, Ron played a leading role in the preparation of the Section’s death penalty protocols, for use by states that wish to evaluate the extent to which their death penalty systems comport with ABA policies. He has actively advised the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, including its use of the protocols as a principal basis for assessing state death penalty systems.

Ron remains active with the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project, whose creation (by IRR) he helped initiate in the mid-1980's. After 15 years of attending Representation Project meetings as an invited guest, Ron now serves as IRR’s designated member of the Project's steering committee. In addition, Ron was active in the Representation Project's preparation of revised standards for counsel in capital cases, which the ABA adopted in 2003.

Ron also has contributed significantly in the preparation of numerous ABA amicus curiae briefs in capital punishment cases, most recently including his law firm's preparation of the ABA brief in Roper v. Simmons, concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty for people under 18 at the time of the crime.

One of Ron's most gratifying professional achievements came in 2003, when with co-counsel and after having worked on the case since 1985, he secured the removal of Georgia death row inmate Johnny Lee Gates, who had been facing execution since 1977.

Ron has been engaged in pro bono work since his days as a student at Harvard Law School. He subsequently launched pro bono programs at Hughes Hubbard & Reed. Since 1985, he has coordinated the pro bono practice of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. His pro bono work and his death penalty activities have earned him numerous awards. Ron also serves as President of the New York Lawyers Against the Death Penalty and on the boards of the Appleseed Foundation, the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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