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Avoiding the "Inevitable": The Growing Consensus that Recidivism Can Best Be Averted through Early Attention to Eventual Re-entry and by Effective Alternatives to Incarceration

Speaker(s): Ronald J. Tabak
Recorded on: Dec. 1, 2016
PLI Program #: 200583

Ronald J. Tabak is experienced in death penalty and civil rights litigation. For example, he successfully argued Francis v. Franklin, a death penalty case, in the U.S. Supreme Court and played a leading role in securing Johnny Gates’ removal from death row after 26 years. Mr. Tabak has chaired the Committee on Civil Rights of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, is chair of the Death Penalty Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities and is co-chair of the New York State Bar Special Committee on Re-Entry. He has been a leader in the ABA’s efforts to recruit and train lawyers for indigent death row inmates. He spearheaded the successful effort to get the ABA to call for a moratorium on executions until various due process concerns are resolved. He chaired the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ Task Force on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty, whose proposals have been adopted as policies by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

Mr. Tabak coordinates the pro bono practice at Skadden worldwide. Under his oversight, each year over 1,000 attorneys at the firm handle pro bono cases suitable to their practices and interests. He established a special pro bono program in which most of the firm’s summer associates actively participate and frequently involves the firm’s legal assistants on pro bono matters. Mr. Tabak also is a member of the advisory committee for the Skadden Fellowship Program.

He has spoken on a range of topics, including pro bono matters, fellowship programs, capital punishment, habeas corpus and civil rights at numerous law schools, bar associations and civic groups on television and radio. He has written numerous articles on such subjects and, beginning in 2007, has authored the Capital Punishment chapter in the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s book, The State of Criminal Justice.

In addition, Mr. Tabak is experienced in energy, contract, antitrust, securities and entertainment litigation. He has been a principal litigator in complex litigation concerning the syndication of television programming. Mr. Tabak has worked with attorneys from the firm’s Los Angeles office to secure favorable rulings in arbitration, court proceedings and administrative proceedings concerning the operations of North America’s largest-producing oil and gas field. In addition, he was a member of a team that successfully represented respondents in an arbitration concerning gas for Hong Kong.

Mr. Tabak is the recipient of many honors and awards, including:

  • Norman Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award (2015)
  • American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ Robert F. Drinan Award for Distinguished Service (2014);
  • Legal Aid Society Awards (2009, 2005, 1998, 1997 and 1984);
  • National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: Outstanding Legal Service Award (2006);
  • MFY Legal Services 2005 Scales of Justice Award;
  • New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Service Award (2005 and 1985);
  • The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Champions For Social Justice And Equality Award from The Black Law Students Association of Rutgers School of Law (2003);
  • New York Criminal Bar Association Award (2001);
  • Thurgood Marshall Award of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (1998);
  • a special award from the Southern Center for Human Rights (1997);
  • New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Thurgood Marshall Award (1996);
  • Fortune Society’s Helen Buttenweiser Award (1996);
  • an award of the Criminal Justice Section, New York State Bar Association for Outstanding Contribution to the Delivery of Defense Services (1990); and
  • an award from The American Lawyer for “Best Pro Bono Performance” (1986).

Bar Admissions

New York
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fifth and Eleventh Circuits
U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York


J.D., Harvard University, 1974

B.A., Yale University, 1971 (magna cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa)


Law Clerk, Hon. John F. Dooling, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (1974-1975)


American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities: Chair or Co-Chair, Death Penalty Committee (1988-Present), Member, Policy Council (1994-2001)

Special Counsel, Policy Council (2001-2008), Task Force on Mental Disability and The Death Penalty, Chair (2003-2008)

American Bar Association, Death Penalty Representation Project, Member, Steering Committee (several terms starting 2003 and presently)

Death Penalty Due Process Review Project, Member or Special Advisor to Steering Committee (2001-Present)

New York City Bar Association, Committee on Civil Rights, Chair (1998-2001) and Member (1994-1997), Nominating Committee, Member (2006-2007)

Special Committee on Capital Punishment, Member (1994-Present)

Member, Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services (two three-year terms before 2000)

New York State Bar Association, Co-Chair, Special Committee on Re-Entry (2013-Present)

Legal Services Committee Member (2006-Present)

President’s Committee on Access to Justice, Member (2006-Present)

New York Civil Liberties Union, Board Member (1995-Present), Executive Committee (2004-Present), Secretary (2007-Present)

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Board Member (2004-Present), Secretary (2006-2010)

Litigation Committee Chair (2011-Present); Death Penalty Information Center, Board Member (2004-Present)

New York Lawyers Against the Death Penalty, President (1988-2013)

New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Board Member (1995-2014), Secretary (2004-2014)

Jethro Committee to Honor the Legal Profession, Central Synagogue, Chair (2002-2005; 2008-2014)

Association of Pro Bono Counsel, Member (2007-Present)

Lawyers Alliance for New York, Board Member (1988-1991)

Appleseed, Board Member (1995-2002; 2003-2009)

Charity Corps (a joint project of the NY Attorney General’s office and the NY State Bar Association), Leadership Committee Member (2011-2013)