Making Public Service a Life Calling

When you ask Adam Katz G’04, L’04 why he wanted to be a lawyer, you can feel his exuberance for the very familiar reason many decide to pursue law: to serve the public and do the right thing, every day.

Adam Katz wears a robe as the keynote opening convocation speaker, speaking at a podium with a microphone
College Of Law Opening Convocation Keynote Speaker 2019 – Adam Katz G’04, L’04

“I’ve wanted to pursue a career in law and public service for as long as I can remember—at least since middle school. I always enjoyed learning, particularly about government and history and contemporary societal issues and observed that the very few lawyers I knew growing up seemed to have intellectually stimulating and challenging careers. I felt that I could use a career in the law to make a difference in society, particularly if I devoted a career to public service,” explains Katz.

Katz, a native of Miami, FL, started on his journey to a career in public service at the University of Maryland for his undergraduate studies then applied to the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Public Affairs to obtain a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) before applying to law school. “I planned to do that for a year, and then pursue a career in law, but decided to apply for the accelerated J.D./M.P.A. program with the College of Law which allowed me to pursue both degrees in three years, and have never regretted that decision,” says Katz.

It was a fortuitous decision for many reasons, laying the groundwork for his personal life and professional career. First and foremost, he met his future wife, Michelle (Cavalieri) Katz L’04, early in his law school days. “She’s been my best friend since day one of law school. She did far better than I did academically and she’s an all-around terrific person. Yet, despite all her great qualities, she still agreed to marry me.”

Academically, Katz recalls how impressed he was with Professor William Wiecek, Chester Adgate Congdon Professor of Public Law and Legislation Emeritus. He found Wiecek intellectually stimulating and demanding of his students while being a kind and well-rounded person. “He would teach about the 5th Amendment in the morning, and, in his spare time, teach at Maxwell and deliver babies as an EMT. I admired that,” he recounts.

Becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and establishing a home in Upstate New York were both outcomes of his time at the College of Law. Two internships, at the encouragement of the Office of Career Services, influenced his career path. First was an internship at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office during the summer after his 1L year. The second was when he heard that the Hon. Norman A. Mordue ’66, L’71 was seeking interns. Knowing Judge Mordue was an alumnus of the Onondaga County DA’s office and the College of Law, Katz applied and was hired to be an intern. He served in that role for two years when Mordue was a U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of New York. It was there that Katz watched the work of AUSAs in that court and decided to make it his professional goal to become an AUSA in an area closer to his wife’s family in Albany (rather than return to sunny Miami.)

While interning with Judge Mordue, Katz developed a close personal and professional relationship with the judge that would carry forward until Mordue passed away in December 2022. “I learned so much about law and life from a man who had seen—and endured—during his life more than most could imagine. He embodied public service at its finest. And, beyond that internship, he remained my professional mentor, helping me land my first job out of law school, connecting me with former law clerks when I was searching for jobs, all with the understanding that my ultimate goal was to obtain sufficient experience to one day serve as an AUSA in his district.”

Adam Katz smiles with Judge Mordue both wearing polos in an outdoor setting
Judge Mordue ’66, L’71 with Adam Katz G’04, L’04 at Katz’s graduation from the College of Law.

After taking positions at firms in Washington, D.C. post-graduation and then at the Department of Justice, Katz’s goal of becoming an AUSA in the Northern District of New York became reality in 2012 when he was hired to be an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York in the Albany office. Today, he coordinates the district’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement and Civil Health Care Fraud programs.

Being new to the Albany area and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Katz did what many have done in a similar situation; he sought out professional organizations that would introduce him to colleagues and provide a sense of community. “When I moved to town in 2012, I didn’t know a soul aside from my wife and her family. I wanted to meet like-minded people, and the Federal Court Bar Association’s mission statement appealed to me: to foster the highest ethical and professional standards for attorneys practicing in the Northern District of New York,” says Katz.

Not only did he join the Federal Court Bar Association for the Northern District of New York (FCBA NDNY), he also held the presidency for two terms, the last ending in December 2023. During this time, he points to the development and implementation of a free trial advocacy training program for attorneys who practice in the district as a distinct highlight of his presidency. “The district court was faced with two issues: First, there are fewer trials these days, so there are fewer opportunities for attorneys (especially younger attorneys) to get experience in the court. Second, several civil pro se cases are trial ready where the court wanted to appoint pro bono counsel,” explains Katz.

Working in partnership with court leadership, the FCBA decided to create a trial-skills training program where experienced litigators would provide hands-on training to newer attorneys who agreed to handle a civil rights case on a pro bono basis. Late last year, the FCBA graduated the first class of 12 attorneys to complete the training program. Each of those trained attorneys will provide pro bono representation to a litigant, giving them experience in the courtroom and helping to ensure access to justice for the client.

Adam Katz stands with a group of 10 people in the atrium smiling with the winner of the Mordue Scholarship
Adam Katz (far left) and Tyriese Robinson (middle) join family and friends to celebrate the contributions Judge Norman Mordue ’66, L’71 made during his extraordinary life.

Another lasting achievement from Katz’s time as president of the FCBA was the establishment of the NDNY FCBA Hon. Norman A. Mordue ’66, L’71 Law Scholarship. Katz spearheaded a campaign that successfully endowed the scholarship in 2023 in honor of his mentor. The Scholarship provides Syracuse Law students with the means to pursue a legal education and follow in Judge Mordue’s footsteps with a preference for military-connected students. The first scholarship was awarded in September 2023 to 2L Tyriese Robinson, a U.S. Air Force veteran.

Adam Katz smiles at the camera for a headshot, wearing a blue suit in front of a plain blue background

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see how much money we were able to raise for the Mordue Scholarship in such a short time and from many people that are not Syracuse Law alums, which speaks volumes about the man and the countless lives that he touched, including my own.”

Adam Katz G’04, L’04