Jim Walden (LAW '91)

The intricately carved stone exterior of One Broadway, located mere blocks from the World Trade Center, New York Stock Exchange, and Battery Park, is home to the law offices of Walden, Macht, and Haran LLP. From the firm’s conference room window on the sixth floor, the Statue of Liberty is just visible across the New York Harbor. In an office down the hall, much more dimly lit than the others, you will find founding member and partner Jim Walden.

Walden’s office is part presidential, part artist, and part start-up. It features a glass table, leather sofa, and Edison light bulbs. There are plaques, awards, and certificates on the wall; photos of family and friends on the windowsill. And in an office that feels very much like it belongs in New York, it doesn’t take long to notice evidence of Walden’s roots among the other professional and personal mementos: a collection of historical Philadelphia sports memorabilia.

Advocacy is…making the most of your opportunities

Jim Walden grew up in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a small suburban town roughly 50 minutes north of Philadelphia. The cookie-cutter town could not be a more different setting than where he sits today. Levittown’s economy was in shambles during Walden’s childhood. His father was laid off when Walden was 11 years old. He never worked again. Racial tension, bullying, and drug use were rampant. Levittown made national headlines in 1971, when rioters, prompted by the national gasoline shortage, destroyed two service stations. President Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech drew on the destruction caused by these riots to rally America together for a more united front against the energy crisis.

Jim Walden didn’t know what he wanted to do when he grew up. What he did know was he wanted to get out.

Taking on the mafia completely absorbed him. Walden is blunt when he explains why: “They ruin lives. They’re just brutal, nasty, and they don’t deserve to be free in society.”

His first stroke of luck came when he was 19 years old. Walden graduated high school eleventh in his class of 765 students, but when it came time to apply to colleges, he was lost. He didn’t prepare for the SAT, and aside from the University of Scranton, applied only to Stanford University. “I have no idea why I did that,” he admits, “except I wanted to be far away and I knew the name.” He was admitted to the University of Scranton, but after visiting the school, decided not to attend. He ended up sleeping on the floor of his girlfriend’s parent’s house while he worked odd jobs and saved his money.

It was then a friend stepped in to help. “Her family members were all professionals. She was exceptionally smart,” says Walden. “She helped me fill out four or five different applications. She knew all the schools. There were some I had never heard of before.”

Walden says he “lucked into” Hamilton College, a small liberal arts college in Upstate New York, where he excelled academically even as he battled culture shock. “I was shaggy. I had a mullet and ripped jeans. These kids were driving Saabs. I had never seen a Saab before,” he recalls.

Looking back, Walden isn’t sure what would have happened had it not been for his friend. “I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do,” he says. “I would say that was the first significantly positive step for me.”

Advocacy is…inspiration

While it was a friend that helped Walden take his first steps toward success, it was two strangers who helped him find his professional calling.

Walden was a few years out of law school, when the judge he was clerking for, Judge Anthony Scirica, suggested he go watch a trial in the District Court. When Walden peered into the courtroom, he saw a petite pregnant woman, barely taller than five feet, and another lawyer, both prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia. On the other side of the courtroom was the most vicious crack gang in Philadelphia. “These guys…they committed murders, they tortured people, they were hawking crack in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Philadelphia. And to see these two prosecutors stand up to these terrible murderers, who were all eventually convicted; I just thought it was about the greatest thing I’d ever seen.”

Walden was hooked. He applied to the U.S. Attorney’s office, ultimately becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. He realized the career goals he created in that Philadelphia courtroom, prosecuting cases against high-level heroin traffickers and organized crime members, securing hundreds of convictions and handling many high-profile cases.

Taking on the mafia completely absorbed him. Walden is blunt when he explains why: “They ruin lives. They’re just brutal, nasty, and they don’t deserve to be free in society.”

Walden, who had to face down his own bullies as a child, relished his chance to take on the “ultimate bullies” and make a difference for people that, he says, he identified with. “These people were probably more like me than most of my colleagues,” he says.

Before Temple, I didn’t have someone to open doors for me. My view was that I just had to work harder than everyone else.

And Walden’s work tackled some brutally violent cases, In one case, an Organized Crime associate shot a young, pregnant woman in the stomach because his crime boss did not want to admit to others that he had impregnated someone of Hispanic origin. In another case, an Organized Crime associate shot a young mother in the head, in front of her adolescent daughter, during a botched home invasion. Another case involved an Organized Crime member, who tortured a teenage worker with a blowtorch.

Walden’s work led to the capture of one of the FBI’s Top 10 Fugitives, and the indictment and conviction of Organized Members involved in the murder of Costable “Gus” Farace, who, at the time of his murder, was a fugitive in the murder of DEA Agent Everett Hatcher. He led the highly-publicized trial of Anthony Spero, the former acting boss of the Bonanno Crime family, and won a conviction for five murders against one of the top defense lawyers in Manhattan. “Every time I went home at night, I thought of these and other victims, and it motivated me to get up early and continue to my work. I wanted – no, I needed – a way to bring these thugs to justice.”

Advocacy is…hard work

Of course, career opportunities like taking on the mafia are nothing if you don’t make the most of it. Walden has certainly done that. Walden says security guards would rib him at the U.S. Attorney’s office because of his long hours.

That work ethic was a continued discipline, the roots of which were laid at Temple Law. “Every day, I tried to work from 5 am to 5 pm, so I could pursue outside interests while maintaining my grades,” recalls Walden.

Walden’s work got him noticed at Temple. Walden credits Temple and its faculty for helping him land a prestigious clerkship with the Honorable Anthony J. Scirica of the Third Circuit. “I am not sure the Judge would have noticed me among the many other qualified candidates. But I know the Dean and other professors were very supportive, and I truly think that was the distinguishing factor.”

Walden saw his clerkship as a real turning point in his career. “Before Temple, I didn’t have someone to open doors for me,” he says. “My view was that I just had to work harder than everyone else.” But, he concludes, “being part of the Temple community made all the difference for me.”

His own background has impacted his career in countless ways; from his own relentless worth ethic, to the clients he takes. Over the decade plus in private practice, Walden embarked on a long series of cases that sought to tackle various forms of injustice by government agencies. This “Good Government” program enjoyed incredible success.

In 2008, City and State agencies surrendered to Walden in a lawsuit over the wrongful termination of Food Stamp benefits, securing millions of dollars in retroactive benefits. In 2009, Walden sued the New York City Department of Corrections to stop a massive expansion to a prison located in a vibrant and growing community, and he won again. In 2010, Walden filed an important amicus brief on behalf of the Immigrant Defense Project and other groups, seeking to end the wrongful deportation of low-level drug offenders (the Court ended the practice). Also in 2009, Walden successfully sued a political party to stop the illegal use of in-kind donations to favored politicians. In 2011, Walden filed a class action against the Social Security Administration for illegally denying disability benefits for mentally-ill New Yorkers, ultimately securing thousands of new hearings and reform of the agency. Walden has filed several suits seeking to protect parks and historic sites from greedy developers.

The cases have made Walden a few powerful enemies, but he shrugs it off. “I get animated when I think that people’s rights are being violated,” Walden says. It’s been 14 years now since Walden was an Assistant U.S. Attorney, but in that time span, he has channeled his passion into the this wide-ranging portfolio of clients, first at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and more recently at his own firm, Walden, Macht & Haran LLP.

Walden takes most of these cases pro bono; they aren’t about earning money. “I think it’s the process of helping them get what they need and that magic moment when, inevitably, someone says, ‘I didn’t really think the system could be fair but now I see.’ That to me is just the really fulfilling part. They make me feel at the end of the day that I’ve found a way…to make people’s lives better.”

Advocacy is…Jim Walden

That feeling never gets old, Walden says, and it’s why he has no plans to change his career path, despite suggestions from friends and colleagues that he should try to be a judge or run for office. Most recently, Walden filed a case on behalf of families whose kids were being bullied in schools. “The Department of Education was not doing enough to protect them,” says Walden. “This is what I do and this is what I should do, and I hope to continue to do this until I can’t practice law anymore.”

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