As New York's corporation counsel, Cardozo is New York City's top lawyer. He's the man who represents the city when it's suing someone—or being sued.
A native of the Upper West Side and a distant relative of Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, Michael joined law firm Proskauer Rose in 1967 after graduating from Columbia Law and clerking for the Southern District Judge Edward McLean. Cardozo stayed with the firm for the next three decades, eventually rising to head up the litigation department. A noted expert on sports law, Cardozo's clients over the years included the NHL, the NBA and Major League Soccer. (One of Cardozo's colleagues at Proskauer was his law school classmate David Stern, who left the firm in 1978 to head up the NBA.)
In the late '90s, Cardozo became more visible in civic affairs as president of the New York City Bar Association. In 2001, after Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor, the head of his transition team (and Cardozo's former classmate at Columbia Law) Nat Leventhal reached out to Cardozo about the top legal job. He signed on as corporation counsel—taking a 90 percent pay cut in the process—in late 2001. He now oversees about 700 attorneys and a support staff of 800.
As New York City's top lawyer, Cardozo represents a client that is sued more than 200 times a week, and his office has to deal with everything from simple slip-and-fall cases to massive negligence lawsuits. In the past few years, he's been on the defensive over arrests made during the 2004 Republican National Convention, victims of police brutality (such as the family of Sean Bell), and suits from the families of people killed in the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash. But Cardozo gets to do his share of suing as well. In 2006, he led Bloomberg's high-profile suit against 15 gun dealers for violating firearms regulations, earning the wrath of the gun lobby in the process.
As corporation counsel, Cardozo rarely appears in court himself. There have been at least two exceptions over the past few years: Cardozo turned up in person when the city sought to extract penalties from the Roger Toussaint-led Transport Workers Union following the 2005 transit strike. In 2007, he stood before the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time in his career when the city filed suit against several foreign nations, seeking to recoup unpaid property taxes.
Word on the street
Legal observers give Cardozo a good deal of credit for beefing up the city's legal team. He's been commended for raising the office's profile and attracting talent that would have otherwise gone to private firms. He's also won points for making the department more like a corporate law firm. It was Cardozo, for example, who insisted that city lawyers account for their time, much the way lawyers do at private firms.
The suspenders-wearing lawyer—he can occasionally be spotted in a pair that sport the image of the Chrysler Building—is married to Nancy Cardozo. The couple have a home in Scarsdale and a pied-a-terre on the Upper West Side. (They paid $1.3 million for the condo in 2006.) They have two daughters, Sheryl and Hedy.
Cardozo reports that he's occasionally confused with Schools chancellor Joel Klein. Both are bald and Jewish, yes. For the record, though, Cardozo is considerably taller and Klein has longer hair in the back.