Anthony Ofodile, 56, is a civil rights litigator in Brooklyn who was born in Anambra State in Nigeria. He studied law at the University of Nigeria and taught there as a lecturer. He went on to pursue graduate degrees at Queen’s University in Ontario and Columbia Law School in New York and started practicing law in 1995. Ofodile runs a private firm that caters to prisoners and the poor; his specialty is employment discrimination. One of his best-known cases was against real estate mogul Bernard Spitzer who was accused of employment discrimination when he fired four black employees at a luxury apartment building and replaced them with lighter skinned employees.
HOW DID YOU START YOUR LAW FIRM?
I had always wanted to do litigation. And as you can see, I have an accent. It was much worse then. And you can’t blame clients who would not want to trust the advice of somebody with a thick accent. So, I realized from the beginning that my path was not going to go to working for the big firms…I joined a group of Nigerian lawyers who had their own firm…they had matters involving litigation which was basically given to me and that’s how I started.
WHAT’S THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THE JOB?
A whole lot of things depend on the judge. The judge’s view of you, your client, and your case. So that is a difficult area…some young judges, depending on their views, pick and choose the facts that they are going to use…even though you know how it’s supposed to be judged, you cannot really be certain of what to tell your client because of the uncertain human aspect of judging.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
In most cases, jurors try to do the right thing. …That’s an aspect of the American system that is very good. And so that is an aspect that I find very encouraging. That jurors in most cases, would try to act on the evidence presented before them and make conscientious decisions.
ARE THERE ANY CASES OR MOMENTS THAT YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF WHEN YOU LOOK BACK OVER YOUR CAREER?
The case with Bernard Spitzer was one of those ones. It was basically a case where they [the defense] told me we’re going to pay our lawyers money. It’s not a problem. We have five lawyers working against you. We can pay them as many millions as they want. But we tried the case, and it was reported in the newspapers and everywhere, and recovered $1.35 million. So, they were quite surprised and I think part of it is being a small firm, and a foreigner with an accent. A lot of lawyers, they’re not really looking at you as somebody who really knows what he’s doing.
DO YOU SEE ANY SYSTEMATIC PROBLEMS GOING BEYOND THE COURT HOUSE?
You still have cases of people getting convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. …I think the worst case I ever I saw was a man having to serve 18 months in jail for violation of an order of protection because he sent a card to his daughter wishing her happy birthday.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF RETURNING TO NIGERIA?
America is gorgeous, it’s beautiful in many things, but one thing I know that, all things being equal, I want to avoid is a nursing home. …The prospect of spending your last days in a nursing home you know doesn’t really make sense. In Nigeria, the older you get the get more important you become. The more respected you are. The more valuable you are to society. Here it’s almost the opposite.
The practice of law, litigation especially…I’ve trained many lawyers and many of them don’t have the patience for it. You can work three years, spend 400 hours or 200 hours on a case and lose it. …Litigation, especially representing the poor, you have to really have a passion for it. This has always been my passion. Trying to fight for the underdog against the government and big agencies. So, it’s personally a fight I want to fight.