Ronald J. Tabak

Special Counsel

Special Counsel

Pro Bono and General Litigation Matters

New York

T: 1.212.735.2226

F: 1.917.777.2226


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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 and is co-chair of the Death Penalty Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. 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 is the chair of 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. He has spoken on capital punishment at conferences sponsored by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Arizona state court system, the Federal Bar Council and numerous other organizations.

Mr. Tabak also coordinates the pro bono practice at Skadden, Arps. Under his supervision, each year hundreds of 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 is also 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.

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. He 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:

  • American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ Robert F. Drinan Award for Distinguished Service (2014);
  • 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);
  • Legal Aid Society Awards (1998, 1997 and 1984);
  • 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);
  • Award of the Criminal Justice Section, New York State Bar Association for Outstanding Contribution to the Delivery of Defense Services (1990); and
  • Award from The American Lawyer for “Best Pro Bono Performance” (1986).

Bar Admissions

New York
U.S. Supreme Court


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)


Chair or Co-Chair, Death Penalty Committee, Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, American Bar Association (1988-Present); Member Policy Council (1994-2001); Special Counsel, Policy Council (2001-Present); Chair, Task Force on Mental Disability and The Death Penalty (2003-Present)

Chair, Committee on Civil Rights, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (1998-2001); Member (1994-1997)

Member, Legal Services Committee, New York State Bar Association (2006)

Member, Special Committee on Capital Punishment, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (1994-Present)

Member, Steering Committee, American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project (2003-Present)

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

Member, Board of Appleseed (1995-2002; 2003-Present)

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

Member of Board, Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. (2004-Present)

Member, Board of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty (1995-Present); Secretary (2004-Present)

Member, Board of Death Penalty Information Center (2004-Present)

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

Related Practices


"Capital Punishment"

The State of Criminal Justice 2014

"Overview of Task Force Proposal on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty"

Catholic University Law Review

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