Bet Tzedek named Sandor “Sandy” Samuels as its new president CEO, tapping the community leader and financial industry legal expert to head the Los Angeles-based Jewish public interest law firm that serves nearly 12,000 disadvantaged clients every year.
Samuels recently retired from a decades-long career in the corporate financial world. He served as senior executive and chief legal officer at Countrywide Financial Corporation and then moved over to Bank of America when it acquired Countrywide in 2008, focusing on helping people stay in their homes.
Samuels said he had been looking toward moving into public sector work, when Mitchell Kamin, who headed Bet Tzedek for seven years, announced last summer that he would be leaving in September.
“When this opportunity came my way, I just thought that this was really a dream come true, because I’m so excited about the mission of Bet Tzedek, and the need for our services is so great,” said Samuels, who has served on the Bet Tzedek board since 1994 and chaired the organization for two years.
Samuels, 58, who lives in Encino with his wife and has three grown children, is currently the president of Adat Ari El in Valley Village, and chaired the board of advisors of the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies from 2005-2008.
“What I have tried to do in my life is to do well in my professional life and do good in my community services,” Samuels said.
The job at Bet Tzedek is a blending of the two.
With a budget of $7 million, 70 staff and 1,600 volunteer attorneys and paralegals, Bet Tzedek offers free legal services in matters involving consumer rights, elder law, housing, public benefits and workers’ rights to low-income, disabled and elderly people of all racial and religious backgrounds. Bet Tzedek has a network of hundreds of attorneys across the country who offer legal help to Holocaust survivors.
Samuels inherits an organization on strong growth trajectory. Kamin grew the organization from a budget of $4 million and tripled Bet Tzedek’s endowment.
Samuels hopes to expand fundraising and programs. He says he foresees more work in the areas of elder care, as the population ages, and knows that the lingering downturn will continue to affect clients.
Samuels said his experience at Countrywide and Bank of America leaves him well positioned to tackle the ever-increasing flow of legal problems spawned by the economic downturn.
“I have spent the last couple years working closely with government officials and other institutions within the industry to try to work on solutions to help people stay in their homes. And I think given my experiences I am uniquely qualified to help our clients try to navigate through tough economic times,” Samuels said.
Holly J. Fujie, who led the Bet Tzedek board selection committee and is the incoming chair of the board, said Samuels was a natural choice.
“I think each one of our CEOs have brought us to a new level ... and I believe Sandy is doing to do the same thing. I can’t say what that change is going to be and how that new level is going to show itself, but I think that Sandy not only is a consummate leader and fundraiser, but he also has a vision and we’re really excited by where that vision is going to take him and us.”