Bar leaders support the rule of law and their counterparts in Pakistan

Volume 32 Number 3

Across the country, at bars large and small, leaders’ attention was drawn to the international arena in early November when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared martial law there, arrested seven Supreme Court justices, and detained thousands of other judges and lawyers.

Within two days, ABA President Bill Neukom sent a message to state and local bar presidents and executive directors, many of whom were already asking what they could do to support the rule of law in Pakistan. That same day, the ABA issued a statement, wrote a letter of protest to Musharraf, and sent copies of the letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other State Department officials.

In his letter to Musharraf, Neukom said he understood that Musharraf’s actions were in response to a widespread crisis in his country but advised him that his solution was neither appropriate nor workable. “Without an impartial judiciary, governmental claims of commitment to the rule of law, such as you made when declaring the state of emergency, ring hollow,” Neukom wrote. “Disbanding the Supreme Court, and arresting lawyers and human rights advocates, undermines popular support for the government.”

In his message to bar leaders, Neukom advised them to “speak out as forcefully as you can” by contacting the local media, congressional representatives, and the federal government to express their concerns.

Three areas of the ABA Web site became nerve centers for bar leaders, lawyers, and others looking for more information and ways to respond: Neukom’s home page (www.abanet.org/op/), an online media kit from the Division for Media Relations and Communication Services (www.abavideonews.org/ABA495/index.php), and a page on the Division for Bar Services Web site that spotlights the responses organized by state, local, and special-focus bars (www.abanet.org/barserv/resourcepages/pakistanresponse.shtml).

A wave of rallies in support of the lawyers and judges of Pakistan seemed to begin with the Monroe County (N.Y.) Bar Association, which held a rally on November 8 that was attended by about 70 lawyers who gathered outside the courthouse. Bar President Thomas Smith says the physical attacks on Pakistani judges and lawyers struck a chord with lawyers in Rochester in part because the bar has recently been responding to unfair media attacks on the integrity of a local judge following a controversial decision in a criminal case. The bar sent an e-mail blast to all members 24 hours before the event, asking them to attend and to wear dark suits and white shirts, as news footage consistently showed Pakistani lawyers and judges dressed this way.

Subsequent rallies in other locales also involved an e-mail to quickly gather bar members, and the suggestion to wear dark suits. It’s uncertain how many bars were already thinking along similar lines and how many others took inspiration from the MCBA’s rally, which was made known to bar leaders through a number of means, including the Listserv for the National Association of Bar Executives Communications Section.

Throughout the rest of November, it seemed that each day brought fresh news of a bar association that had issued a statement or resolution, or organized or participated in a rally to call attention to the dire situation. The NABE Communications Section Listserv buzzed all month as communications professionals shared ideas and updated each other. The ABA resources, meanwhile, were continuously refreshed, and additional e-mails were sent to bar leaders to keep them apprised as the effort continued.

The ABA organized a lawyers’ march in Washington, D.C., on November 14, in which 600 to 700 lawyers, most dressed in black, marched past the U.S. Supreme Courthouse in a show of support for Pakistani lawyers and judges and for the rule of law. The ABA’s Chicago staff was encouraged to participate in a rally on November 19 organized by the Chicago Bar Association, the Chinese Bar Association, the Decalogue Society Of Lawyers, the National Lawyer’s Guild Chicago Chapter, and the North American South Asian Bar Association.

The ABA also posted an online petition at www.abavideonews.org/ABA495/sign.php, and leaders of state, local, and special-focus bars directed their members toward it as well. Neukom presented the signed petition to the ambassador to Pakistan in Washington on December 13. The petition called on Musharraf to “restore the Constitution of Pakistan, reinstate Pakistan’s Supreme Court justices, and free those lawyers and civil leaders who have been wrongly jailed.”

Bar Leader will have more complete coverage of bars’ response to the events in Pakistan in the March-April issue. Until then, here are just a few quick glimpses of what some bars have done. Please check the three ABA online resource centers listed above for updated information.

Statements and resolutions | Boston Bar Association President Tony Doniger: “The imposition of martial law in Pakistan is a painful reminder of the fragility of the rule of law. The detention of eight members of the Pakistan Supreme Court, and the arrest of over 1,500 Pakistani lawyers is a deplorable affront to a previously independent and vigilant legal system. The Boston Bar Association joins in the call of the American Bar Association and others for the immediate restoration of the Pakistani legal system. These events should remind lawyers everywhere that the rule of law can never be taken for granted.” | From a resolution passed by the board of trustees of the New Jersey State Bar Association: “President Musharraf sought to justify his actions by citing the threat of terrorism. But shutting down a nation’s lawful institutions of justice will hurt, not help, the fight against terrorism. In fact, such actions, rather than deterring terrorists, give in to these criminals who remain enemies of free societies.” | From a resolution of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia: “… Be it resolved that the Bar Association of the District of Columbia hereby: … denounces the brutality that is being directed to members of the bar of Pakistan … and recognizes and commends the courage and conviction of the members of the Pakistani bar, the judiciary, and the public who are working to correct this grave injustice.” | Ohio State Bar Association President Robert F. Ware: “The OSBA encourages all people to respect the rule of law. It is a vital and fundamental aspect of a free society and a principle of democracy that all citizens should understand and expect as a way of life. I encourage all OSBA members, and especially all lawyers and judges, to share with their colleagues, friends, and neighbors the importance of this fundamental precept of a free society. As the guardians of the Constitution and the rule of law, our role in reaching out to all citizens is ever more important today.”

Events in support of lawyers in Pakistan | On November 9, the Bar Association of San Francisco held a rally that was attended by about 100 lawyers; another rally the next day was attended by about 100 members of the public. The BASF recorded two segments for YouTube that are accessible from the bar’s Web site at www.sfbar.org/announcements/pakistan.aspx. At press time, the bar was planning a December teleconference with three attorneys in Pakistan and was exploring other events to help show support. | The New York City Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, New York County Lawyers’ Association, and other groups held a rally on November 13 on the steps of the New York County Courthouse. Approximately 700 attended. Speaking at the event were: Barry Kamins, president, NYCBA; Kathryn Grant Madigan, president, NYSBA; Catherine A. Christian, president, NYCLA; and Ali Ahsan, a New York lawyer and son of Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar of Pakistan. A video clip is available at: www.nycbar.org/rally.htm. | On November 14, about 200 judges, lawyers, and others gathered on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse in a rally organized by the Columbus Bar Association. Speakers included Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann and Nancy H. Rogers, who is dean of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and president of the Association of American Law Schools, which represents 168 law schools and 6,000 faculty members. The CBA event required a call to action just one day in advance, because of the process involved in obtaining a meeting permit for the Statehouse lawn.

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