American Bar Association
Forum on Communications Law


As chair-elect for the last year, I often thought about how I would fill this space. My initial response was to be more substantive than personal, to focus on the many issues facing our profession and our industry. But now that this opportunity is at hand, I've decided that my initial column should thank those who were responsible for installing me, for better or worse, in this honored seat.

Not surprisingly, the three folks mainly responsible are my three colleagues in crime who have helped orchestrate our Boca conferences over the last five years and who have gotten me, not naturally prone to professional associations, involved with the ABA. [Just a sidebar on Boca VI: the dates are February 15-18, 2001. We are very excited about our three substantive plenary sessions: one on the Bartnicki case, which will just have been argued by the U.S. Supreme Court; one on how journalists view the job that lawyers do; and one on Cohen v. Cowles Media ten years later, a discussion of what obligations reporters have to their sources. In addition, just to show that we are au courant, we have shelved Journalism Jeopardy in favor of a much trendier Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?]

Although I do not want to carry on like Sally Field, I do feel it not only appropriate but deserving to state my appreciation for the confidence that these three have shown in me. First, I want to thank Kelli Sager, the immediate past chair, who named me to this post. I've known Kelli ever since she was a young but extremely able associate working on a libel case for one of The Times's subsidiaries. (Strangely, that case is still ongoing-which says something either about Kelli's youth or about the slowness of our judicial system.)

Kelli has been a dynamic leader, orchestrating Forum programs from Atlanta to London. Indeed, our London program, which Jim Borelli ran and which is reported elsewhere in this issue, was attended by some eighty-five people, great by ABA Annual Meeting standards, who participated in a very engaging program that highlighted the differences between the American and British systems and that included a mock trial segment. My only problem with Kelli is that, as her successor, I will doubtless be compared to her. In trying to follow in her footsteps, I may be held to her standard of quickness on her feet, one which, whether in a Governing Board meeting or in the courtroom, is an awfully high standard to meet. Indeed, my favorite Kelli story was in the O.J. Simpson case, when, at a hearing to kick cameras out of the courtroom, Judge Ito brought into court many huge boxes filled with letters from people around the country urging that the cameras be barred. To Judge Ito that outcry of public opinion raised the specter of ending camera access. But Kelli, a star high school and college debater, was nonplussed: "You don't rely on public opinion to make your other legal decisions, do you, Judge?" she sweetly asked.

Perhaps my deepest thanks are to Barbara Wall, to whom I owe my entire involvement in the ABA. It was Barbara who named me cochair of the ABA Section of Litigation's First Amendment and Media Litigation Committee, a precursor to this job. It was also during a dinner that Barbara and I had in London where we hatched the idea for the annual winter conference, which became known as Boca. Although I'd like to think that some of the substantive ideas were mine, it was Barbara who deftly and surely pro-cessed the idea through the ABA to allow it to become a reality. Indeed, Barbara's soft diplomatic touch and crafty political instinct are unique; I have never seen a lawyer with as delicate an approach, yet one who is also so clever, direct, personable, and strong-all giving her a tremendous ability to get things done.

Finally, I want to thank Lee Levine, who along with Kelli and Barbara is also a past chair of the Forum. Because of Lee's modest ways, he is sometimes insufficiently praised but, in truth, Lee has been the bedrock of the Forum. Lee is always the one who carefully reads through contracts with hotels, finding problems or loopholes; who studies the bylaws to ensure that some procedural nicety is being adhered to; and who analyzes the budget lines ensuring our financial health. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to him. I also can't wait to see him argue the Bartnicki case in the U.S. Supreme Court in December.

In sum, I very much appreciate the confidence of the Forum generally, and these three stalwarts in particular, in naming me to this position. In that vein, regarding Forum governance, I have appointed a Nominating Committee to nominate new Governing Board members to be elected at our Annual Conference at Boca. They are Peter Canfield, of Dow Lohnes in Atlanta; Chuck Tobin, inside counsel at the Gannett Co.; and Immediate Past Chair Kelli Sager. I thank them in advance for their service; if you are interested in the Board, please contact them.

I'll be writing about some of our goals and initiatives in future columns. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you in Boca next February.

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