Remarks of Lucian T. Pera—Upon Presentation of the ABA Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award to John S. Gleason—May 30, 2013, San Antonio, Texas

Vol. 22 No. 1

Lucian T. Pera is Treasurer of the American Bar Association and former President of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers. An active member of the Center for Professional Responsibility and a legal ethics authority, Mr. Pera has been engaged on all major ABA ethics and professional responsibility initiatives for a number of years. He is a litigation Partner with Adams and Reese LLP in Memphis, Tennessee.

I am very excited to be here today to present this award, to this recipient.

The ABA gives out lots of awards—but this one is special, particularly to those who attend this Conference. We all know that what we do every day in the professional responsibility field matters, a lot, to all lawyers, to all their clients, and to all our fellow citizens, whether they realize it or not. This award recognizes the highest level of excellence and accomplishment, over a career, in this critical field.

It was 19 years ago, almost to the day, when the ABA established this award, and when the ABA Board of Governors presented the very first one to the man himself, Michael Franck. I know, because I was there, as a very young Young Lawyer member of the Board then. Michael Franck was there, in a wheelchair, just weeks ahead of his death. I don’t remember him saying much, but what I recall is what was said about him, both to the group and otherwise.

I learned that Mike Franck was a driving force, a giant in our field. A veteran New York City disciplinary prosecutor, he eventually served as the long-time director of the State Bar of Michigan. He also spent a professional lifetime working in the ABA and elsewhere for improvement in lawyer regulation. He was the reporter to the ABA Clark Commission that, in 1970, produced vital reform recommendations. That work led to the 1973 establishment of the Standing Committee on Professional Discipline and the 1978 creation of the Center for Professional Responsibility. For a decade or more, Mike Franck was a dominant voice in the ABA House of Delegates on regulation of the profession and legal ethics. He was there when it mattered, making a difference.

The ABA established the Franck award, just like any award that has true resonance, to recognize, honor, and pass on important parts of our culture and tradition—here, the highest traditions of excellence and public and professional service in the field of professional responsibility. By bestowing this honor, we say: Here are the highest values we honor; here is a person who has honored these values; and, we hold this person up as an example for others, and ourselves, to follow. Mike Franck exemplified these traditions in his life and work, and so have all the other recipients in the many years since, including this year’s recipient, John Gleason.

It was not a direct route to the law or to the field of professional responsibility for John. After distinguished active military service, John joined the Toledo, Ohio, metro bomb squad in 1971. Apparently, he was pretty good at it, and he survived long enough to be recruited by the Arapahoe County, Colorado, sheriff to start their bomb squad. That new outfit served not just all of Colorado, but all of Wyoming and New Mexico as well. Now, remember, this was before the days of sending in robots with cameras to handle explosive devices. During this time, John became a homicide detective.

John went to law school in the 1980s. After graduation, he spent a couple of years in a Denver law firm, but by 1987 was hired as disciplinary counsel in Colorado. For eleven years, he was a line prosecutor, investigating or prosecuting over 150 lawyer or judicial discipline or UPL cases.

In nominating John, Colorado Chief Justice Michael Bender told the Franck Award committee that, in the mid—to late 1990s, as Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel, John was instrumental in working with the Court on a thoroughgoing reform of Colorado’s regulation of lawyers, making it a national leader in a number of important ways. The court asked John to run the new system he had helped build, and John directed lawyer regulation in Colorado for 14 years, before joining the Oregon State Bar in March 2013 as Disciplinary Counsel and Director of Regulatory Services.

Those Colorado reforms were remarkable. They included everything from a central intake telephone system, to diversion and monitoring programs, education programs for new lawyers and those who have been disciplined, MJP reform, and UPL enforcement against non-lawyers. Colorado’s system became a model under his leadership.

John has also been personally instrumental in bringing reform to other states. He has served, often and tirelessly, on consultation teams for the ABA’s Discipline and Client Protection Committees. These are incredibly time-intensive, substantive, and productive exercises that, upon request from a jurisdiction, bring objective professionals in to closely review and make recommendations about a state’s systems.

Winning the respect of his peers, John has served as president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel and the National Client Protection Organization.

But the most vivid evidence of John’s unique commitment is a single case—a case that was cited by all those who nominated him, including members or representatives of three state supreme courts, including his own Colorado Chief Justice. That case involved John’s work in investigating and prosecuting elected Maricopa County prosecutor Andrew Thomas and two attorney colleagues. Yes, that’s Maricopa County, Arizona, not Colorado.

In an era when all of us are deeply concerned about prosecutors’ ethics, the Arizona Supreme Court reached beyond its own borders to ask John to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute, a powerful elected prosecutor, in the fourth-largest county in the country, who had been accused of all manner of serious abuses of his prosecutorial power. You see, all the local disciplinary counsel, and all the most likely local substitutes, were conflicted out. The Arizona court knew John well from his extensive consulting work with that court in remodeling Arizona’s lawyer disciplinary system just a few years before. North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dan Crothers, one of John’s nominators for this award, wrote that this was the point “where most clear thinking people would have said ‘no.’” John, perhaps like any good bomb squad veteran, said, “yes.”

It was a supremely challenging professional assignment, in the most challenging of environments.

After a difficult investigation, John sought the disbarment of the elected prosecutor and one of his assistant prosecutors for numerous serious disciplinary violations, including dishonesty and fraud, conflicts of interest, bringing criminal charges and civil actions without evidence, helping concoct a false affidavit, and conspiring to threaten or intimidate a presiding criminal judge, all in the pursuit of a political agenda. You get some sense of the scope and complexity of the matter from the fact that, after 2½ years of investigation and prosecution, there followed 26 trial days over 8 weeks, with John and his colleague calling 58 witnesses. The ABA Journal justly called it “the mother of all discipline trials.”

John’s work was done in the most challenging conceivable personal and political environment. John and his assistant were openly tailed and photographed by private investigators and sheriff’s deputies, in an apparent effort to intimidate them. They were threatened with lawsuits and restraining orders by the elected prosecutor. A long-running federal grand jury investigation was looking into the conduct of the same elected prosecutor and his political ally, Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio. At one point, the FBI even told John and his assistant that they were about to be set up by the local sheriff on criminal charges. All of this was set against the background of an intense local and national political fight, centered in Arizona, concerning immigration policy and enforcement, in which the elected prosecutor was a key player.

At the end of the day, the elected prosecutor was disbarred. Much more importantly, however, the process of lawyer regulation worked. It worked, in an orderly and fair, if arduous, process. It worked because of John. And John saw it through, with competence, grace, and the highest level of professionalism.

For his dedication to lawyer discipline; for his commitment to the improvement of lawyer regulation and client and public protection in Colorado, Oregon, and nationally; and for his quiet fearlessness and professionalism, I am happy to present the 2013 Michael Franck Award to John Gleason.

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