February 01, 2015

Midyear Meeting features approval of new policies and a range of panels, discussions

More than 3,500 lawyers gathered in Houston Feb. 4-10 for the association’s Midyear Meeting, which featured adoption of new policies by the ABA House of Delegates, numerous panel discussions, town hall gatherings and business meetings.

In addition, the Board of Governors approved the association’s legislative and governmental priorities for the 114th Congress under the following categories: Access to Legal Services, Civil Justice System Access, Criminal Justice System Improvements, Elimination of Discrimination, Immigration Reform, Independence of the Judiciary, Independence of the Legal Profession, International Rule of Law, Legal Education, and National Security and Civil Liberties. The priorities are based on a survey of bar leaders and ABA members and the joint recommendations of the Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs and the Governmental Affairs Office.

Other highlights of the meeting included a hearing by the Commission on the Future of Legal Services, testimony presented to the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education, a town hall on money in politics and elections sponsored by the Standing Committee on Election Law, and panel discussions on a variety of issues, including the president’s executive action on immigration and the history of domestic terrorism.

Atlanta lawyer Linda A. Klein was nominated to be the association’s president-elect. If elected this August, she will serve a one-year term as president-elect before assuming the presidency in August 2016.

The one-day session of the 566-member House of Delegates produced more than 15 new legislative policy positions, which are summarized below.

Criminal Justice

Restraint of Juveniles. Urges governments to adopt a presumption against the use of restraints on juveniles in court and to permit a court to allow such use only after providing the juvenile with an opportunity to be heard and finding that the restraints are the least restrictive means necessary to prevent flight or harm to the juvenile or others. 

Witness Intimidation. Urges governments to protect the truth-seeking functions of criminal proceedings by (1) seeking to hold accountable those who unlawfully intimidate or tamper with victims and prosecution and defense witnesses by any source or means, include the use of social media; and (2) examining practices, procedures and training, and revising them as needed to assure that victims and witnesses are not improperly intimidated or tampered with by lawyers or law enforcement personnel, and that they receive adequate protection against intimidation and tampering by any person.

Sentencing of Juveniles. Urges elimination of life sentences without the possibility of release or parole for youthful offenders both prospectively and retroactively, and provides youthful offenders with meaningful periodic opportunities for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

Criminal Justice Standards. Adopts the black letter standards, dated February 2015, to Chapter 3 (The Prosecution Function) and Chapter 4 (The Defense Function) of the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, to supplant the Third Edition (1998) of the chapters. Each new chapter revises all of the standards in the previous edition, as well as including 21 new standards.

Death Penalty

Death Penalty Sentencing. Urges governments that impose capital punishment, and the military, to require that before a court can impose a sentence of death, a jury must unanimously recommend or vote to impose that sentence, and the jury in such cases must also unanimously agree on the existence of any fact that is a prerequisite for eligibility for the death penalty and on the specific aggravating factors that have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Execution Protocols. Urges each jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment to promulgate executive protocols in an open and transparent manner; require, among other things,  disclosure to the public of all relevant information regarding execution procedures; and protect media and witness rights to view the entirety of the execution process.

Disaster Response

Vulnerable Populations. Urges government authorities, when planning for and responding to disasters, to identify and address the special needs of vulnerable populations, including but not limited to individuals with disabilities, children, the frail, elderly, homeless persons, domestic violence victims, undocumented persons, the impoverished, and persons with language barriers, and to provide adequate funding to cover special needs.  

Domestic Violence

Protection Orders. Urges governments to enact civil protection order statutes that extend protection to minor and adult victims of sexual assault, rape and stalking outside of the context of an intimate partner relationship, and without the requirement of any prior intimate relationship between the parties.

Housing Protections. Urges governments to adopt laws and regulations that expand housing protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and to enable housing providers and agencies to respond appropriately to victims and perpetrators while maintaining a safe environment for all housing residents.

Elder Law/Health Care

Advanced Illness. Urges governments to enact legislation and regulation that will promote access to comprehensive long-term supportive services and care for persons with advanced illness, including providing advance care planning, access to palliative care, and finance and payment mechanisms.

Immigration

Unaccompanied Children. Urges enactment of laws and policies that require counsel to be appointed for unaccompanied children at government expense at all stages of the immigration process, including initial interviews before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum offices and at all proceedings necessary to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum and other remedies. Maintains that immigration courts should not conduct any hearings before an unaccompanied child has had a meaningful opportunity to consult with counsel. Urges training for state court judges and staff in handling cases involving immigrant children, and implementation of specialized calendars for timely hearing and adjudication for children applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Individual Rights

Native Americans. Adopts the recommendations contained in the Indian Law and Order Commission’s November 2013 report to the president and Congress entitled A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer, except for the new circuit court provision of Recommendation 1.2, and urges their implementation. Urges Congress to establish a means of creating a consistent, uniform and predictable body of case law dealing with the civil rights issues and matters of federal law interpretation arising in Indian country.

Stand Your Ground Laws. Urges legislative bodies and government entities to refrain from enacting Stand Your Ground Laws that would eliminate the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense in public spaces, or to repeal such existing Stand Your Ground Laws. Urges those jurisdictions that choose not to repeal such laws to, among other things: eliminate the civil immunity provisions; prohibit the use of the Stand Your Ground defense when force is used against a law enforcement officer; develop strategies to combat the apparent racially disparate impact of the laws; and ensure that jury instructions are drafted in plain language to enhance clarity and the jurors’ understanding of the applicable Stand Your Ground Laws and their limitations.

Consumer Protections. Urges governments to continue to enforce and enact rules or legislation that strengthen consumer protections regarding deceptive or fraudulent loan foreclosure rescue practices, and supports ongoing effects of state courts and lawyers disciplinary agencies to investigate allegations of deceptive or fraudulent loan foreclosure rescue practices by lawyers and, when appropriate, to prosecute and discipline lawyers who commit this type of misconduct.

Legal Education

Debt Management. Encourages law schools to offer comprehensive debt counseling and debt management education to all currently admitted and enrolled law students, and encourages bar associations to offer similar courses to young lawyers and newly admitted lawyers.

Tort Law

Wild Animals (105). Urges enactment of comprehensive laws that prohibit, unless otherwise exempted, the private possession, sale, breeding, import or transfer of dangerous wild animals, in order to protect public safety and health, and to ensure the humane treatment and welfare of such animals. Urges that such laws should include reasonable exemptions.

Uniform State Laws

The delegates approved the following uniform state laws promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws: Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act; Uniform Recognition of Substitute Decision-Making Documents Act; and Uniform Voidable Transactions Act.

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