Chair’s Counsel

By Lucian E. Dervan

As I write this column, the Criminal Justice Section has just completed an incredibly successful 11th Annual Fall Institute. This year’s conference, which occurred on November 1–2, 2018 in Washington, DC, focused on highlighting the important work of our Section’s committees, initiatives, and task forces. Our almost 50 committees work diligently throughout the year addressing issues ranging from law enforcement to military justice, sentencing to mental health, and much more. We also have a number of initiatives and task forces examining pressing and developing issues and creating policies and recommendations to assist the criminal justice community in determining how best to proceed. While it was impossible during the two day Institute to showcase all of the amazing work being done, the panels that were presented taught us much about the diversity of interests and projects within our Section.

In this issue’s column, I would like to take a few minutes to share some of what occurred during the Fall Institute for those who could not attend. As I mentioned in my first column, we have launched two new task forces this year, one focused on women in criminal justice and the other examining plea bargaining. The Women in Criminal Justice Task Force launched the initiative during a meeting at the Fall Institute and also was discussed during the annual awards ceremony. The awards ceremony included a timely keynote address by Hilarie Bass, immediate past president of the American Bar Association. During her remarks, she discussed her work as president exploring issues related to women in the profession and offered important insights as we begin the work of this new task force.

Our fall program also included a keynote address by Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York discussing the role of plea bargaining in the criminal justice system. His remarks focused on plea bargaining’s rise to dominance and considered what might result from judges becoming more actively involved in the plea process. Judge Rakoff’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion that further explored plea bargaining and which was led by Professor Russell Covey, who will join me as co-chair of the new Plea Bargaining initiative. These morning discussions provided much to consider in a country where 95 percent to 98 percent of cases are resolved through pleas of guilt and served as an excellent vehicle for announcing the official launch of this new task force.

Other panels and discussions during the Fall Institute touched on issues such as the role of the media in white collar investigations, prosecutors as agents of change, GITMO 12 years later, re-entry and innovation, and what civilians can learn from the military experience with sexual assault and harassment. Each of these sessions brought attention to important issues and showcased the work of our members and committees.

A special part of the Fall Institute is always the awards presentation, during which we have the opportunity to recognize leaders in the criminal justice community and highlight the work of a number of extraordinary people and institutions. This year, we were honored to present awards to a remarkable group of recipients.

This year’s Charles R. English honor, which is awarded to a member of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section who has distinguished themselves by their work in the field of criminal justice, was presented to former Section Chair Matt Redle for his long and distinguished career as a prosecutor in Sheridan, Wyoming. The Livingston Hall Juvenile Justice Award, which is given to an active member of the bar who devotes a significant portion of his or her legal practice to youth and children and is making positive contributions to the field both in and outside the courtroom, was given to Rosemary Armstrong for her powerful and life-changing work with children in Florida. The Frank Carrington Crime Victim Attorney Award is given to an attorney or legal service provider who has either directly represented specific victims in criminal, juvenile, or appellate courts or who has worked to promote or implement policies to improve the treatment of crime victims in the criminal justice system. This year’s award was presented to the Navy Victims Legal Counsel Program for their leadership in the field of victims’ rights. The Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award, which is bestowed on a prosecutor who embodies the principles enunciated in the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Prosecution Function, was awarded to Kevin Curtin, a prosecutor who exemplifies the principle that “the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” Finally, the Raeder-Taslitz Award is given to a law professor whose excellence in scholarship, teaching, or community service has made a significant contribution to promoting public understanding of criminal justice, justice and fairness in the criminal justice system, or best practices on the part of lawyers and judges. This year’s recipient was Professor Paolo Annino for his work on behalf of children.

The final event at the Fall Institute was a presentation entitled, “Enhancing Justice: Reducing Bias—Strategies for Change in the Criminal Justice System.” The session was led by Judge Bernice Donald of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and past Chair of the Criminal Justice Section, and Professor Sarah Redfield of the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Judge Donald and Professor Redfield lead the Criminal Justice Section’s Implicit Bias Initiative and have worked tirelessly over the last few years educating the national criminal justice community about this vital issue. After one of their recent presentations as part of a US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, series on implicit bias, they received a thank you letter that said, “In short, we learned a lot about ourselves and the role we may play in perpetuating unconscious biases… Once again, thank you for sharing time and knowledge with us.” We echo these sentiments and thank Judge Donald and Professor Redfield for devoting so much time and effort to educate others and to make the Criminal Justice Section a thought leader in this field. I could think of no better way to conclude a conference highlighting the work of the Section than to showcase their ongoing work.

The Fall Institute was a great opportunity to be reminded of the diverse and important work being done every day by our members. Let me conclude, therefore, by thanking each of you for your work in the criminal justice field, for your dedication to service, and for your willingness to volunteer your time with the Criminal Justice Section so we can contribute to and be leaders in the criminal justice system in so many different and meaningful ways.

LUCIAN E. DERVAN is chair of the ABA Criminal justice Section. He is an associate professor of law and director of Criminal Justice Studies at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. He can be reached via Twitter @LucianDervan.