The pandemic seems to have changed our relationship with time. In some ways, time has stood still. In others, things have moved at lightning speed. My year as Chair feels like it just began, but unfortunately, it is coming to a close. I will soon leave this position, and a new leader will take my place. Do I wish I had more time? Of course. Do I have any regrets? Not at all. I have tried to maximize enjoyment and progress from every moment of my year as Chair. I will walk away from the position with a sense that I did my best during my tenure. That is as good as it gets!
Everyone who assumes the role of the Chair comes into the position with big plans and expectations. Along the way, reality sets in, and those plans get modified. I hoped to be one of those transformational leaders who put the organization on a new, innovative course. The reverberations from the pandemic had other plans. Our organization continues to deal with the changed landscape that COVID-19 has given us. In-person meetings are no longer a given, travel has become exceptionally more complicated, and health considerations must be taken into account like never before. Our “normal” existence as an organization has changed.
During my year as Chair, we attempted to return to the CJS year’s old rhythm. We met in Braselton, Georgia, London, Miami, and Buenos Aires for exceptional White Collar Crime events. We met in Washington, DC, for our Fall Institute and in Memphis, Tennessee, for our Spring Institute. At some of these events, we had record crowds. At others, there were many empty chairs. Our programming was superb, but our changed world forces us to look at how we do business. Things that worked well in 2019 do not necessarily work in 2023. Our Section must become more flexible as we move forward and pivot into the new realities we face. Rethinking how we work is an exciting opportunity. We can make ourselves more engaged with the current issues in the law and the most up-to-date ways of communicating. This year has shown me that we have the potential to be more relevant than ever. We must commit to the hard work to ensure our Section continues innovating and improving our focus and execution. I have no doubt we will do what needs to be done to set our course for a successful future.
I explained my vision as Criminal Justice Next when I started my year. We have an opportunity to reshape the criminal justice system by taking advantage of the disequilibrium currently present in our world. Our Section has taken advantage of this unique opportunity. Over the past year, our Section has created policies that will prove to be transformational. The Women in Criminal Justice Taskforce’s Ten Principles to Achieve Gender Equity in the Criminal Legal System was passed by the House of Delegates, as was our resolution that urges entities to eliminate the use of stigmatizing and inhuman language in the criminal justice system. The Section proposes four resolutions at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver, ranging from the 14 Principles of Plea Bargaining to Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing to the elimination of slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime to racial discrimination in capital jury selection. CJS continues leaping into the disequilibrium to create a more fair and equitable justice system.
Leading a large organization is not for the faint of heart. There are so many forces pulling you in different directions. Simply put, you cannot do it on your own. Thankfully CJS has embraced a “shared leadership” model. Former Chair Kim Parker led the way by purposefully including then Chair-Elect April Frazier Camara in every facet of the leadership decision-making process. April continued that tradition, as did immediate past Chair Wayne McKenzie.
This leadership model is now engrained into the fabric of CJS. I would argue that “giving up” power has made the position of the Chair more powerful. CJS leadership is more knowledgeable than ever before. We enjoy the benefit of multiple points of view and built-in sounding boards. I could have never done this work without the wisdom and friendship of Chair-Elect Tina Luongo and First Vice-Chair Sidney Butcher. They are both exceptional human beings who have supported me throughout the past year. In addition to everyone I have named, I would be remiss if I did not thank Section Director Kevin Scruggs. Kevin works tirelessly every day to ensure CJS runs smoothly. His support and guidance have been invaluable.
I still cannot believe my year as Chair is ending so soon. I had so many ideas and dreams for the Section. Unfortunately, the cold, hard reality of the times in which we live affected the things I could accomplish. Looking back at my year, I feel that I will be remembered not as a transformational but transitional leader. I am very satisfied with that description. CJS has a rich history that has dramatically affected the practice of law. I did my best to help our remarkable Section transition to the new realities so that we can continue that tradition. I do not doubt that we are on the right path. The Criminal Justice Section is destined to do great things as we move boldly into the future. Thank you for the opportunity to lead. It was the honor of a lifetime!