March 25, 2020 Chair's Column

Chair's Column: March 2020

By Albert C. Harvey

The members of the House of Delegates rose in unison and gave President Judy Perry Martinez a standing ovation when she stated:

"The personal attacks on our judges and prosecutors must cease. No one, no one, should interfere with the fair administration of justice. And no one, no one , should have to live in fear for following the law and upholding the constitution."

President Martinez, in her remarks at the Midyear meeting of the ABA in Austin last month did not direct her remarks toward any person, but the news had been filled with criticism directed at the judge, prosecutors, and jurors in the recent trial in of Roger Stone in Washington D.C.     

Two other organizations to which I belong have made similar comments recently concerning support for our Courts and our system of justice.  “The American College of Trial Lawyers believes that attacks on judicial officers when designed to influence their determinations on cases pending before them are an affront to the fundamental principle of judicial independence that cannot be ignored.  The College also believes that no public official should interfere in a pending judicial proceeding, take actions, or make statements that could reasonably be viewed as intimidating to a judge, or belittle any judge for his/her decision.  It is vital that all branches of our government respect the integrity of the judicial process.” 

And from the American Board of Trial Advocates: “Ongoing attacks on the judicial branch and the jury system, made by both the executive and legislative branches of government, diminish the integrity of our American jurisprudence and cannot be countenanced.  Whether the criticism is directed toward justices of the United States Supreme Court, appellate or trial judges, the jury system, or individual jurors as they fulfill their respective roles in our justice system, such statements erode the rule of law and the fundamental guiding principles of our constitutional system of separation of powers.”

It is extremely important for our American Bar Association to support and protect our system of justice in times that our nation’s enemies are trying to destroy it.  Last year the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security , led by past Chairs Suzanne Spaulding and Harvey Rishikov delivered a report to the Conference of Chief Judges and to other legal groups about the attempts of Russia to create mistrust of our judicial system.  Their report adopted information from our U.S. Intelligence agencies and findings disclosed in the Mueller Report on efforts by Russian agents to conduct activities which questioned our judges, lawyers, and court officials with the objective of causing the American public to lose faith in our system of justice.

 Ms. Spaulding, who served as Under Secretary for Cyber Security and Infrastructure in the Department of Homeland Security, stated in a recent article in the Washington Post that Russia’s basic narrative is that Democracy is corrupt, hypocritical and chaotic:  “By undermining trust in institutions such as the media and the courts – institutions we look to as arbiters of truth – Putin hopes to get us to give up on the idea of truth and on the idea that we can hold our institutions accountable.  He wants us to despair and disengage.  Without an informed and engaged citizenry, democracy cannot function.”

Our counter to these nefarious efforts is civic education.  As lawyers and judges, we must show the public about the independence, fairness, and impartiality of our courts.  The members of our Senior Lawyers Division, with years of experience and knowledge, are well positioned to take on this task.  We can lead in this effort of public education and support of our system of justice.

Author

Albert C. Harvey has an extensive practice in federal and state courts defending doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, and other professionals. He is involved in complex business litigation, intellectual property disputes, and securities cases.  Mr. Harvey has a special interest in national security and governmental affairs and frequently lectures, teaches, and consults with clients on these matters. In addition, he has served at the state and national levels on setting ethical standards for lawyers and judges. Mr. Harvey recently retired from the United States Marine Corps Reserve with the rank of Major General.