February 07, 2017

ABA president affirms judicial independence, President-elect nominee looks forward

“For a nation based on the rule of law, nothing is more important than the impartiality and integrity of our court system,” ABA President Linda A. Klein told the House of Delegates Feb. 6 at the Midyear Meeting in Miami.

Saying that “personal attacks on judges are attacks on our Constitution,” she continued, “let us be clear: The independence of the judiciary is not up for negotiation.”

ABA President Linda Klein addressed the ABA House of Delegates during the ABA Midyear Meeting.

“It is vital that our judiciary remains independent and free from political pressure ­— independent from party politics, independent from Congress and independent from the president of the United States himself.”

“There are no ‘so-called judges’ in America.” She said. “There are simply judges – fair and impartial. And we must keep it that way.”

Klein evoked Winston Churchill in her defense of the rule of law. “There’s been a lot of talk about protecting our borders. Let me tell you what the most important border is: It’s the Constitution and the rule of law it embodies. We as lawyers are called upon to protect it. As Winston Churchill put it, “Never give in. Never, never, never, never!”

She expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s recently issued executive orders, saying “They jeopardize fundamental principles of justice, due process and the rule of law.”

Klein lauded the lawyers “who flocked to airports where immigrants were detained. It is important that lawyers represent their clients’ interests – even unpopular interests – without fear of retaliation or persecution.”

She pointed to a website with links to relevant law, habeas resources, how-to-help guides and volunteer forms set up in one afternoon at the Midyear Meeting by the ABA Law Practice Division Futures Committee and Center for Innovation, working with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“The groups documented their work in a new ABA Guide to Rapid Website Deployment, for use in future emergencies,” she said. “The website is live now at www.immigrationjustice.us.”

Reporting on the work of the Veterans Legal Services Initiative, Klein noted that last October’s Pro Bono Week was extended to Veterans Day, and nearly 100 of the events held were veteran-specific. She called on members to serve veterans again on Memorial Day.

She also discussed VetLex.org, an ABA online resource to be launched this spring that will match veterans with pro bono lawyers across the country, and thanked The Jones Day Foundation for its generous grant to fund it.

The president reported on the ABA’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for reneging on its Public Loan Service Forgiveness program affecting some ABA lawyers who have invested nine years into a 10-year program but have now been found not to qualify.

“Our lawsuit is also a stand for access to justice,” she said. “We want young lawyers to become public defenders, prosecutors and city attorneys. We want them in rural counties where lawyers are scarce, or serving immigrants, or children in foster care, or low-income litigants who can’t afford representation.”

Klein encouraged members and the HOD to read the report of the Task Force on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System. The task force was created last July by Klein and Immediate Past President Paulette Brown in the wake of a spate of violence involving citizens and police.

Referring to the challenges identified in the report, she said, “America must come to grips with the lack of public trust, and lawyers must lead.”

Addressing new ways the ABA is serving its members, Klein said the association has been working with state and local bars “to educate the public on what we do – on the value of lawyers in resolving everyday legal problems.” She introduced the first in a series of videos being produced that can be branded for state and local bars.

Klein then highlighted the value of ABA Blueprint, “a suite of services that helps lawyers manage the business side of practicing law,” she said, that’s aimed mainly at solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers.

A pilot program starting in April will offer dual membership in both the ABA and the Montana State Bar for one discounted price. Klein said if it succeeds, the association will expand it to other states and bars.

Looking ahead to the Annual Meeting in New York in August, Klein said, “We will hold panels at law firms that have generously donated their offices to showcase New York’s world-class legal community. We’re calling this CLE in the City.”

Summing up, the president said, “This is the ABA’s defining moment. To show our relevancy to our profession and the public. To hold power accountable. To insist on fundamental respect for our laws and the people they protect.”

And like Churchill, she urged members and the HOD to “Never give in. Never, never, never, never!”

ABA President Elect Nominee Robert M. Carlson, a lawyer with Corette Black Carlson & Mickelson in Butte, Mont., told the House that “the ABA is more important than ever,” and lauded the association’s work in diversity and inclusion, access to justice, criminal justice reform, judicial independence and ethics, as well as in offering “a real value for every lawyer.”

“The task before us is great,” he said, but we have a compelling message to share.” Asking the HOD to be “ambassadors to lawyers and their communities, he said, “Collectively we need to help them rediscover what we know —our profession and our association are essential to the democracy we hold dear.”