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August 12, 2019

New ABA president outlines year ahead; outgoing leadership looks back on milestones

At the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 12, the gavel was passed from outgoing ABA President Bob Carlson to Judy Perry Martinez.

Martinez, a partner at Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfern in New Orleans, shared with the House of Delegates her upcoming year, first speaking on the need for the ABA to continue its critical work on behalf of migrants seeking refuge in America.

Martinez told delegates that her family has a tradition at Thanksgiving of welcoming those with nowhere else to go.  And just as the tradition makes her family’s life richer, “the gathering of people from different lands makes our nation stronger,” she said.

“Our Constitution demands, and our laws confirm, that we afford due process rights to immigrants and asylum-seekers who are in or are seeking entry into the United States,” she continued.

Martinez reaffirmed the ABA’s commitment to its work with immigrants, including the Commission on Immigration’s ProBAR in Texas, where she spent a week volunteering last year with Carlson and will return in the coming weeks to do pro bono service with incoming President-elect Trish Refo.

With the 2020 U.S. election on the horizon, voting rights was also top of mind for the new association president. Martinez noted the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which “launched the largest expansion of democracy in our country’s history” by guaranteeing women the right to vote. Martinez added, “This historic milestone offers unparalleled opportunities throughout the year for our members to engage in civics education, explore the issues of voting rights and equal rights today and encourage voting in elections at all levels.”

Also among her civics education plans is a new effort that will take advantage of the power of technology. “This fall, we will launch an engaging social media campaign on the rule of law in our democracy,” Martinez said. “Our campaign will leverage the communication power of groups throughout the ABA and beyond, including the bar associations represented in this House, to reach people we have not typically reached in the past.”

Enhancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession will remain a priority for the association. Martinez called for lawyers to continue their quest to broaden and diversify. “This past spring, when the presidents-elect of the national bars of color met at the ABA as they do annually, for the first time ever, leaders of the Disability Rights Bar Association and the National LGBT Bar Association were both at the table, and we all felt the incredible difference their presence made. I urge you to similarly invite them to your table,” she said.

In addition, the ABA will continue efforts to close the justice gap, Martinez said, including its lobbying before Congress on behalf of the Legal Services Corporation.

The new president also expressed an openness to new ideas and fresh approaches to resolving problems. “We will not say no to innovations simply because that is not the way we, the lawyers and the courts, have always done it,” she said. “At each and every turn we will have the public we serve at the forefront of our minds.”

Martinez concluded by saying, “Our finest moments and most enduring contributions have been when we have used our voice and resources for causes about which we can act with authority, and which we can influence with impact. As lawyers, we know equality. We know liberty. And we know justice.”

Outgoing president reviews achievements

Earlier in the day, Bob Carlson borrowed a theme from Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, to frame his year as president of the American Bar Association.

The outgoing leader recounted that when Rogers was a boy and saw scary things on television, his mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

A shareholder with the Butte, Mont., law firm of Corette Black Carlson & Mickelson, P.C., Carlson thanked the helpers who defined his year of service.

Bree Buchanan, the director of the State Bar of Texas Lawyers Assistance Program and chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Assistance Programs, is one. She and her colleagues worked to provide useful resources for lawyer wellness, which was capped off with a powerful video featuring personal testimonies on the importance of lawyer well-being shown to House delegates.

Referring to the scary situation at the southern border, Carlson said the news from there, particularly about children, “violates our sense of fairness and justice.”

“The ABA insisted that the administration enforce laws and settlements that guarantee humane, minimal standards of care for vulnerable children, no matter how they arrived in our country,” he said.

Carlson reiterated the ABA’s call for an immigration court system independent of the Department of Justice, saying, “We need to protect immigration judges and their courts from even the slightest possibility of political pressure or interference.”

Recognizing the helpers in this area, Carlson spotlighted the many ABA staff, volunteers and community members who provided asylum seekers representation, legal assistance and even meals and water.

Lauding the work of three ABA programs – ProBAR, the Immigration Justice Project in San Diego and the Children’s Immigration Law Academy in Houston – Carlson noted that they had recently received an outpouring of online donations, largely from non-ABA members and non-lawyers.

Other helpers Carlson thanked were the members of the ABA Young Lawyers Division for their work in disaster legal assistance and all the lawyers who volunteer to help disaster survivors across the country, and the members of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, who this year evaluated 137 nominees -- more than twice the average.

Speaking about a judiciary under attack here and abroad, Carlson said, “We must always fight for an independent, fair, diverse and impartial judiciary.”

He urged countering the heated rhetoric of today’s political discourse with civility. “We must be steadfast in setting the highest standards for civil discourse without personally disparaging others,” he said.

Carlson concluded by asking everyone to be a helper. “We need to be helpers to serve our members, improve our profession and promote the values we stand for. We need to be helpers who say no to division, helplessness and fear. We need to be helpers who stand for the ABA’s values of unity, diversity, inclusion and equal justice for all.”