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February 17, 2020

ABA leaders address House of Delegates

President defends judiciary, reviews accomplishments

The ABA House of Delegates stood to applaud as ABA President Judy Perry Martinez gave a robust defense of the judiciary and prosecutors in her address to the House on Feb. 17 at the Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Calling for an end to personal attacks on judges and prosecutors, Martinez said, “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 our Constitution of the United States.”

She also noted that “Americans of all backgrounds are paying renewed attention to issues of justice. They’re talking about due process, evidence, attorney-client privilege, fair trials and just punishment; the imperative of the oath to protect and defend the Constitution, no better demonstrated than when lawyers and public servants operating within the framework of law are able to do so free from obstruction, intimidation and retribution.”

Noting the presence of Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of the Supreme Court of Texas, who is also the president of the Conference of Chief Justices and works closely with the National Center for State Courts and the ABA, Martinez said: “Together we have forged a continuing commitment to address the challenges and opportunities presented by our shared mission of judicial independence, a fair and impartial judiciary, access to justice for all and a strong and competent legal profession in support of the rule of law.”

The delegates also stood as Martinez saluted Jim Sandman, who is serving his last week as president of the Legal Services Corporation. She said she had been honored to present a presidential citation to the access to justice advocate and called him “an outstanding lawyer and public servant, a friend of the American Bar Association and a steadfast ally in our commitment to access to legal services for all.”

Calling the ABA “the voice of lawyers who make a difference for their communities through pro bono and public service,” Martinez noted that Pro Bono Week last fall focused on domestic and sexual violence, and “we had more than 1,600 pro bono events, an increase of almost 200 over last year, and activities were held in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and our territories.”

In addition, the Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program has responded to 15 declared disasters nationwide so far this year and in 2019, “fielding more than 5,000 calls from survivors for assistance with insurance, and housing and other matters,” Martinez said.

She also thanked state and local bar associations for their participation in ABA Free Legal Answers. “More than 6,800 lawyers have registered on the site to volunteer, and we are at this moment approaching 100,000 submitted questions from the public,” she said.

Martinez encouraged delegates “to encourage bold thinking and urge robust discussion and data gathering about ways to deliver greater efficiencies for lawyers and the potential for meaningful innovations in the long overdue delivery of justice for all,” she said. “We must continue to lead conversations across the country on how innovation can close the justice gap. We cannot, and we will not, continue to fail those who need legal services.”

Martinez spoke of the ABA’s centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, chaired by U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge M. Margaret McKeown, saying it has offered “unparalleled opportunities throughout the year for your bar associations, courts and others to engage in civics education, to encourage voting and to explore voting rights and equal rights today.” She also noted a recent program with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Georgetown University Law Center and the success of the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress’ 19th Amendment traveling exhibit being displayed by “more than 120 bar associations, state courts and other groups” in all 50 states.

Martinez saluted the work of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for its ongoing “service of evaluating nominees to lifetime positions on the federal bench.”

“No other organization focuses solely on integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament. No other organization is as thorough and focused solely on professional qualifications,” she said.

The president reiterated the ABA’s commitment to an independent immigration court system, about which she testified before Congress last month. “We need an Article I court that guarantees the independence of the judges in the immigration arena and removes them from Department of Justice control,” she said.

Martinez concluded her remarks by relating her comments to Chicago schoolchildren who are working with volunteer lawyers: “Lawyers care. Lawyers take action. Lawyers lead. And lawyers make a difference.”

House introduces president-elect nominee

Later in the day, Reginald M. Turner, a lawyer with Clark Hill in Detroit, was announced as the president-elect nominee.

“Service to lawyers and judges in our profession, service to our nation and this organization has been my passion for many years,” he said. He recalled as a first-year law student at the University of Michigan meeting then-State Bar of Michigan President (and future ABA president) Dennis Archer. “In that meeting, President Archer spoke in quiet, thoughtful tones of professionalism, diligence, duty, service and honor,” Turner said.

Turner said Archer told him that the most important influence on his career would be his adherence to the values he had described. “He was absolutely right,” Turner said. “The most respected lawyers distinguish themselves by breathing life into the lawyer’s oath.”

Looking out at the House of Delegates, he said, “I’m proud to be among these guardians of the public welfare, promoting the rule of law.”

“The ABA is our collective commitment to fulfill the lawyer’s oath,” Turner said.