Administering Justice For All Americans

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Robert J. Grey Jr., President, American Bar Association, and Partner, Hunton & Williams LLP.

Editor: Please tell us about your background.

Grey: I was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1950. My father was career army so I spent the first few years of my life in Europe, my first language being French as a result of my father's deployment in France. I came back to the states and started public school in Richmond. I was fortunate to live in a community where lawyers were considered leaders in their community. I grew up down the street from Doug Wilder, the first African-American elected governor in this country, and Oliver Hill, a classmate of Thurgood Marshall and one of the architects of Brown v. Board of Education. Not too far from my neighborhood lived Spotswood Robinson, a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and also part of the group that developed the strategy for Brown v. Board of Education. These men inspired me and were my role models. This is the reason I decided to pursue a career in the law.

Editor: What goals do you hope to achieve as president of the American Bar Association?

Grey: As the presidents before me, everyone hopes to do something to improve the administration of justice. Leaders of the ABA have all felt the need to be a part of that improvement. As a contribution toward that end, I have asked my colleagues to join me in an examination of the American jury system and to see if there are ways for us to improve it, to raise its profile and to demonstrate its value to our democracy. As a result of that initiative, we are proposing 19 principles upon which we believe the jury system should be considered by courts and bar associations around the country. The House of Delegates adopted the principles in 2005. The next step is to ask courts and bar associations to undertake a study to see if they can find ways to implement these principles through rules and standards for their respective jury trials. It is important for every citizen who is summonsed to serve on a jury, regardless of one's rank or privilege in society. Jury service is a high calling of citizenship. We want to make sure that it is functioning in a way that allows us to provide justice to those who access it. "Principles for Juries and Jury Trials" is intended to spark a dialogue about how to decrease the percentage of people who view jury service as a burden and increase the number who report when summoned.

Editor: What particular areas of the jury system are you most concerned about?

Grey: All of them. The entire process - from the point where someone receives a summons to the point where they are discharged from the jury. So we are looking at jury composition, comprehension, convenience and culture. Composition involves making sure that it is a broad-based pool upon which we draw our names for jury service. We need to constantly update that pool and ensure that it is as diverse as it can be. Jury comprehension requires us to make sure that jurors are engaged in providing the best result possible so that the idea of their having a trial notebook and taking notes or asking questions are things that we believe enhance the cause for jury comprehension and allow jurors to give a just verdict when they deliberate. Jury convenience is an area where we have to think about the fact that we are asking people to take a day in most cases and in some cases longer to contribute to the public good. We want to make sure that we are responding in a way that suggests that we believe that service is significant. We ought to make it easy and accessible for them so that they believe that we as a society attach a high degree of importance to their work. We also want to provide convenient parking spaces, reduced rates for parking and a reasonable amount of immediate compensation for a day's work on the jury and child care, if needed. Finally, the culture of serving on a jury should be looked upon as a high calling of citizenship, something that one sees as an important part of civic responsibility, just as important as voting. As jury service is the most direct way that citizens participate in our democracy, we want to make it clear how important we think their service is by improving the culture of jury service.

Editor: Tied into that is educating employers to understand that they do have to relinquish the services of their employees for a truly vital cause and that there should be no sanction applied as a result of their service.

Grey: You are exactly right. That is one of the principles, a request to encourage employers to allow employees to serve on juries because they see it as a benefit to society. Further, employers should make it easy for employees to serve by not penalizing them for performing this service. Employees should not be required to take sick leave or vacation leave to serve. If they have to give up compensation, we as a community should provide adequate compensation for their service. It takes everyone pulling together in the same direction for the purpose of establishing a just system to administer our laws.

Editor: Your address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last August was truly memorable as an exposition on the "Rule of Law." Perhaps, you might give our readers a snapshot of your remarks.

Grey: We are a society based on the rule of law. We are a world community based on that principle. As a member of the world community, we show others the importance of the rule of law by holding ourselves accountable. If we are ever faced with issues related to our failure to do so, we must address those issues immediately and forthrightly. In so doing we ensure that all who see our actions realize that we are consistent with our message in support of the rule of law.

Editor: I understand that the ABA has called upon Congress and the President to appoint a commission to look into the alleged abuses that took place in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Grey: The ABA considered what had happened and expressed its concern in a letter to the President. We followed up with another letter to the President in February 2005. We called on Congress and the President to appoint a bi-partisan, independent commission to examine these issues. The commission should have subpoena power to fully investigate all allegations so that the world would see that we take seriously our responsibilities that we are a nation based on the rule of law. It is the view of our Association that we have a responsibility to stay the course and make it clear that we want our government to show the highest regard for the rule of law. If any of our actions are inconsistent with that, it is critical that those in charge must conduct a thorough examination. We must swiftly prosecute the guilty and clear the innocent.

Editor: You have also been a leader for diversity within the ABA, and the second African-American to take the office of President of the ABA. What additional or enhanced initiatives should be taken to bring more minorities into the legal community?

Grey: We should look at our nation and understand and appreciate that we are one of the most diverse nations on the face of the earth and that in diversity resides a great deal of strength, resource, ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurship. We ought not rest until we have learned how to tap the vast human resources of our society. That means that we ought to be world leaders in promoting diversity. We should promote ways where affirmative action is used as a positive tool to integrate our society. We ought to find ways to provide scholarships to a broad range of applicants. We need to tap into our base of diversity in ways that keep us competitive with other nations. We are a knowledge-based society and to that extent we have to maintain a high level of technical proficiency, creativity, ingenuity. To do that we need to have everyone believe that they can access our system of education, employment and participate in our society as equals. It means more than window-dressing - it means changing the culture of organizations and intertwining culture, race and ethnicity into the fabric of an organization. That takes leadership, accountability, commitment and sustainability. Organizations like the ABA can be a catalyst, helping to promote new ideas and ways for organizations to achieve these goals. To the extent that we are able to share those experiences and successes, we believe it will encourage others to do the same.

Editor: I recall that the ABA has a substantial scholarship for minority law students.

Grey: Yes. Former ABA President Bill Paul created the scholarship program for minority law students during his presidency. This year he has agreed to chair a strategic planning committee on diversity and to start a new campaign for funding the minority scholarship program.

Editor: Is there also an effort to promote mentoring programs?

Grey: Yes. Mentoring is a very important component of the process. Mentoring was the idea of cultural integration - it is more than the professional side of bringing someone along - it is the social integration as well.

Editor: I have heard it said that efforts should be made when students are 4 or 5 years old through Head Start Programs.

Grey: It is hard to conceive of any real success without starting at the earliest age possible. There is no question that the concept of institutional diversity is something that needs to be taught at the earliest possible time.

Editor: Where would you like to see the ABA and other Bar Associations in ten years in terms of membership and participation?

Grey: It would be great if every lawyer were actively involved in the bar association of his choice. It would be wonderful if the bar were as diverse as the society that it represents. That is what I would like to see in ten years.

Editor: What do you see the future of affirmative action to be?

Grey: It is what our society determines it will be. To the extent that it continues to be a way of developing a diverse society, I think that is good. I hope that we are able to increase the ways we teach diversity so that it is an institutional learning process as opposed to a stopgap program. If it is institutional, the activities will be automatic and repetitive. If it is a program, then it is susceptible to being popular one year and not another.

Editor: One of the initiatives of vital interest to in-house counsel which the ABA has embarked on is the Presidential Task Force on the Attorney-Client Privilege. Striking the right balance between protecting the privilege and competing matters is the subject for the Task Force. Could you tell us a bit more about the Task Force's mandate.

Grey: I appointed a Task Force to look at privilege in response to concerns expressed by the profession. We wanted to have a full dialogue with prosecutors, in-house counsel and regulators, hoping to achieve a balance where the proper use of the privilege is protected and, in exceptional instances, may be waived.

Editor: Hunton & Williams must have been extremely supportive to give you the time to contribute to the ABA. Would you like to comment on that?

Grey: The firm has a very deep and strong commitment to public service. It goes back to the founding members, one of whom is a former ABA president, Lewis Powell, and former Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I had the opportunity to meet him and appreciate his contribution to our profession, this law firm and to our community. I am proud to be in a firm with such a strong commitment to the profession. I have been able to do this work because Hunton & Williams has been behind me one hundred percent. They have not only provided the encouragement but have been out front in support of my presidency.