Letter From the President Of The Boston Bar Association

2006-06-01 01:00

To the Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

As the opportunity to write a 'last' president's letter arises, there is a compelling desire to say something profound and lasting. Profundity never being a strength, I offer these thoughts regarding the lasting nature or our work together as a bar association.

Throughout my 30 plus years of practice, the BBA has been a consistent beacon of professionalism and public spiritedness. As an institution, through its committed volunteer leaders and its superb staff, the BBA makes a difference in the delivery of justice to citizens of the Commonwealth and in the lives of the thousands of individuals who are the beneficiaries of our public service projects and pro bono efforts. It is that constant, long-term fulfillment of our mission that makes a one year term at the helm of the BBA so gratifying.

The year provided more than our share of opportunities to speak out in support of core values and principles that are fundamental to our profession and to life in a constitutional democracy.Attacks on the judiciary have come in a variety of forms, including proposals that threaten judicial independence and the merit selection of judges. In early April, I felt compelled to respond to those attacks on behalf of the BBA in an op-ed column published in The Boston Globe , and then disseminated by the Court Pester E-lert. The BBA is joining in co-sponsorship with the League of Women Voters of Boston and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to convene a forum on judicial independence. The BBA has a critical role to play in educating the public as to why our system of judicial independence is preferable to election or recall of judges.

This bar association has a proud tradition of speaking out against threats to attorney-client privilege. In March, the BBA joined with the ABA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations in urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to state affirmatively that waiver of attorney-client and work product protections should not be a factor in determining whether to reduce a sentence based upon cooperation with the government. I am pleased to report that in early April, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to reverse the 2004 privilege waiver amendment and submit the proposed change to Congress for review. Unless Congress affirmatively acts to modify or disapprove of the proposed change, it will become effective on November 1, 2006.

For centuries, the 'Great Writ' of habeas corpus has served as a fundamental check on the power of the executive branch. Its operation is crucial: it requires the executive branch to justify the imprisonment of individuals before a neutral arbiter of the law. Under Article I Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus may only be suspended in the most dire of circumstances. I felt proud to write to the members of the U.S. Senate on your behalf urging the removal of a budget amendment stripping detainees at Guantanamo Bay of their right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal court.

Nothing has been more gratifying than advocating for access to justice. As a proud member of the Equal Justice Coalition, the BBA joined with the MBA, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, specialty bar associations, and law schools at the 7th Annual Walk to the Hill lobbying day. My own meetings with legislators reinforced my belief that it means something when lawyers take the time to make the case for legal aid personally via phone calls and visits - rather than assuming that legislators know how we feel about access to justice. The House Ways and Means budget has proposed an approximate $1 million increase in funding for civil legal aid. Communicating our message is a process that takes years, but my sense is that 'Walk to the Hill,' buttressed by follow up advocacy, is gaining traction. In addition, I will be participating in the ABA's Day in Washington, along with my successor Jack Cinquegrana and our Director of Government Relations, Debbie Gibbs, to meet with our congressmen and senators on issues ranging from funding for legal services to loan forgiveness legislation for public service lawyers.

With the approach of summer, the BBA is now recruiting law firms and legal departments to hire Boston high school students through the BBA's Summer Jobs Program, one of our flagship programs. In addition to getting an introduction to work in a professional environment, the students participate in weekly civics seminars held at the BBA. Based on a survey conducted by the American Bar Association last summer, those weekly civics seminars, all taught by volunteers, may be more important now than ever before.According to the ABA survey, only 55 per cent of Americans can correctly identify the three branches of government, and more than 22 per cent believe the three branches of government are the Republican, Democrat, and Independent branches.

These are but a few examples of the numerous opportunities that a president has to carry out the BBA's mission. It is a wonderful privilege. The point is, however, that a president's contribution is merely an incremental extension of the efforts over the years of officers, Council members, volunteers and staff. Those efforts created an institution that serves our highest ideals as lawyers.It is the vibrancy and consistency of the institution that is what we as members are all about sustaining. I have no doubt that the tradition will be honored and enhanced in the years to come.

Sincerely,

Edwin P. (Ned) Leibensperger