Letter From The President Of The New York City Bar Association

2006-09-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

This is my first letter after being elected President of the Association on May 23. I have spent my first few months meeting with current and incoming chairs of our 160 committees to focus on issues that can be explored in the coming year through reports, comment letters, testimony before legislative bodies and CLE programs. The committee work is the engine that drives this Association and, based upon my review of our committees, we will have a truly productive year.

In my speech on May 23, I set some priorities for the Association during my term. Having spent my career as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I have found it surprising that many members of our legal community, including some judges, prosecutors and even defense counsel, do not fully appreciate the collateral and hidden consequences of criminal convictions. Convictions for even non-criminal offenses can have devastating consequences in a multitude of areas, including immigration, employment housing, public benefits and many more. This has become a hot topic in the legal community and Chief Judge Kaye, the State Bar, NYCLA and other groups have devoted considerable resources to addressing the issue. I have assembled a team of concerned and knowledgeable individuals who have begun to brainstorm the subject. We hope to find ways to take the massive amount of information that can now be found on Web sites and in treatises and put it into the hands of offenders and their families who need assistance in dealing with these consequences in their daily lives. We are in the planning stages and hope to develop a protocol soon. We will also seek reform of laws, regulation and policies that adversely impact offenders without serving any public interest.

I will also ask our committees to take a look at the parole system in New York State. Based upon an increasing number of court decisions and a pending class action lawsuit, it appears that many parole boards have not applied appropriate statutory criteria to release eligible inmates. We will consider issuing a report with recommendations.

I will focus attention on an issue that renders the judiciary a less than equal branch of state government. That issue is mandatory retirement. While there is no term limit requirement in the executive and legislative branches of our state government, there is a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges (with certain exceptions). Age limits were imposed almost 50 years ago by our state constitution, when life expectancy was lower and society's view on retirement was vastly different. I will ask various groups at the Association to review the issue and make recommendations.

Another priority will be professional responsibility. I will ask our relevant committees to review the lack of uniformity among the four departments in sanctions imposed by our eight state grievance committees, and the manner in which they are imposed. The legal profession is the only profession in New York State that is not regulated uniformly throughout the state. And New York is the only state in the country in which attorneys are disciplined in a less than uniform manner. Our grievance committees do not use the same sanctions throughout the state and they also use sanctions with the same names but which are different in nature and effect. It has been argued that this creates an appearance of unfairness and disparate treatment of attorneys that does not serve to enhance the image of the disciplinary process.

On June 28, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and decided that military commissions created by President Bush's Executive Order in 2001 cannot be used to try detainees designated by the president as 'enemy combatants.' Hamdan was clearly a victory for the rule of law. The Association participated as an amicus in this case and the issues addressed in Hamdan have occupied us for nearly five years. In December 2001, the Association issued a comprehensive report on these commissions in which we criticized many aspects of the commission framework and process. We extend thanks to the firm of Akin, Gump, Straus, Hauer & Feld LLP for its brief. The Association will continue to engage the fundamental questions of government and the proper balance between civil liberties and national security.

As we begin our fall season, the Association is extremely busy on a number of fronts. We have two task forces that are close to issuing their final reports. The Judicial Selection Task Force will be issuing its recommendations in the wake of Judge Gleeson's decision in the Lopez-Torres case. Our Task Force on the Lawyer's Role in Corporate Governance will issue a report directed to the appropriate conduct for attorneys in the area of corporate governance.

The Association will play an active role in the filling of three vacancies on the New York Court of Appeals. During the summer we began reviewing candidates (including Judge George Bundy Smith) for a vacancy that will occur upon the completion of Judge Smith's current term. Judge Rosenblatt will be retiring at the end of the year and Chief Judge Kaye has indicated that she will retire at the end of her term in March, 2007.

Finally, the Association will be submitting comments to the proposed changes in our Code of Professional Responsibility. More than three years ago, the State Bar established the Committee on Standards of Attorney Conduct (COSAC). COSAC has proposed a change, supported by the City Bar, from the Code's Disciplinary Rules to a set of Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The State Bar has already voted to make the change in format, but each proposed rule has to be approved. Forty-eight other states have already adopted model rules and we are now in the process of reviewing each proposed rule for New York. The Association, along with other groups, will continue to make recommendations over the next two years until the State Bar has a completed and approved version of the new rules that can be recommended to the Administrative Board of the Courts.

Please remember to contact me with any suggestions, questions or comments about the Association's work. As I stated on May 23, I thank the membership for electing me and for entrusting me with the leadership of this unique institution.


Barry Kamins