Alabama State Bar receives national award for leadership program that is 'beacon of excellence'
By Kelsey Stein, al.com
July 31, 2013
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – The Alabama Bar Association is among three programs in the nation receiving a prestigious professionalism award from the national bar.
The Alabama State Bar's Leadership Forum will be awarded the 2013 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, which honors the best professionalism programs and practices of law schools, bar associations and other law-related organizations.
The American Bar Association committee that announced the award also said that "the judges found the Alabama program to be a beacon of excellence for bars across the nation in this critically important developmental area."
"This award validates the Leadership Forum as a national example of innovative professionalism programs," said newly installed State Bar President Anthony A. Joseph, of Birmingham.
Begun in 2005, the highly competitive Leadership Forum accepts 30 attorneys each year.
Participants undergo a rigorous education and training process focusing on leadership, ethics and career development, Joseph said.
Among the programs 262 alumni are two members of the state House of Representatives, mayors, three circuit judges, five district judges and the district attorney of the largest judicial circuit in the state.
"(The ABA)commended the state bar program for its innovative, thoughtful and exceptional content, for its powerful and continuing impact on emerging leaders in the bar community and for the extraordinary example it has established, that others may emulate," Joseph said.
The Gambrell Award will be presented Aug. 9 in San Francisco.
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Dean of Miles Law School addresses poor Alabama Bar passage rates
By Candace Sweat, ABC-TV 33/40 (Birmingham)
July 30, 2013
Hundreds of law students are in Montgomery this week sitting for the Alabama State Bar. Passing the test is required to practice law in Alabama. The state's accredited law schools, including the University of Alabama, Cumberland, and Jones Law School had passage rates between 88 and 91 percent last July.
There are two unaccredited law schools in Alabama. Birmingham School of Law, which had a bar passage rate of 37 percent. There's also Miles Law School, where last July 35 students took the Bar, but only three passed. That's a rate of 8.6 percent.
Records from the Alabama Bar passage rankings for the past three years show the low number for Miles last summer is not a fluke. In 2011, Miles had 26 students sit for the bar, and none of them passed. The year before, 24 students took the bar and just three passed.
Granted, Miles Law School is a night school, and it is unaccredited. Still, student pay more than $100 per credit hour. Spend four years completing the course work, and that's nearly $14,000.
And if they don't pass the bar they can't practice law. That raises the question, is a diploma from Miles Law School worth the paper it's written on.
"Certainly there is room for improvement and the law school is implementing measures to enhance the bar passage rate," said J. Richet Pearson, the Dean of Miles Law School.
Pearson says the Bar passage numbers do not determine the value of the program.
"The story really has not been told. And to frame it only with empirical or statistical information is really something that is not accurate," said Pearson.
The numbers from the Alabama State Bar are accurate. Year after year, Miles Law School continues to have the lowest percentage of students passing the Alabama Bar. But why?
Dean Pearson defends the curriculum, including a mandatory bar review course that students must pass to graduate.
"It certainly covers the subjects that will be covered on the bar examination. And again the study of law is cumulative. From the first day they walk into class, until the last day they leave, they are taught about the legal principals and the black leather law," said Pearson.
Yet, the numbers don't lie. The best passage rate for Miles Law School students in recent years happened in 2010, when 24 students sat for the bar, and just three passed.
Miles law school is a four-year evening program. Many of its students have full-time jobs and families. And LSAT test scores are not required for acceptance.
"(Sweat) Miles Law School is preying on people who either could not get accepted into another law school, or can't afford another law school. (Pearson) Well I would certainly take strong exception to that assertion. These are students who had a dream, a dream that was deferred for whatever reason. We offer them an opportunity to realize that dream. (Sweat) But then their dreams are crushed in the end because, at the end of the day, they can't practice law. (Pearson) Again, I would have to take strong exception to that inference. First of all students come to us voluntarily seeking a law degree. They come for various reasons, as you mentioned, some come not just to practice law, but some come just for increasing their knowledge or bettering their positions at their already established careers."
Pearson challenged us to find Miles Law Students and get their take on the program. We did.
Judge Carole Smitherman, and her husband, Senator Rodger Smitherman are Miles Law School graduates. They now teach at the law school. Both say students must dedicate hours outside of class if they plan to pass the bar.
"The problem becomes the dedication of time. As Rodger said, if you don't dedicate all your time, with just a little bit of personal and family time, you won't be successful," said Judge Smitherman.
Tamika Whitt-Wright is a Miles Law School Student, and full time eight grade math teacher. She enrolled in 2011, when the school's passage rate was zero percent. She knows the dismal bar numbers, and agrees with the Smithermans.
Whitt-Wright is enrolled in two bar prep courses outside of her normal course load.
"I'm dedicated to at least two hours a day where I'm just doing multi state questions, practicing my writing. I feel like I'll be prepared because I 'I've been preparing since day one," said Whitt-Wright.
Pearson said, "Statistics are statistics, so what I would say in response to that is look at the actual testimony of the practicing. It's possible, it's doable, and it has been done and it is being done"
Pearson says, since 1974, Miles Law School has more than 160 practicing attorneys. We asked her how many of those were from the last five years. She says she doesn't have exact numbers, but there is a good amount, though not the majority.
The Alabama State Bar statistics say from 2010 to 2012, 85 Miles students took the bar exam. Just six passed.
Miles Law School is separate from Miles College. They are separate legal entities, and have separate board of trustees.
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As newest judge takes oath, Mobile County bench remains mostly white, male and Republican
By Brendan Kirby, al.com
July 26, 2013
MOBILE, Alabama – When District Judge Joe Basenberg takes his ceremonial oath of office this morning, he will take his place on a judicial bench where almost every member shares three characteristics with him – white, male and Republican.
Even if Gov. Robert Bentley did not want to reinforce that racial and gender makeup when he tapped Basenberg to replace retiring Mobile County District Judge Charles McKnight in June, he would have had no options. By law, he had to choose from a list of three applicants recommended by the five-member Mobile County Judicial Commission, All three of the lawyers were white men.
The same was true last year, when Bentley appointed Jay York to a seat on the Mobile County District Court bench. During the most recent vacancy before that, in 2008, the commission recommended one woman and two men; District Judge Bob Sherling got the nod.
“Diversity is important to the governor,” spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said. “But we have to choose from the list that was submitted.”
In the five judicial vacancies that have occurred since 2006, the commission has recommended just two women, including Sarah Stewart, who won an appointment to Circuit Court in 2006. The panel recommended lawyer Barbara Brown for two different vacancies during those years.
“I think certainly, there is not enough emphasis put upon diversity,” said Karlos Finley, a black lawyer who applied for a judgeship in 2007. “It is a travesty that our bench does not reflect the diversity of the county.”
‘I don’t judge people that way’
Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick, who by virtue of his position chairs the Judicial Commission, said in a “perfect world” the demographics on the bench would mirror that of the population at large. But in the real world, he said, the panel has to evaluate applicants on their individual merit and qualifications.
Race and gender do not enter the discussion, he said.
“I don’t think race has ever been talked about,” he said. “I don’t judge people that way.”
Mobile County, where African-Americans make up about 35 percent of the population, has not had a black judge since Herman Thomas resigned his position as a circuit judge in 2007 to concentrate on defending himself against criminal charges. A jury acquitted him.
Stewart remains the only woman among the 12 judges who handle criminal and civil matters. The Domestic Relations Division has one female judge, Rosemary deJuan Chambers.
Ronald Ali, the head of the Mobile County chapter of the NAACP, said competence should be the primary factor in choosing a judge. But he suggested that goal should be compatible with inclusiveness.
“Since we have a diverse society, we should have diversity everywhere,” he said.
Ali said he believes the recommendation of mostly white, male lawyers to fill judicial vacancies is a function not so much of race but of a comfort and familiarly that members of the panel have with folks who travel in their circles.
In addition to Graddick, the Judicial Commission includes two lawyers selected by the Mobile County Bar Association and two non-lawyers appointed by the legislative delegation. Presently, all five members are white men.
Chris Pringle, a former state representative who holds one of the seats for non-lawyers, said race is not a factor in the selection process.
“We’re not allowed to talk to each other and make deals,” he said. “It doesn’t come together until we get in that room. And it’s done on a blind ballot.”
Pringle said it is interesting to see how popular sentiment has changed through the years. At one time, he said, judges were appointed and there was a push to elect them to make them more accountable to the public. Now, some call for returning to appointed judges to insulate them form politics.
“I don’t know how you are going to have a perfect system that’s created by man,” he said. “You do the best you can.”
Districts for judges?
One idea for increasing diversity would be to create judicial districts, similar to seats the Mobile City Council or that Legislature. Majority-black districts would be in a position to elect black judges.
Finley, past president of the Vernon Crawford Bay Area Bar Association, an group of black lawyers in Mobile County, said the idea surfaced in the 1990s but then died down after Thomas became a judge.
Finley said a bigger concern to him than racial diversity is partisanship. Currently, all of the judges are Republican except for John Lockett and Rick Stout. But Finley he believes partisan elections undermine judicial impartiality.
Graddick said many of the best-qualified black lawyers in the county have told him they could not afford to take a pay cut to become a judge. “Good lawyers make more than judges,” he said.
He said the county has been fortunate to have a large number of accomplished lawyers seek judicial appointment.
“Frankly, we’ve had some outstanding lawyers apply for the job. It was not an easy task,” he said. “We’ve had such outstanding people apply that it has been very difficult for this committee to narrow it down to three. … It’s hard to make a mistake. It’s just hard to make a decision.”
The Legislature created the Judicial Commission in Mobile County about three decades ago. Boyd Reeves, a lawyer who was president of the Mobile County Bar Association at the time, recalled that local leaders disagreed with some
gubernatorial appointments to the bench. Neither the bar nor the public had any input, he said.
Reeves said he believes the commission has served the county well.
“I think it’s worked really well for Mobile County. We have an excellent bench,” he said. “If you’ve got competent people on the bench, I don’t care about race.”
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State bar supports letting undocumented graduate practice law
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
July 26, 2013
Leaders of The Florida Bar expressed support today for an undocumented immigrant who graduated from the Florida State University law school and is seeking to practice law in the state.
The Florida Supreme Court has been considering the issue for months.
The Bar's Board of Governors voted on the motion after a petition was submitted earlier this month by Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who represents immigrant Jose Godinez-Samperio. The petition called for amending the Bar rules to state that "no one may be disqualified from membership in The Florida Bar solely because he or she is not a United States citizen."
The governors "support the concept" in the petition, said Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker, but recommended that the high court look to another part of the Bar to implement it.
"Our board said that isn't something that should be in the Florida Bar rules that govern the practice of law," Walker said. "It should be in the Bar admission rules."
The governors recommended that the Supreme Court seek input from the Board of Bar Examiners on the issue. The day before, the Rules Committee of the Bar voted 6-1 to endorse the substance of the petition.
"This was fine with us," said Patsy Palmer, D'Alemberte's law partner and wife. "The language of the petition itself states that the amendment might fit more neatly within the Bar-admission rules, but that we could not propose such an amendment because those rules do not provide for a member petition."
Palmer said she and D'Alemberte will file a notice of supplemental authority to bring the matter to the state Supreme Court's attention early next week.
"If the court accepts the rule change, it will bring lawyer regulation into line with principles governing other state licensing over fields such as health care professions and (Department of Business and Professional Regulation)-regulated professions," she said.
Godinez-Samperio came to the United States at age 9 from Mexico on a tourist visa with his parents, who stayed on in the Tampa area. In 2011, he graduated from the Florida State University law school, where he studied with D'Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association. Godinez-Samperio received a waiver from the Board of Bar Examiners to take the bar exam and passed.
The board then referred his case to the state Supreme Court. D'Alemberte argued that the Supreme Court, not the Board of Bar Examiners, determines who qualifies for the bar in Florida. The court has yet to rule on the issue.
Palmer noted that the Bar rules require that a petition like this one be signed by 50 Florida lawyers in good standing. As of today, she said, there were 106 signers, including three former Supreme Court justices, two former appellate judges, former Governor Buddy MacKay, two former American Bar Association presidents, including D'Alemberte, and five former Florida Bar presidents.
"Seeing my attorneys work has made me realize how much of a difference it makes to have a good attorney," said Godinez-Samperio, who now works at Gulf Coast Legal Services in Clearwater.
The U.S. Department of Justice in May dealt a possible blow to Godinez-Samperio by saying that federal law bars undocumented immigrants from getting professional licenses. Under a 2012 Obama administration policy known as "deferred action," Godinez-Samperio has been approved for a work permit and continued residency.
D'Alemberte's petition states that "the proposed amendment is necessary to clarify that it is the Florida Supreme Court --- not the federal government --- that controls admission and discipline of lawyers in Florida. Specifically, adoption of the proposed rule change will provide an opt-out from federal attempts to impose restrictions on state Bar licensing."
Godinez-Samperio said he has learned a great deal from the experience and, if admitted to the Bar, plans to practice immigration law.
"If I get the opportunity, I would love to participate in any changes that are made to the immigration system of this country," he said.
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Prospective Law Students Favor Pro Bono Requirement
Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal
It appears that would-be law students aren’t turned off by the prospect of mandatory pro bono work.
Well more than half the 750 pre-law students surveyed in June by Kaplan Test Prep—68 percent to be exact—said they support a rule requiring law students to complete a certain amount of pro bono work before being admitted to the bar.
New York is the only state with such a requirement; starting in 2015, applicants to the bar there must have competed 50 hours of eligible pro bono work. Meanwhile, officials with the State Bar of California are preparing to impose a 50-hour pro bono requirement and a New Jersey Supreme Court panel has recommended a similar rule.
The reception given the New York rule when announced in May 2012 was mixed. Proponents viewed the mandate as a good way to provide much-needed legal services to those who can’t afford to pay market rates, and real-world experience for students; to critics, it amounted to indentured servitude for financially taxed law students.
In other findings, the students surveyed appeared less interested in traditional lawyer jobs. A full 56 percent reported that they planned to use their law degree for non-traditional lawyer jobs, up from 50 percent among a similar survey group in February. The tough job market for new lawyers was the single biggest factor cited by those who not aspiring to a traditional law job.
Moreover, 79 percent said that legal education “needs to undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys for the changing employment landscape and legal profession.”
Birmingham attorney Anthony Joseph installed as president of Alabama State Bar
By Kent Faulk, al.com
July 20. 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Birmingham attorney Anthony A. Joseph was installed today as president of the 17,300-member Alabama State Bar, the bar has announced.
Joseph, a shareholder in the Birmingham law firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale PC, was installed at the end of the state bar's annual meeting, which ends today.
Joseph will focus much of his one-year term on expanding the opportunity for access to justice to those Alabamians without the financial ability to retain legal assistance, addressing policy changes that support quality indigent defense and continuing the Bar's public initiatives to ensure adequate funding for the courts, according to a statement from the bar.
Joseph received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University in 1975, his master's degree from Howard University in 1977, his law degree from Cumberland School of Law in 1980 and graduated as a Special Agent from the FBI Academy in 1983.
Joseph's law practice focuses on white collar criminal defense and general civil litigation. He represents companies and individuals in connection with criminal and regulatory investigations, as well as parallel civil and criminal proceedings, according to the statement.
His professional affiliations include: serving as a past chair of the American Bar Association's 20,000-member Criminal Justice Section in 2008-09; past president, Birmingham Bar Association in 2007; former vice president of the Alabama State Bar in 2004-05; from 2000 to 2009 was a member of the Board of Bar Commissioners, the state bar's decision and policymaking body; former member of the Bar's Disciplinary Commission from 2001 to 2009; lawyer in residence at Cumberland School of Law in 2007 and a member of the Magic City Bar Association.
He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Alabama Law Institute, and the Birmingham Bar Foundation.
He has lectured on a wide range of criminal defense topics such as: "Responding to the United States in the New Era of Heightened White Collar Enforcement," "Corporate Crime in America," "How to Handle a Whistleblower" and "Ethics, Politics and Public Corruption."
He has also taught at the National Trial Advocacy colleges at the University of Virginia School of Law and the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., and is a faculty member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson School of Law.
Active in the community, Joseph has been elected to serve in various capacities on numerous boards as president or board member, including: Leadership Birmingham Executive Committee from 2008 to the present; Leadership Alabama, Birmingham Metropolitan YMCA from 2002 to the present; and former president Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Huntsville lawyer Richard J.R. Raleigh, Jr., managing shareholder of the law firm of Wilmer & Lee, P.A., is president-elect of the state bar. He will assume the presidency in July 2014, after serving one year as president-elect.
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Birmingham lawyer Anthony Joseph leads state bar
By The Associated Press
July 20, 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Anthony A. Joseph of the Birmingham law firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale is the new present of the Alabama State Bar.
Joseph assumed his office Saturday following the conclusion of the state bar’s annual meeting.
Joseph said he will use his one-year term to try to expand access to justice for Alabamians who can’t afford legal assistance, addressing policy changes that support quality indigent defense, and continuing the state bar’s initiative to ensure adequate funding for the courts.
Huntsville lawyer Richard J.R. Raleigh Jr. was named president-elect. He will assume the presidency in July 2014.
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Alabama State Bar names Anthony Joseph as president
By Antrenise Cole, Birmingham Business Journal
July 22, 2013
Anthony A. Joseph has been chosen as president of the Alabama State Bar. Joseph is a shareholder in the Birmingham law firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale PC, which focuses on white collar criminal defense and general civil litigation. Joseph represents companies and individuals in connection with criminal and regulatory investigations, as well as parallel civil and criminal proceedings.
According to a release, Joseph will focus much of his one-year term in expanding the opportunity for access to justice to those Alabamians without the financial ability to retain legal assistance, addressing policy changes that support quality indigent defense and continuing the bar’s public initiatives to ensure adequate funding for the courts.
The Alabama State Bar, which has 17,300 members, is dedicated to promoting the professional responsibility, competence and satisfaction of its members, improving the administration of justice and increasing public understanding and respect for the law.
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July 14, 2013
David E. Rains, a shareholder of the law firm of Rosen Harwood PA, has been appointed by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey to a three-year term on the Alabama Court Reporter Board. Rains also recently received the President’s Service Award from Alabama State Bar.
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Huntsville lawyer to become Alabama State Bar president
By Kristen Hwang, al.com
July 15, 2013
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- A Huntsville lawyer from the law firm Wilmer & Lee will be installed as the Alabama State Bar's new president-elect Saturday, a precursor to the presidency.
Richard J.R. Raleigh Jr. is a managing shareholder of the Huntsville law firm Wilmer & Lee. He will be installed as the Alabama State Bar's president elect on Saturday, July 20.
Richard J.R. Raleigh Jr. will be installed as president of the state bar in July 2014 following a year of serving as president-elect. Raleigh will be the fourth lawyer from Huntsville to serve as president of the state bar.
In Huntsville, Raleigh has served as either a board member or officer for The Arts Council Inc., The Downtown Forty-Seven and the National Children's Advocacy Center. He is also a member of the downtown Huntsville Rotary Club.
Raleigh has served as president of the Board of Directors of the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program, an organization that provides pro bono representation to the poor and disadvantaged. In 2010, the state bar recognized his pro bono service with the President's Award.
Within the state bar, Raleigh represented the 23rd Judicial Circuit for nine years on the Board of Bar Commissioners, served on the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Commission, sat on one of the bar's disciplinary panels and served on the executive committees of two past bar presidents. He is a Fellow of the Alabama Bar Foundation.
Before joining Wilmer & Lee in Huntsville, Raleigh was an attorney in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Hand Arendall attorney elected president of international maritime organization's Mobile club
By Kelli Dugan, al.com
July 22, 2013
MOBILE, Alabama – Norman Stockman, an attorney with Mobile-based Hand Arendall LLC, has been elected president of the Propeller Club of the United States, Port of Mobile.
“During my tenure, I plan to continue the work of my predecessors by promoting and fostering relationships among the local maritime community which is such an important part of the economy of Mobile, the state and the region,” said Stockman, a member of the firm’s litigation and admiralty sections.
Specifically, Stockman represents clients in business litigation; maritime transactions and litigation; banking and financial services litigation; professional liability litigation; and insurance coverage matters. He is also chairman of the Maritime Law Association of the United States’ Young Lawyers Committee.
Stockman, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and his juris doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law, was named to Alabama Rising Stars by Super Lawyers magazine each of the past three consecutive years; named to the Mobile Bay “40 Under 40” Class of 2011; and is a member of Leadership Mobile’s Class of 2013.
According to the official website for the International Propeller Club of the United States, the now global organization was conceived informally in 1922, but grew into the Propeller Club of the Port of New York the following year and was joined quickly by clubs in Boston, New Orleans and even Yale University.
On Nov. 7, 1927, the Propeller Club of the United States as a national and international organization was formed, designating individual member clubs as “ports.” The Port of Mobile joined the fray in 1929, and the first overseas Propeller Club Port was formed in Hamburg, Germany, three years later. Today, the organization includes 80 ports, 30 of which are abroad.
According to the website, propeller in the name “refers to the propulsion of ships and is symbolic of the driving force required to communicate the need for an adequate, privately-owned merchant marine for both overseas and domestic commerce.”
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New court panels will police lawyer civility
By Rafael Olmeda, Sun Sentinel (Florida)
July 21, 2013
Attention all lawyers: Be nice to each other, or else.
Attorneys across the state will soon be called on the carpet in a new way whenever their incivility toward each other crosses the professional line.
Courthouse administrators in Broward and Palm Beach counties are establishing local professionalism panels to resolve disputes between attorneys before they escalate into formal complaints to the Florida Bar. The panels were ordered in each of the state's 20 judicial circuits by the Florida Supreme Court.
"Surveys of both lawyers and judges continue to consistently reflect that professionalism is one of the most significant adverse problems that negatively impact the practice of law in Florida today," the court's justices wrote in a June 6 order establishing the professionalism panels.
Conceivably, the disputes could involve everything from name-calling in court to communications that might be interpreted as physical threats, said Broward lawyer Kevin Tynan, who defends other attorneys accused of violating Florida Bar rules.
"The Supreme Court is very concerned about lawyer civility, as it should be," said Tynan. "In the heat of battle, sometimes people need to realize we're human too. We make mistakes."
As described by the Supreme Court, the panels will serve as a sort of filter, separating minor disagreements that can be resolved informally from serious ones that actually constitute rule violations and require formal discipline.
In one past case, Tynan said he prosecuted a Palm Beach lawyer who was accused of sending newspaper articles to another lawyer with whom he was having a disagreement. The articles were about the shooting of an attorney. The lawyer who received the articles considered them a threat and complained to the Florida Bar.
That case, Tynan said, would likely have made it to the Bar even with the professionalism panels in place.
But numerous other disagreements would more likely be settled informally, with a phone call, a letter or a meeting.
Miami lawyer Alberto Milian, who also handles cases in Broward, said he has often found himself on the wrong side of accusations of incivility, usually by opposing attorneys who challenge statements he makes in front of a jury. In those cases, the judges have backed Milian 99 percent of the time, he said.
The key, he said, is to carefully distinguish between describing an argument and the person making it. In one trial last year, Milian repeatedly used the word "stupid" to describe prosecution efforts to convict a police officer accused of official misconduct. But he never used that word to describe the prosecutors.
"Reasonable minds can differ about the quality of a case," Milian said. "When I use words like 'stupid,' 'dumb,' or 'wrong-headed,' I'm asking myself all the time, how do I convey what I think about the case without crossing the line and insulting the people making that case?"
A lot rides on the distinction for a trial lawyer, he said. "We're talking about niceties and civility," he said, "but it's not just that. The larger question is what's in the best interest of your client. And it's not in the best interest of the client to cross the line into name-calling."
Broward and Palm Beach counties will handle the creation local professionalism panels differently.
Meredith Bush, spokeswoman for Broward Court Administration, said the Broward Bar Association and the local members of the American Board of Trial Advocates will help form a 12-member panel. Still in its earliest stages, the panel's specific mission has yet to be ironed out, beyond the fact that it will seek to comply with the Supreme Court's mandate.
In Palm Beach County, the already existing 15th Judicial Circuit Professionalism Council will be renamed the Professionalism Panel and will adopt the Supreme Court's requirements. The original council did not have as many specific duties and powers as the new panel, such as the ability to directly refer complaints to the Florida Bar.
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Only lawyers valued less than business executives, Pew survey finds
Kent Hoover, Louisville Buisness Journal
July 11, 2013
A journalist, a business executive and a lawyer walked into a bar … and were promptly told, "We don't need your kind around here."
That's the rude welcome the Pew Research Center gave me and many business journal readers this week via a poll that asked Americans to rate 10 professions on their contributions to society. The military ranked No. 1, followed by teachers, medical doctors, scientists and engineers.
Clergy ranked No. 6, followed by artists, journalists, business executives and lawyers.
Only 28 percent of Americans think journalists contribute a lot to society's well-being -- that's down 10 percentage points from 2009.
Business executives were valued by 24 percent, which is an improvement from 21 percent in 2009, when Wall Street nearly wrecked our economy.
Only 18 percent of Americans think lawyers contribute a lot to society, which comes as no surprise. Lots of people have detested lawyers since at least the days of William Shakespeare, who put these immortal words in the mouth of Dick the Butcher: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
But methinks business executives deserve a little more respect -- after all, they're the folks creating most of the jobs in this country.
And the 10 percentage point drop in the value the public places in journalists is downright scary to this scribe. It turns out most of this decline is due to a dramatic decline in how women value journalists. Four years ago, 46 percent of women thought journalists contributed a lot to society. That's down to 29 percent now. Men's views on journalists didn't change much -- only 30 percent valued us in 2009, and 28 percent value us now.
Democrats value journalists more than Republicans, but even with Democrats there's been a 10-point drop in positive feelings.
So now you know why that journalist, business executive and lawyer walked into that bar. We need a drink.
Robert Posey named First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama
By Kent Faulk, al.com
July 08, 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Robert Posey, a veteran prosecutor in the U.S. Attorneys Office, has been promoted to the number two post in that office, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance announced today.
Posey has worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama for 22 years, most recently as Deputy Chief of its Criminal Division, where he supervised white-collar crime, public corruption, and civil rights cases, according to Vance's statement.
Posey received the Justice Department's highest award presented to an attorney for trial of litigation for his role in the successful prosecution of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing cases. He also received a similar Justice Department award for his role in the environmental crime prosecution of McWane Corporation, according to the statement.
Before joining the U.S. Attorney's Office,
Posey served 10 years as a state prosecutor in Jefferson and Shelby counties. Posey succeeds John England III as First Assistant U.S. Attorney. England is now a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
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Single, longer term would improve Wisconsin Supreme Court – [Editorial]
Wisconsin State Journal
July 9, 2013
A prominent group of attorneys is understandably concerned about Wisconsin’s “brutal” high court election campaigns.
“The sitting justice is attacked and demeaned, and the challenger is attacked and demeaned,” said Joe Troy, a former circuit judge who led a state Bar of Wisconsin study of the problem. “The public sees that and thinks we must not have very good justices.”
To help reduce the negative impacts of ugly Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, Troy’s task force just proposed having fewer court contests. Instead of running for re-election every 10 years, justices would only be able to run for a single 16-year term.
This offers one big benefit:
“No justice, once elected, would ever be elected again,” Troy explained. “The perception that they are there serving the people (with money) who put them there, or they are worried about the next election, that’s just not going to happen.”
Special interest groups now dominate high court campaigns by spending millions of dollars on television ads touting favored candidates and assailing their opponents. The special interest groups bank on favored candidates winning and delivering favorable court decisions.
But if justices no longer had to seek re-election, they would be less susceptible to political pressure when ruling on cases.
Voters would lose influence, too. They would no longer be able to vote out justices for making unpopular decisions. But that’s OK. Unlike lawmakers and governors, Supreme Court justices are not supposed to represent constituencies or bow to the whims of the majority. They’re supposed to rule on the law as written and respect the rights of individuals.
Troy and his group hope fewer elections would encourage more and better candidates to run for the high court.
Candidates for the state Supreme Court would still have to shill for votes and campaign donations to get through an initial election. Moreover, special interest groups might increase their spending on high court campaigns, knowing they’ll have fewer opportunities to affect the makeup of the court.
The ultimate solution is to appoint justices based on merit, rather than having any high court elections at all. Nonetheless, a single and longer term would be a step in the right direction.
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Fifty years after Gideon, the broken promise (opinion from John A. Lentine)
Special to AL.com
July 02, 2013
On the 50th anniversary of Gideon, the very existence of the institutionalized federal defender system in our country is in dire jeopardy.
Fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright in which the court held that the 6th and 14th Amendments to our Constitution requires that the states provide indigent persons accused of a crime counsel to represent them regardless of their inability to pay for legal representation.
The court acknowledged the lawyers who represent an accused person in a criminal case are necessities, not luxuries. At its essence, the decision was a promise of fairness, a recognition that our criminal justice system cannot function without every accused person, regardless of means, having the right to have counsel to defend them.
The Gideon decision, written by Alabama’s own Justice Hugo Black, forever changed the criminal justice system in our country. It was one of the most profound decisions in the Supreme Court’s history. Yet now, on the 50th anniversary of the decision, it is all but forgotten. The promise seems to be on the brink of being irretrievably broken and no one seems to care.
The Gideon decision had an immediate impact 50 years ago. Within a year, Congress had passed the Criminal Justice Act which created an institutionalized defender system to represent poor people accused of federal crimes in the form of federal public defenders, community defenders and CJA panel attorneys (private attorneys who agree to accept indigent appointments).
Likewise, the states in turn began creating their own defender systems to satisfy the constitutional mandates of Gideon. Lawyers from across the country also responded and became public defenders, dedicating their careers to preserving and protecting the promise of Gideon. The institutionalized federal defense function was housed in the judicial branch of the federal government, meaning the oversight and funding came by and through the judiciary funded by the federal judiciary’s budget. So for a time, at least initially, what the Supreme Court may have envisioned came true.
The ever increasing number of crimes laws passed by Congress and state legislatures over the past 50 years led to an increase in prosecution of at both the federal and state levels. However, there has been a systematic decrease in the funding required to effectively and adequately defend indigent people. This lack of funding over the years has led to budget cuts that have increased caseloads of defenders beyond levels to which any lawyer could provide adequate representation.
Practically, this means people languish in jail sometimes for months without seeing a lawyer. Many plead guilty simply to avoid prolonged incarceration regardless of their innocence. Many who go to trial are afforded little in adequate pretrial preparation and for those convicted the burden of proving ineffectiveness of counsel is virtually impossible based on subsequent holdings of the Supreme Court.
On the 50th anniversary of Gideon, the very existence of the institutionalized federal defender system in our country is in dire jeopardy.
After trying to absorb budget cuts stemming from sequestration by furloughing and laying off federal public defenders across the country, federal defenders are now dealing with the fact that Congress has authorized additional budget cuts for 2014 resulting in federal public defender programs will having to eliminate a third or more of their staff and yet still be expected to provide effective representation.
If the federal defender system falls, then the burden would shift to the CJA private lawyers to handle these cases. Many of the CJA lawyers across our country are in private practice in small law firms or are solo practitioners and accept appointed cases at already tremendously reduced rates. They will soon find these rates lowered or the compensation they are paid at the conclusion of a given case deferred for weeks or months.
On the state level, many public defender systems across the country are suffering the same fate as their federal counterparts. The constitutionally required defense function of our criminal justice system is on the brink collapse unless meaningful and immediate measures are taken.
Despite this stark reality, there seems to be few voices raised and even less heard when it concerns Gideon’s broken promise. While on one hand, a few bar associations across the county allow a speech or two to celebrate the importance of the 50th anniversary of Gideon, most, including my own state and local bar, scarcely seem to notice, let alone advocate or educate, about the issue.
Gideon means little to our Congress and state legislatures. The poor, especially the poor accused of crimes, have no lobby in Washington, Montgomery or anywhere else in the country. As for the rest of the country, Gideon means nothing in the day-to-day life of most people, unless and until they themselves, their family member or a loved one is accused of a crime and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend them. Sadly, only then would the lack of the constitutional right to counsel will become glaringly apparent.
Former Chief Justice Warren Burger once described the criminal justice system as a three legged stool consisting of the judiciary, the prosecution and the defense. All must function together because without one, the stool would fall.
If the constitutional mandate of the right to counsel is not guaranteed and protected then the criminal justice system will come to a halt. If lawyers across this country choose not to participate in or perpetuate a failing and broken system, then the system will either collapse or a remedy be forced. Gideon’s promise can be fulfilled; it must be if we, as Americans, wish to proclaim our country the greatest nation of laws in the world.
Congress and state legislatures must appropriate the necessary funding to ensure the long-term viability of the defense function, and they must do it now.
On the federal level, it is time the defense function, like its counterpart in the Department of Justice, becomes its own separate entity no longer tied to the judiciary for its very survival, but, rather, independent to provide the service it is constitutional required to provide.
Finally, it is incumbent on of all of us to recognize that constitutional rights must be acknowledged, exercised and embraced and, if not, they can and will be lost. Nothing should be as chilling as the thought of being accused of a crime and have no one to represent us because we do not have the means to afford such representation.
Clarence Earl Gideon had been convicted without counsel. After the landmark decision that bears his name was handed down, he was retried with the assistance of court appointed counsel and was acquitted. Gideon died in 1972. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Missouri until lawyers placed a small maker on the grave. The marker was inscribed with the following quote:
“Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind.”
The promise of Gideon was that improvement. It still is, it still can be, but only if we make it so. The promise of Gideon is broken, but it can and will be fixed if we as Americans believe and act to defend it.
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The Most Overworked, Underfunded 'Army' in American History
By Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
July 1, 2013
If you have a spare 95 minutes this week, or even if you don't, please find the time to watch Gideon's Army, a stomach-punch of a documentary that brings to life the Sixth Amendment by following the trials and tribulations, literally, of three young, overworked, underpaid public defenders in the South. [NOTE: The film can be seen on HBO]. The film personifies the wide gulf that exists in America today not just between rich justice and poor justice but between the 50-year-old guarantee of a constitutional right to counsel and the grim reality that exists today for millions of indigent defendants.
In this sense, and many others, the film is a gift to the nation from a woman named Dawn Porter, a litigator who left her big law firm to highlight a problem of law and politics that impacts the lives of tens of millions of Americans each year. The story is a familiar one to anyone who follows our criminal justice system: the "right to counsel," guaranteed by the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright, is today often a hollow shell, more often recognized in the breach, the victim of inadequate funding for public defenders, the over-criminalization of American law, and an indifferent Supreme Court.
It is one thing to make such assertions. It is another thing to establish them with evidence. And it is altogether something more to give visual meaning to the proof. What do advocates mean when they say that millions of Americans today do not have a meaningful right to counsel? What do they mean when they say that every day in this country citizens are convicted after "meet-and-greet" plea deals? What about debtors' prisons? The genius of this film is that it brings the law to street level. There, the tragic flaws in our legal system are not theoretical; they are not mere words on a page of a treatise or a judge's decision; they are very, very real.
Gideon's Army focuses upon three "soldiers" -- Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick -- who are, it is not unfair or unkind to say, swimming in very deep water. We see them overwhelmed not just with the physically exhausting core of their craft -- investigating allegations against their clients, writing briefs, appearing in court -- but with the emotional consequences of their work. They are the ones who have to tell a mother that her son has to stay in jail because there is no money to make bail. They are the ones who go to sleep every night knowing there weren't enough hours in the day to get done all that had to be done.
We see these young people, in other words, doing all they can, often just barely enough, for their clients. We see them moving from one case crisis to another -- always juggling too many pins in the air -- as they seek to defend their clients from the power of the state. They are not heroes. They are ordinary people, patriots really, who are forced into daily acts of heroism because of the demands of the broken justice system in which they serve. It's not complicated. "Public defenders NEED significantly smaller caseloads," Alexander told me last week. "Public Defender Offices need SIGNIFICANTLY more funding."
Alexander says she believes the film has begun to change public perceptions about public defenders. I hope that is true, but I fear it will not be enough. The crisis in indigent defense, the continuing daily violations of the rights of low-income defendants, will not ease until judges and prosecutors and lawmakers come to believe they have a moral duty to fulfill the mandate of Gideon. And I fear that will not occur until those policy makers come to understand we all lose when our fellow citizens are imprisoned for months without trial, or forced into plea deals, or convicted with a level of "due process" that would be laughable if it weren't so sad.
As a narrative, it would be convenient if the supporting actors in the drama of Gideon's Army were unambiguously evil. But they are not. In the film, and in real life, not all judges are former prosecutors who are predisposed to making life difficult for defense attorneys and their clients. Not all district attorneys are willing to cheat defendants out of their constitutional rights. Not all witnesses are government snitches. What's so striking about the film is the sheer banality of the universal deprivation of rights. It is the machine itself, and not necessarily its individual cogs, which is manifestly unjust to indigent defendants.
If they have not yet been so moved, the "bad" actors in the system are unlikely to be moved by the film's message. But it is directed, at least it should be directed, toward the more numerous "good" actors within the nation's criminal justice systems. It is in their hearts and minds that this battle eventually will be won. The honorable judge who views this documentary should work harder afterward to better ensure the rights of indigent defendants. The honorable prosecutor should remember his or her oath of "doing justice" and not simply winning cases. The honorable lawmaker should pledge to better fund these defense lawyers.
I got angry watching Gideon's Army, and I got sad watching it, and its details confounded me. I write about these issues all the time -- I talk the talk -- but the protagonists of the film are the people who walk the walk. They do so in full knowledge of the enormity of their task and of the obstacles that have been placed before them by the law and by politics, and yet they wake up every day and try to do their best. America has had more famous armies. It has had more successful armies. It has had more powerful armies. But it has rarely fielded an army worthy of so much respect and admiration than the one that troops into our courtrooms every day.
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New Veterans Legal Corps will send lawyers and law students to legal-aid groups
By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABAJournal.com
Posted Jul 1, 2013
Low-income and homeless veterans will be getting legal help from a new program that deploys lawyers and law students to legal aid groups and courts across the country.
Equal Justice Works announced the new Veterans Legal Corps last week. Funded with money from AmeriCorps, the three-year program will dispatch 36 lawyers and 200 law students to groups such as Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the University of Miami School of Law.
The lawyers and law students will help veterans with issues such as disability benefits, barriers to housing and employment, debt, and family law problems. The first class of Veterans Legal Corps members will begin work in September and will serve for two years. Available positions are posted at the Equal Justice Works website.