by Carol A. Starkey
On June 22nd, I had the honor of presenting Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Geraldine S. Hines with the Boston Bar Association’s Haskell Cohn Award for Distinguished Judicial Service. In her heartfelt and compelling address to the more than 120 people in attendance, what came through clearly was Justice Hines’ honest desire to bring about positive change, her sense of what is just and fair, a deep respect for the law and the judiciary, and her acknowledgement that there is still work to be done, or as she gracefully put it “still a fight to be fought.”
This struck me as a powerful way to approach many things in life, be it a career or a one-time project. Enter with an honest intent to improve something, stay mindful of what’s just and right, and avoid complacency. In looking back on my tenure as President through this lens, I’m proud of the innovative changes and the principled positions that the Boston Bar Association has put forth this year.
Almost a year ago, when I stepped into the role of 95th president of the Boston Bar Association, I reflected on the changing natures of both the city of Boston and the practice of law. At the forefront of healthcare and education for decades, our city is now also leading the nation in the technology, life sciences, and venture capital sectors, to the extent that global companies like GE are deciding that Boston is where they need to be. These constantly-evolving industries bring new legal issues and challenges, demanding that lawyers in all practice areas become more technologically proficient and industry savvy to remain competitive in today’s global economy. I saw it as not only an opportunity, but essential that lawyers who practice in these fields stay connected with what’s happening on the front lines.
That’s why I was thrilled to be leading the charge as the BBA developed a series of industry-specific conferences, such as life sciences, venture capital, higher education and cybersecurity, among others. Nearly 1,000 BBA members attended these events, a remarkable turnout for the first year. As a result, we saw BBA sponsor organizations grow significantly, as we still continue to find success in meeting the needs of both national and local firms and organizations through holding these major conferences. And I am deeply gratified to share the news that planning for the second annual Life Sciences Conference – to be held on October 3rd – is well underway.
But as delighted as I was to focus the BBA on connecting lawyers with industry through producing larger, inter-disciplinary conferences during my term as BBA President, the end of 2016 brought a new set of challenges for all of us. Beginning in November, on both the state and national level, we faced an ever-increasing political climate of uncertainty, fraught with ever-changing events that created general unrest amidst our most vulnerable populations. In order to answer the immediate concerns of our members and organizational stakeholders, as BBA President, I weighed in on legal matters that, we felt, as the leadership of the BBA, were strongly in the public interest and squarely within the mission of our organization.
Recognizing that we as lawyers are at our best when we are dealing with well defined issues and actual cases and controversies, we remained vigilant in ensuring that individual and due process rights remain valued and protected in the implementation of our laws. Our Law Day in the Schools program focused on teaching Boston Public Schools students the value of due process under the law. The BBA also continued its ongoing work with community partners to present“Know Your Rights” programs.
As deportation of immigrants residing in our cities and towns became a potential collateral consequence of involvement with our judicial system, the BBA’s Amicus Committee also took action. Submitting an amicus brief in October of 2016, the BBA advocated for the Supreme Judicial Court to bring long awaited closure to nearly 20,000 people impacted by the actions of former drug-lab chemist Annie Dookhan.
As a result of their convictions, these individuals faced a wide array of collateral consequences, including asignificant portion at risk for deportation. The BBA’s amicus brief – urged the Supreme Judicial Court to vacate all outstanding drug convictions in which Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist. The brief argued that this course of action, more than five years after the scandal first came to light, was necessary to protect the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system, and we were extremely gratified to see this outcome achieved.
At the national level, the BBA joined the ABA and other bar associations across the country to voice opposition to the January 2017 Executive Order issued by President Trump on immigration, which targeted inhabitants of seven different countries for disparate treatment. For decades, the BBA has worked to ensure that individual and due process rights remain valued and protected as bedrock principles in the implementation of our laws. And we have a long history of strong opposition to proposals which would use national origin, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other integral individual traits as the basis for discrimination in any form. This practice speaks to the heart of who we are as an organization of lawyers – to preserve access to justice for all of us – not just a few of us.
Following this statement of opposition, I was moved and inspired by the hundreds of members who raised their hands to help by attending one (or more) of the numerous immigration pro bono trainings that the BBA planned and hosted over the last six months. We then followed up on these concerns by submitting an affidavit in support of the lawsuit filed against the President’s Executive Order in federal court, along with the Massachusetts Attorney General and so many other bar associations and organizations. And I have continued to follow this issue, along with many of you, as it has made its way through our judicial system to the United States Supreme Court. Throughout my term as BBA President, never have I felt it was more important for all lawyers, but in particular bar leaders, to speak out and educate others on the importance of our Constitutional democracy’s reliance on an independent judiciary as one of this country’s three equal branches of government, as well as our country’s unwavering commitment to the Rule of Law.
And finally, I have spent much of this year working on criminal justice reform issues, and to ensure that funding for civil legal aid remains a budget priority. I was honored to address the crowd of more than 700 attorneys at Walk to the Hill in January, and proud to make the case that legal aid generates a return on investment in the editorial pages of the Boston Globe. This fight, however, is very much one still to be fought, long into the future.
Eliminating the Legal Services Corporation – which remains on this administration’s federal budget chopping block despite strong advocacy from our state’s delegation – would have dire consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable people, including at-risk children, victims of domestic violence, and veterans. It would also have negative consequences for our nation’s bottom line.
If you’re interested in learning about the state or federal budget process, or just looking for tips on how to speak to your legislators about legal aid, please listen to the BBA’s policy podcast, Issue Spot, on SoundCloud, iTunes, or GooglePlay.
As the year comes to a close, I want you all to know that it has been a joy, an honor, and a truly life changing experience to serve as your President of the Boston Bar Association, particularly during this challenging time in our country’s history. I am proud of all that we accomplished this year, despite those challenges, but there is still so much work left to do.
I look forward to watching this great organization continue to innovate the practice of law, advocate for those requiring access to justice, and always, always speak out for our Constitution and the Rule of Law. I have every confidence in the capable leadership of my friend and former colleague, Mark D. Smith. I know that under Mark’s leadership, the BBA will carry on its important work with great compassion, integrity and practicality, just like the man at the helm.
So I will be soon saying my goodbyes, but to quote Justice Hines one last time, I promise to continue “The fight to be fought. Off I go!”
Carol A. Starkey is the president of the Boston Bar Association. She is a partner at Conn, Kavanaugh, Rosenthal, Peisch & Ford.