Last week I attended the federal courts dinner in Buffalo at the new Hotel Henry, along with several other attorneys from Rochester who actually practice before the judges of the Western District of New York federal court. I have never appeared before any of these judges and am unlikely to do so, because my practice is concentrated around trusts and estates law. However, given the decidedly Rochester bent of this court, with Chief Judge Geraci, Judge Wolford, Magistrate Judges Payson and Feldman, and Clerk Mary Loewenguth, I felt right at home mingling with the members of the court and attorneys I knew from both Rochester and Buffalo.
I also enjoyed being present while the court recognized our own Tim Lyster with the 2017 Pro Bono Award, as well as Steve Modica with a 2017 Special Achievement Award.
The location of this dinner alternates each year between Buffalo and Rochester, with the MCBA and Erie County Bar Association alternating as hosts and organizers. On the drive back from dinner, I was able to reflect on how fortunate we are to have a long history of excellent relationships between the MCBA and the judges and staff of the WDNY federal court. Many of these judges have long valued bar association involvement, as evidenced by personal service in leadership positions and participation in CLEs, and Mary Loewenguth is a former MCBA executive director.
MCBA leaders like Tim, our current MCBA secretary, and Steve, an MCBA past president, serve as pro bono counsel and mediators for the court, and the MCBA and individuals affiliated with the court have worked together on projects such as Settlement Week and the celebration of Law Day. Most recently, the MCBA has reached out to our elected officials to urge them to fill the current vacancy on this court. I believe we can all feel good about the mutual benefits that result from these positive relationships, which help the judges manage some of the heaviest caseloads in any U.S. District Court, and help the attorneys who practice before them to better represent their clients, all of which ultimately improves the administration of justice in the WDNY federal court.
But while mentally patting ourselves on the back for working well together in pursuit of these admirable goals, I am aware that these relationships appear to have been easier to establish and maintain than those with many of our state and local judges. I believe that this is due in part to the fact that we have never evaluated nominees for federal judgeships, so each of these individuals has started his or her career on the federal bench with nothing but our support and congratulations.
There has been much publicity about the fact that the MCBA has decided that it will no longer evaluate candidates for state and local judgeships. Regardless of your position on the wisdom of that decision, we plan to take advantage of this opportunity to establish cordial, mutually beneficial and respectful relationships between more of our state and local judges and the MCBA.
Over the past year, under the leadership of then-president Mark Moretti, the MCBA has undertaken several efforts to assist our judges and foster trust and collegiality, including the revitalization of the Bench Bar Committee, writing letters in support of judges who were unfairly attacked in the press and hosting an event at the Hall of Justice for judges and staff to welcome Kevin Ryan to the MCBA and the Rochester community. Chief Administrative Judge Craig Doran has been very supportive of both the MCBA and our efforts to engage our local judges.
In the coming weeks our members will be personally reaching out to invite judges who are not currently members of the MCBA to join us, to be participants in our CLEs and to attend our social and community events. We believe that a bar association that includes all the lawyers in our community — in private practice, public service, in-house counsel, not-for-profits, civil legal service agencies, academia and the judiciary — can both serve the lawyers in our community better and be a powerful force to address issues in our justice system that need attention, including access for the under-served and funding for the courts, among other things.
Jill M. Cicero is president to the Monroe County Bar Association and is the managing partner of The Cicero Law Firm LLP. She can be reached at email@example.com.