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MCBA President’s Message: View from the 10th tee — I’m half way home

New Year’s Day 2015 marked the middle point of my one-year term as your president. Because I yearn for warm weather and golf, I liken myself to a man who has completed the first nine holes of his round and who is standing on the 10th tee (after having gobbled up a white hot and a beer).

Steven V. Modica

Steven V. Modica

I feel pretty good about my score on the front nine, however, I am unwilling to share it. What’s more important to me is how MCBA members feel about my score on the front nine. Feel free to let me know!

In any event, as I consider what lies ahead on the back nine, I want to share some exciting developments.

Speakers Forum — State of the Seventh Judicial District       

Join us on March 5 at the MCBA for a speakers forum that will address current developments and issues in the courts of our Seventh Judicial District.  This is an excellent opportunity for you to share your experiences — and those of your clients — in these courts.

Chief Administrative Judge Craig J. Doran has agreed to lead this very important dialogue. We also have invited Surrogate Court Judge John M. Owens and the supervising judges of the Criminal Courts (the Hon. William F. Kocher), Family Courts (the Hon. Gail A. Donofrio), Civil Courts (the Hon. Matthew A. Rosenbaum), City Courts (the Hon. Teresa D. Johnson) and the Matrimonial Part (the Hon. Elma A. Bellini).

Health & Well Being Task Force

The physical and emotional health and well-being of lawyers is in peril. This is demonstrated, in part, by the following facts:

• We are addicted to drugs and alcohol twice as much as everyone else.

• We are depressed four times more than everyone else.

• We are killing ourselves in alarming numbers (15 Kentucky lawyers have committed suicide since 2010; 6 South Carolina lawyers did so during an 18-month period; a New York City lawyer jumped to his death in May 2014).

• Only dentists, pharmacists and physicians kill themselves more than we do.

Leaders in our profession are concerned and are taking action. Here are five examples:

• The American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation are collaborating on groundbreaking research to survey the current rates of substance use, depression and anxiety among legal professionals in the United States.

• Our colleague in Buffalo (Dan Lukasik) is a national leader who raises awareness about lawyers with depression and provides support in many ways, including a powerful video (www.lawyerswithdepression.com/terrible-melancholy-depression-legal-profession/) and an excellent website (www.lawyerswithdepression.com).

• After the second suicide of a prominent member in a six-year period, the Cincinnati Bar Association formed a Health & Well Being Committee that was funded by a generous donation ($25K) from the spouse of the second lawyer who died.

• Seven states (but not New York) have made lawyer mental health issues part of mandatory Continuing Legal Education.

• Representatives of the Attorney Grievance Committee of the Fourth Department report an increased number of grievances related to the mental health of lawyers.

At our December 2014 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved my request to appoint a Health & Well Being Task Force, which will make recommendations about what actions (if any) we as a bar association should take to support our brothers and sisters who are suffering with mental health problems. I am grateful to former MCBA President Cheryl A. Heller — and our Solo & Small Firm Committee Chair Bradley P. Kammholz — who have agreed to co-chair the task force.

I am also grateful to six other terrific lawyers and a great judge who have agreed to serve on the task force — our President-elect Neil J. Rowe, John W. Crowe, Kimberly F. Duguay, Paul L. Leclair,  Christopher D. Thomas, Andrea E. Tomaino and the Hon. Evelyn Frazee. Finally, I very much appreciate the willingness of Catherine Cerulli to provide helpful professional guidance and advice to the task force. We expect a report from the task force in early March 2015.

Welcoming our newest Court of Appeals judges

Join us on May 20 — beginning at 5:30 pm at the Woodcliff Hotel — for a reception welcoming the two newest members of the New York State Court of Appeals. We will also thank Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (who will be retiring in 2015) for his service.

Gov. Cuomo recently nominated the Hon. Leslie Stein of the Appellate Division, Third Department, for one of the two vacancies on the court. We expect that the governor will nominate another person soon for the second vacancy. Together with several Upstate New York bar associations (including Erie and Onondaga), we were pleased to participate in the process of interviewing and rating all candidates for these vacancies.

In the Pipeline

Under the leadership of Ed Hourihan, chair of our Education Task Force, we have been evaluating how we provide Continuing Legal Education and alternative learning opportunities for our members. Thanks to Ed and the other members of the Education Task Force — Johanna V. Bartlett, Elizabeth Hofmeister, Mary Jo S. Korona, Laura A. Myers, Shannon J. O’Keefe and Amy L. Varel. We expect a report from this task force soon.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of the Telesca Center for Justice — an award winning collaborative effort that makes our legal community very proud. We are working to celebrate this important event appropriately. Stay tuned for further details.

Here’s hoping that my back nine features more birdies than bogies. Thanks for all that you do for our bar association and our broader community.

Steven V. Modica is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and principal of Modica & Associates, Attorneys PLLC. He can be reached at [email protected].