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MCBA President’s Message: Our bar year in review

mcbaprezThe time has arrived in which I write my last column as MCBA president. It has been a rewarding year in which we accomplished a lot with the help of a fully engaged board of trustees and executive committee, a top notch executive director and bar staff and many committed section and committee chairs, CLE presenters, and bar volunteers. Thanks also to MCBA Foundation President Elaine Cole for her collaboration on MCBA projects. A successful bar year is not a one-person task, but depends on all of the people above to run it successfully.

In addition to the great ongoing work of our sections and committees, I’m pleased with our collective new accomplishments this past bar year:

  1. We successfully made the transition to a new executive director and have integrated him into our legal community. Kevin Ryan brought 15 years of experience as second in command at the Vermont Bar Association when he was recruited by the MCBA. He was succeeding Mary Loewenguth, who had been a very successful MCBA executive director for 14 years and who had extensive ties with both the legal community and the Rochester community at large. Kevin hit the ground running and has been running hard ever since, meeting and actively participating in both community and MCBA events. He has been a great fit into our legal community, bringing not only his varied experience, but his management talent. Moreover, he is clearly a people person who has reached out to the community. As a ratification of the great choice our selection task force (chaired by Connie Walker) made in selecting Kevin, the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) elected Kevin to their board of directors this year.
  2. We have reached out to area colleges to more fully familiarize them with the MCBA. This year a panel of our lawyers presented at the annual law day events at the University of Rochester for all area colleges, at which time 75 law schools from around the country had booths set up and manned by representatives seeking to recruit Rochester-area college students to go to their law school. The MCBA panel contained attorneys with a variety of backgrounds who discussed what life was really like as a practicing lawyer in Monroe County. Moreover, Kevin Ryan has given several individual lectures at St. John Fisher.
  3. We reinstated the bench bar committee (co-chaired by Judge Ark and Sharon Sayers) to facilitate better relations between judges and lawyers in our community.
  4. We reinstated the sitting judge evaluation process (chaired by Jim Grossman), the purpose of which is to confidentially evaluate sitting judges who voluntarily choose to be surveyed in order to give them confidential feedback on how lawyers react to them.
  5. Through the efforts of Kevin Ryan, we have implemented the Casemaker program by which every member of the MCBA is able to utilize the functional equivalent of Westlaw and Lexis at no additional charge.
  6. We have joined in the Family Independence Initiative, which is being led by the Catholic Family Center in collaboration with the University of Rochester and Notre Dame University and is designed to provide mentoring to disadvantaged families and evaluate how it impacts their well-being. Our role is to coordinate contact between the mentors and the legal services available in the community. The MCBA’s participation is being spearheaded and coordinated by the Hon. Richard Dollinger and Kevin Ryan.
  7. We successfully utilized our conflict defender screening program chaired by the Hon. Joanne Winslow and reported on it to County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, which resulted in the appointment of Mark Funk.
  8. We reinstated our rapid response committee to address unfair attacks on judges by empowering the executive committee of the MCBA to address such attacks. We had two occasions to use it this year, once when a Rochester City Court judge was unfairly attacked and once when a Supreme Court judge was unfairly attacked. Both responses were well received.
  9. We sent out a number of letters advocating on behalf of our members including:
  • Letters to Gov. Cuomo and our local state legislators advocating in favor of funding legal services for the poor, and a second set of letters to the same group advocating against funding indigent legal service with a $50 surcharge on lawyers (we pointed out providing adequate indigent defense was a constitutional mandate and should be funded out of the general fund and not as a tax on lawyers). Thankfully, the budget ultimately included the funding without the lawyer surcharge.
  • Letters to congressional representatives advocating in favor of rapidly nominating a new judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, since the position has been vacant for far too long.
  1. We received the report from the task force reviewing the judicial candidate evaluation process, and the MCBA Board of Trustees voted to adopt the task force’s recommendation to convert the current rating system into an informational forum with the candidates.

The board studied a lot of data in addition to the task force report and concluded that the rating system ultimately had no effect on the parties’ selection of candidates, no effect on the voters, and was costing a great deal — not just in cash, but more importantly in its creation of a badly divided legal community. Indeed, the fact that half the candidates boycotted the process last year made it nearly unworkable as well. The board unanimously agreed that the current ratings system could not continue unchanged.

Still, it was a difficult decision to convert the ratings system to a forum rather than amend, a decision only reached after much reasoned debate with strong feelings articulated on both sides of the issue and an extensive review of historical data.

The reaction to the board’s decision has been generally very positive, but not unanimous. Our decision, and my article explaining it, was even picked up with a positive spin as the lead article in an ABA publication sent to the National Association of Bar Executives.

Finally, and most of all, I would like to thank all of you for allowing me the honor and privilege of representing you as your bar president for this past year.

Mark J. Moretti is President of the Monroe County Bar Association and is the leader of Phillips Lytle LLP’s Construction Litigation Practice Team. He can be reached at [email protected]