Lawyers Journal

Annual Conference hits its marks

MBA's 'commitment to ongoing learning' carries unique edge reflecting unprecedented year Drawing more than 300 attendees for both days of plenary and breakout sessions, the Massachusetts Bar Association 2002 Annual Conference, Jan. 24-26, dubbed "A Celebration of Law and Justice," was marked by a mood perhaps best characterized as guardedly optimistic.
Amidst bountiful highlights, the keepers were clear-cut. MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy's subtle prodding of the state legislature for a year "notable for what was not enacted" was one. Keynote speaker James Carville sternly admonishing that Enron employees were "let down by the legal profession [among others]" was another.
And ACLU staff attorney William C. Newman's eerily allusive excerpts from George Orwell's "1984" in reference to the post-Sept. 11 USA Patriot Act's far-reaching civil-liberties implications was arguably the show-stopper. Clearly, exhibitor gadgets and catered cabernet were not the best reasons to attend MBA 2002.
"One of the most important missions of our association is to inspire members to stay informed of the latest opinions and changes in the law," said MBA President Carol A.G. DiMento in her welcoming remarks. "The (conference programs) are your best way to light - or rekindle - the fire of legal learning."
This year's conference panelists did their due diligence in that regard. And the MCLE's accompanying 642-page volume "Recent Developments in Federal and Massachusetts Law" proves as much.
In Friday's (Jan. 25) Professional Responsibility/Update from the Board of Bar Overseers, former BBO Chairman Daniel C. Crane offered precise advice on far-reaching subject matter, including savvy specifics on withdrawal from representation and ethical file storage/disposal.
"You can't just leave a box of this stuff curbside every week, unless your intent is to offer the folks who work the local landfill some interesting reading," said Crane when detailing file-disposal rules.
During a morning breakout session on probate and family law, Atty. James R. Giacomo of Murtha Cullina Roche Carens & DeGiacomo illustrated interesting trends and tendencies of the court, especially regarding temporary orders to change custody, as well as moves for discovery and summary judgment.
"There is an indication that the whole area of probate law is moving toward this modern age of technology, and where there is no legislation, the court goes back to invoke its equity jurisdiction under Chapter 215, Section 6," said DeGiacomo. "We keep reading and hoping, but the cases seem to be moving in a very fact-specific direction. There are enough signs (on recent cases) to help us think things through."
In a morning session on employment law, Macon Magee of Stoneman, Chandler & Miller, LLP, noted a persistent dichotomy vis-a-vis frequency of summary judgments for defendant employers between state (fewer) and federal courts on matters of discrimination. Magee also emphasized an expanding definition of disability by the SJC under MBL Chapter 151B versus those potential plaintiffs protected under the Americans with Disability Act.
Concluding Friday's morning sessions, U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young provided an energetic, anecdote-heavy status report on federal law. After discussing far-ranging minutia regarding federal rules of evidence changes, Young outlined the District of Massachusetts' new internal docketing system, called electronic case management. The system constitutes the foundation for electronic case filing, targeted for full-scale implementation within three years. It "would be an enormous difference in your practice ... (by allowing) you to file pleadings through your computer and access all pleadings filed in a case, 24-7, right from your terminal," said Young.
In Friday's afternoon sessions, Atty. Patricia Rapinchuk detailed key developments in personal-injury law, perhaps most notably the SJC's refusal to expand social-host liability to the companions (rather than the bar that served him) of a deceased underage drinker.
Immediately thereafter, former U.S. Attorney Walter B. Prince laid the groundwork for Saturday's gripping bench/bar forum on the legal issues surrounding civil liberties in the wake of Sept. 11 (see related article) by introducing practitioners to the specifics of the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress last October. Prince's presentation touched on most of the sweeping changes to the criminal code invoked by the act, including far-reaching implications for standards relating to probable cause for search and seizure, attorney-client privilege, electronic surveillance and jurisdiction over foreign financial institutions.
Carville's keynote address to more than 600 guests at Friday night's sold-out Gala Dinner mixed homespun Cajun witticisms with a meaty message. Addressing his conspicuous silence over Bush Administration domestic political initiatives, Carville, a former Marine, insisted, "If our people are going to be shot at, we're going to be behind our people. All our people."
The gifted political consultant also spoke at some length about the emerging Enron scandal and demanded that the multi-disciplinary failures precipitating the financial disaster not become a forgotten blip on the radar screen.
My message to you tonight is that thing is not going to go away and it shouldn't go away," he said. "That's the way it has to be."
Another of the evening's highlights was the presentation of the MBA's Legislator of the Year award, presented to state Rep. John H. Rogers for his work in areas of special concern to the Commonwealth's legal profession. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and in previous roles on Beacon Hill, Rogers has sponsored more than a dozen pieces of legislation for the MBA, including pro-consumer bills and measures to reform the Massachusetts Probate Code.
Choosing not to dodge the controversy attached to a bill he's sponsored intended to "codify the status quo regarding marriage," Rogers picked up the theme of democracy and its responsibilities in his acceptance speech.
"Some citizens disagree with a bill that I have sponsored," he acknowledged. "That's good. That's the essence of democracy. That we in America have the right to speak out on an idea and by doing so we celebrate the very underpinnings of a free people by uttering two simple words: 'I dissent!'"
Among the special guests at the Gala Dinner were House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Congressman Stephen Lynch.

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