Attorneys and judges across the commonwealth were commended as the group who will help lead the nation during uncertain times as they gathered at the MBA's Annual Conference 2003, "Charting the Course for Law in Today's Society" from Jan. 23-25.
Several powerful messages emerged from the three-day conference at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. Most notably, lawyers were told in several sessions they would be the ones who will assist the country as it struggles with major issues that range from corporate scandals to the protection of civil liberties.
"In the last year, we have seen corporate America swamped by financial failures and legal and ethical dilemmas," said MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel in his introductory remarks. "In the last few months, we here in Massachusetts have seen ripples of changes in our business turn into a wave that has toppled some of our most well-known firms and significantly changed the landscape of our profession.
"Suddenly - perhaps more than ever before - our colleagues are turning to the Bar Association for guidance, for networking opportunities, for educational programs, and for a conference like this one to help them navigate some very rough seas."
The conference allowed attorneys and judges to hear about the latest legal developments; to discuss serious issues facing the courts, such as the funding crisis and privacy concerns; and learn about new technology to help them improve legal practices and protect clients' data.
Attorneys and judges also were able to check out the most innovative and latest services available to them from the largest collection of exhibitors ever to attend an MBA conference.
Over the course of the three-day conference, a diverse group of noteworthy and compelling speakers - including former FBI director Louis Freeh; former deputy counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, Egil "Bud" Krogh; and the Hon. Margaret H. Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts - urged attorneys to continue preserving democracy in America.
"The current crisis in our courts has stimulated vibrant, creative discussion about reform in our branch, as elsewhere," Marshall said on Jan. 25, during her annual address to the lawyers and judges of the state. "There seems to be uniform agreement that change is both necessary and feasible.
"The yearning for change, the thirst for it, is palpable. We must, we will, seize this moment to stop doing business as usual, fix what is not working, and make what is working so well work even better. The Massachusetts courts can be (and) will become a national model of excellence."
As keynote speaker for the Gala Diner on Jan. 24, former FBI director Louis Freeh, who now serves as senior vice chairman for administration at MBNA Corp., said attorneys will be the ones who will help the country navigate through uncertain times by bringing arguments, thoughts and challenges to the courtroom.
"The threats here are enormous," said Freeh, a former federal judge and Deputy U.S. attorney who led the FBI from 1993 to 2001. "The country is at grave risk - but it's not a time to abandon core principles that have always guided us very, very well."
Freeh spoke about how the court system is struggling to balance the protection of civil liberties with the protection of public safety. The struggle is emerging in issues ranging from cyber-crime to the prosecution of terrorists.
Congressman William Delahunt (D-Mass.), in accepting the Legislator of the Year Award from the MBA during the Gala Dinner, encouraged his fellow attorneys to continue to be the protectors and guardians of democracy.
"When talking about fairness and justice and truth, I would submit you are speaking about the ultimate American values - those are what American values are about," Delahunt said.
"I know when serious people reflect, they see our profession as the most noble profession in a democracy," added Delahunt. "Let me thank you. And I know it is an awesome obligation we all assume to be lawyers, to be protectors of American democracy. Continue to strengthen and defend American democracy so that every citizen has access to the system, and you do it all the time with your pro bono work. So keep it up and thank you. Thank you for what you do. You do it everyday. Thank God for lawyers."
Delahunt was awarded Legislator of the Year because of his exemplary accomplishments as a congressman in his efforts for the judiciary and for his dedication while he was Norfolk County district attorney prior to being elected to Congress. Delahunt was a pioneer among prosecutors when he established a domestic-violence unit to help protect women and families.
"As a result of Bill Delahunt's leadership, (there is now) an understanding that the power to prosecute is not the power to persecute," said past MBA President Michael E. Mone, a senior partner at Esdaile, Barrett and Esdaile, who introduced Delahunt.
Mone also hailed Delahunt's work in Congress, particularly his dedication as a member of the Judiciary Committee and his initiative in co-sponsoring the Innocence Protection Act, which gives grants to states with the death penalty in order to give access to post-conviction DNA testing and improve defense counsel in capital trials. Mone also said Delahunt will be instrumental in helping the United States resume normal relations with Cuba.
In addition to Delahunt, attorneys and judges attending the Gala Dinner also congratulated the Boston law firm Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, LLP, as this year's recipient of the President's Award. The firm received the award for its exemplary and ongoing support of several MBA programs, including "Conversations of Law & Liberty in Times of Crisis" and the Mock Trial program. Attorneys for the firm have volunteered countless hours for these programs, which help educate and stimulate high school students on legal issues impacting society today. The firm also has donated more than $125,000 over the past five years for the success of the Mock Trial Program.
Another highlight of Annual Conference 2003 came during the annual Access to Justice Awards Luncheon on Jan. 24 as Egil "Bud" Krogh offered his insight about the importance of integrity.
For the past 30 years, Krogh has been developing the idea of integrity in relation to what happened to him while in the Nixon administration, where he once headed the notorious White House Special Investigations Unit (known as the "plumbers unit"), which led a campaign of break-ins seeking information on people perceived to be Nixon's enemies, such as Daniel Ellsberg.
Krogh said he became so blinded by the concept of national security that he believed what the unit was doing was not illegal.
It wasn't until two years later during a 1973 trip to Williamsburg, Va., while he was under indictment for civil rights violations, that he realized the precious nature of our civil liberties - including the Fourth Amendment.
"While I was there, I was thinking, 'I have all of these rights granted to me by the Bill of Rights, what am I defending? To strip away the rights of another? How can you enjoy all of these rights and defend that? Because if you do, you are a hypocrite'," Krogh said.
Krogh decided that day to plead guilty to a federal charge. He spent six months in a federal prison and was disbarred from the Washington state bar. He later was reinstated and has spent a significant amount of his time calling on attorneys to uphold the strictest standards of ethics and to maintain the highest respect for civil liberties.
"I think it's possible, when the nation is under threat, for people in government to push the envelope for what they think is proper and correct. They do it because they think they must," Krogh said. "You have to keep your eye consistently on what is the effect on civil liberties."
He said attorneys should ask themselves two questions when deciding any issue: Is the analysis whole and complete, meaning has every alternative been considered including its legality; and second, is it the right thing to do?
"If you answer the two questions affirmatively, you have a good chance to succeed and survive," Krogh said.
Following the Access to Justice Awards lunch, Krogh joined Pres. Vrabel and the Mock Trial Team from Newton North High School in a lively discussion on the protection of civil liberties for a demonstration of the "Conversations" program that was attended by more than 30 conference participants.
The following day, students from Needham High School demonstrated a portion of this year's Mock Trial program in front of judges and attorneys gathered for the closing luncheon on Jan. 25.
Both programs, in which MBA member attorneys volunteer their time, are designed to educate students about the legal process and civil liberties.