Celebrating the start of his term at the President’s Reception Sept. 6, MBA President David W. White Jr. echoed his theme for the 2007-08 year by calling on Massachusetts lawyers to “speak with one voice” on criminal sentencing reform, environmental responsibility and protecting judicial independence.
About 300 people turned out for the reception at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Sept. 6, which included the presentation of the MBA Gold Medal Award to Past President Edward P. Ryan Jr.
David L. Yas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, introduced White in what was part tribute and part roast. Yas lampooned White’s rapid ascent to the top of the legal profession in Massachusetts, saying, “He became sort of a Doogie Howser of the bar.”
In addition to his good-natured ribbing, Yas took time to point out one of the highlights of White’s career: bringing attention to the plight of the former residents of the Fernald State School in Waltham, where students under state care were subjected to nightmarish experiments, including being fed radioactive oatmeal. White, who was appointed to the governor’s task force investigating the students’ treatment and was the principal author of the task force’s findings, had also sought a formal apology from the state.
“David’s a dear friend, and I can’t think of a better representative for us,” Yas said. “David has such a wonderful human touch. I couldn’t be prouder to introduce him.”
Becoming president, White said, “is easily one of the greatest moments of my professional life.”
He then asked for a moment of silence to honor the two Boston firefighters who died at a blaze in West Roxbury on Aug. 29.
“The MBA will be working to honor them,” White said, announcing a program called “Wills for Heroes” that will be launched later this year to provide free estate planning for emergency responders, including police, fire and EMTs.
“It will be a very big project but a very small thing that we can do for these people who risk their lives for us,” he said.
In addition to thanking his new wife, attorney Denise Murphy, for her support, White thanked the judges in attendance (including newly confirmed Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Margot G. Botsford) the members of his Boston firm, Breakstone, White & Gluck PC, the MBA staff and officers and all of the attorneys who volunteer their time. White paid special tribute to immediate Past President Mark D Mason, whose theme was “United in the Law.”
“I follow in some very fine footsteps,” White said. “Mark brought great dignity to the profession. Mark, my year, I hope, will be a testament to the achievements of your year.”
Priorities for 2007-08
White touched upon his primary goal this year, reforming criminal sentencing to address high recidivism rates, millions spent on failed efforts, lack of financing for badly needed treatment programs, and confusing and outdated Criminal Offender Record Information guidelines.
“Massachusetts has a serious problem with criminal sentencing,” White said, suggesting that any rational observer could see the system isn’t working.
“We have to fix these problems,” he said, noting that the state’s legislative leaders are open to reform. “We will work tirelessly with legislators this year to reform minimum mandatory sentencing.”
White also noted the need to continue improving the operation of the Trial Court Department, particularly during voir dire and in the courts’ communication with jurors. He has asked MBA Treasurer Valerie A. Yarashus to coordinate efforts she began last year to implement Plain English Jury Instructions.
Finally, White pledged to maintain the MBA’s fight for preserving an independent judiciary.
“We will continue to speak out on behalf of, and in defense of, a fair and impartial judiciary,” he said.
White’s other main initiative for the 2007-08 term is the appointment of an MBA Environmental Task Force and the launch of the MBA’s Eco-Challenge, which is aimed at encouraging the legal profession in Massachusetts to take the lead in being environmentally responsible (see story on page 1).
“It’s my hope that Massachusetts lawyers will become leaders in our country in minimizing environmental impact,” he said.
White said his priorities for the year – criminal sentencing reform, maintaining an independent judiciary and environmental leadership – were attainable if members work together.
“On issues of importance in the law, more than ever, we are speaking with one voice,” White said. “Please don’t hesitate to get involved. Together, we will be doing some great things this year.”
Ryan lauded, awarded MBA Gold Medal
Fellow MBA Past President Kathleen O’Donnell, of Marcotte Law Firm in Lowell, gave an emotional introduction before Ryan was presented the MBA’s Gold Medal Award, which has only been bestowed 22 times in the MBA’s history.
O’Donnell praised Ryan for his ability to “irritate, infuriate and exasperate,” which she said was evidence of a remarkable dedication and determination, even when defending unpopular issues and unpopular individuals.
“The status quo is simply unacceptable to this man of honor,” O’Donnell said.
Ryan was also lauded for championing a vibrant and independent judiciary. Ryan, who initiated judicial evaluations during his term as president, has led the MBA’s Task Force on Judicial Independence, speaking out against public and media condemnation of judges.
“Virtually no one’s a better spokesperson for our profession than Ed Ryan,” O’Donnell said. “Ed is the real deal. There are no pretenses about him. His never-ending enthusiasm is an inspiration for others.”
“He is the most caring and thoughtful man I have ever met,” O’Donnell said, noting that “he has been a true and loyal friend” since they first met in 1989.
Retired Judge John E. Fenton Jr., distinguished professor of law at Suffolk University Law School and a former chief justice of the Land Court and chief justice for administration and management, said it didn’t take long to size up Ryan’s prospects as a student.
“You could tell at that time that he was destined to be a star,” Fenton said. “The best thing I can say about my friend Ed Ryan is that he’s a role model. I read portions of his resume to my law students year after year. His entire career has been dedicated improving society and the profession. He is a champion. He takes on unpopular causes and leaves nothing on the table. I submit to you, my friends, that Ed Ryan has stood tall in strengthening the pillars of justice, and we owe him a great debt.”
Ryan, clearly moved by O’Donnell and Fenton’s words, said he was humbled to receive an award that had been bestowed upon people like former American Bar Association and MBA President Michael Greco and MBA Past President Leo Boyle. He thanked his family and the staff at his Fitchburg law firm, O’Connor and Ryan PC for being “the ones who prepared for and cleaned up after the storms.” Recognizing the unsung heroes of the profession was a strong theme in Ryan’s comments.
“I accept this award not because of anything I’ve done, but because of what lawyers do all over this state,” Ryan said, acknowledging everyone from underpaid public defenders to tax attorneys to high-profile litigators as playing a crucial role in a free society. “I accept this award tonight on behalf of all of them. We touch people’s lives in every way.”
Ryan praised White’s goals for the year. “What an agenda,” he said. “I think David has pulled together the resources, and I think something is going to happen. We all need to get behind that.”
He also urged unity in responding to attacks that demean the profession.
“I didn’t tolerate lawyer jokes that demeaned our profession,” he said. He ended by urging the audience to thwart the constant assault on judicial independence and the honor of the profession.
“If all of you tell two people to stick up for lawyers and the profession and judges who are unfairly attacked, and they tell two people and they tell two people, we can turn this thing around.”