Be a part of history in your community

Issue December 2004

Within days of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Massachusetts Bar Association House of Delegates passed a resolution stating:

It is essential to scrutinize carefully actions taken because of the horrific events of that day. Our collective desire to find and to punish the perpetrators of those violent acts and to prevent similar terrorist activities in the future, must not overshadow our commitment to the rule of law. We have learned from overzealousness in the past that we must not rush to add to or to change existing law to address what is presented to be a unique situation. We must not curtail our rights, liberties, and freedoms and we must preserve the system of justice that has served us well for over two hundred years. We must not seek protection from terrorism at the cost of fundamental liberties. To do so would be to surrender the very rights and liberties which distinguish us from those who would commit terrorist acts against us.

With those words, the MBA began its journey to protect the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11th world. Our organization commented on the Victim's Compensation Act and on Department of Justice regulations, including the order that allowed our government to monitor communications between federal detainees and their lawyers, thereby destroying the attorney-client privilege and threatening the right to counsel.

The MBA also embraced the ABA program "Conversations on Law & Liberty in Times of Crisis." Hundreds of our members have gone into schools during the past two years and have gotten students to realize the importance of the Bill of Rights in their lives. In May 2004, the House of Delegates passed a resolution entitled "A Resolution Regarding the USA Patriot Act, Related Federal Executive Orders, and the Protection of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties."

On Dec. 6, attorneys Lee Gartenberg and Denise Squillante will conduct a training session in Framingham for county and city bar presidents interested in having that resolution endorsed by the governing body of their city or town.

Let me tell you why you should attend the Dec. 6 program.

On Nov. 9, the MBA Resolution went before the Lowell City Council. In the days leading up to this meeting, a local radio station devoted several of its morning programs to the resolution. Although the host of the show was clearly against the resolution, the issues raised by the Patriot Act and its progeny were discussed in a very public forum. The Sunday before the council meeting, the focus section of the local newspaper devoted two pages to the issues raised by the resolution. On the day of the vote, the local paper's editorial was against the resolution.

During the city council meeting, the chamber was filled with supporters of the Resolution, many of whom were carrying posters emblazoned with the Bill of Rights. Several citizens spoke eloquently of their ancestor's immigration to the United States because of their desire to benefit from our constitutional protections.

Six city councilors embraced the resolution and spoke of our community's need to be heard on this issue. Three councilors spoke about the tragedy of Sept. 11 and exercised their first amendment right to disagree with the proponents of the resolution. Thousands of citizens watched this debate on television and thousands more will watch the debate in coming weeks when the city council meeting is replayed on the local cable station. (The Lowell City Council approved the resolution by a vote of 6-3.)

For two hours, the City of Lowell focused on the importance of our constitutional rights. It was a privilege to witness this fantastic civics lesson. I thank Ray Ilg, a member of our House of Delegates and the president of the Greater Lowell Bar Association, and the many community activists who sponsored and introduced the resolution for allowing me to be part of this historic moment.

I urge each and every one of you to seize the moment and be part of history in your community.