Annual Conference 2005 hails 'Champions of Justice'

Issue April 2005

Photo by David Gordon
After delivering a riveting address, Calvin C. Johnson, Jr. (center) is applauded and praised by the more than 850 gathered for Annual Dinner 2005 including (from left) Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi and President-Elect Warren F. Fitzgerald and MBA Vice President Edward McIntyre (right).
Photo by David Gordon
MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell welcomes lawyers and judges to Annual Conference 2005 during an opening reception on Thursday, March 3.
Inspiring words from a leader in the movement to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals - and from a man who lived through the personal nightmare - highlighted the MBA's Annual Dinner on March 4 and capped a busy day of insightful seminars, dynamic give-and-take between experts and attendees and high-pitched networking at Annual Conference 2005. The three-day event took place March 3-5 at Boston's Marriott Copley Place Hotel.

With five local exonerees and representatives of the New England Innocence Project in the audience, noted defense attorney Barry Scheck spoke of the need and the inspiration for his role in founding the nation's first Innocence Project. And he reflected on the success of subsequent groups that have sprung up across the country, resulting in the release of more than 150 wrongfully convicted people through the use of DNA research in proving their innocence.

"I am in awe of all of these individuals," Scheck said. "Calvin C. Johnson, Jr. is probably the most articulate of all of these clients. I never ever ever understood how someone could spend so many years in prison and not go insane.

"Calvin will tell you his story. It's a story about mistaken eyewitness identification…"

Sheck introduced Johnson, the evening's keynote speaker, who spent 16 years behind bars in Georgia before Sheck's legal team conclusively proved his innocence.

"With God as my witness, I have been falsely accused of these crimes. I did not commit them. I'm an innocent man," Johnson said, recounting the day he stood in a Georgia courtroom facing a life sentence for a rape he never committed. He held the audience of more than 800 people spellbound with his story - a tale of justice blinded by racism, sloppy investigative work and an unyielding corrections system.

President Kathy O'Donnell also used the dinner as an opportunity to award grants to Johnson's Georgia Innocence Project, to Scheck's Innocence Project and to the New England Innocence Project.

She also gave a surprise award to General Counsel and Acting Executive Director Martin Healy. As the opening act of the evening, she bestowed the MBA's President's Award on Healy for his years of service and dedication to the association.

Earlier in the day, more than 500 attendees shuttled between simultaneous seminars to hear from experts in a variety of fields discuss the latest developments and most critical issues facing legal professionals today.

Among the day's other major moments were an update on the MBA's statewide efforts on the USA Patriot Act, a discussion of the Plain English Jury Instruction Project and a recap of major cases and opinions in the federal courts.

These events followed Thursday's opening day of AC05, which included a busy House of Delegates meeting, packed rooms of seminar participants and a lively Opening Reception.

This year's theme, "Lawyers: Champions of Justice. Protectors of Liberty" was evident throughout the day's activities. Attendees sat in on seminars about law-office management and career planning, visited with the conference's 40 exhibitors and took part in roundtable discussions with experts and mentors representing a wide range of practice areas.

The Opening Reception was highlighted by a humorous slide presentation orchestrated by conference chair David White-Lief and Lawyers Weekly Publisher/Editor-in-Chief David Yas. With Yas at the podium, attendees and exhibitors were entertained by a narrated series of photos of Massachusetts legal luminaries in their early days.

The three-day conference came to a close on Saturday with the annual Bench/Bar Forum, which brought together more than 200 judges and lawyers from across the state to discuss and debate this year's critical topic, "Affording Justice: Preserving and Expanding Legal Representation for Individual Citizens." From the opening Breakfast with the Judges through the Closing Luncheon, the day was abuzz with collegial energy, spurred the rare opportunity for members of the judiciary and the bar to share ideas, socialize and network. (See related story, page 18.)