2012 Annual Dinner features Victoria Reggie Kennedy and presentation of the Legislator of the Year Award to Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Issue July 2012 By Jennifer Rosinski

More than 800 members of the legal community gathered at the Westin Boston Waterfront on May 31 for the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2012 Annual Dinner, where Victoria Reggie Kennedy gave an inspiring keynote address on the role of lawyers in society and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) was honored with the MBA Legislator of the Year Award.

"For so many members of the bar -- especially members of the Massachusetts bar -- a career in the law is more than a career. At its most meaningful moments, it's a calling. Lawyers -- more often than any other profession -- have made their work, the work of this country. It was true of lawyers like John Hancock and John Adams, who helped found this nation. It was true of lawyers like Richard Olney and Louis Brandeis, who helped found this association," said Kennedy, co-founder and president of the Board of Trustees of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.

"It is a grand tradition. Franklin Roosevelt -- a lawyer himself -- knew something about it. 'In every member of the bar,' he said, 'there is the character of a public servant.' Looking at that history -- and looking around this room -- I think that's exactly right. It is no coincidence that, generation after generation, lawyers have done far more than their civic duty. It is not by chance that this association has, for 100 years, made this state fairer and freer."

Kennedy went on to implore members of the Massachusetts bar to continue its proud tradition -- illustrated by the works of Kennedy's late husband Sen. Edward M. Kennedy -- of entering the public arena and advancing the public good.

"We are Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again," said Kennedy, quoting her husband.

MBA President Richard P. Campbell welcomed Kennedy, who said his words provided "the nicest introduction I've ever received in my entire life."

"She is first and foremost, a woman of consummate grace, composure, and dignity such that each of us in this hall tonight feel a sense of kinship with her. We feel like we know her even if we have never met her," Campbell said. "Victoria Reggie Kennedy is a renowned ambassador for civility, for civic engagement as it is meant to be, and for pursuit of the commonweal (the public good)."

Kennedy's address followed Campbell's presentation of the Legislator of the Year Award to DeLeo, whom he called "a true leader with that magic mix of a keen intellect and extraordinary people skills."

DeLeo was honored -- his second time receiving the award -- for partnering with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland to craft the Court Reform Act of 2011, an issue that had been studied for nearly 50 years. He was also recognized for commissioning a blue ribbon task force to study alimony reform, also successfully enacted in 2011.

"Since his election as speaker, he has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to the concerns of practicing lawyers and to the 'administration of justice' for the benefit all of our citizens," Campbell said of DeLeo. "He devotes countless hours to many different issues and approaches each of them, no matter how large or small, with an abiding sense of purpose, vigor and compassion. His talents inure to the great benefit of Massachusetts citizens."

"Although I am truly humbled to receive this award, it is an honor that belongs to all my colleagues in the House. The House has worked so hard over the past year to create and pass legislation that has helped make the Massachusetts justice system the best in the nation," DeLeo said. "We have approached the courts from one basic position; that is, that they, as exemplified by the Supreme Judicial Court, represent the best in American jurisprudence. One does not tinker lightly with a court system anchored by the oldest appellate court in the Western hemisphere."

The event also featured the presentation of the colors by the Massachusetts State Police Honor Guard. Soloist Karen Morris sang the National Anthem.