A new UCC: Unity, collegiality, camaraderie

Issue October 2014 By Marsha V. Kazarosian

I am now a seasoned, experienced president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, having finished an entire month's tenure. And here is my takeaway, so far.

First, I am awestruck by the overwhelming support and encouragement that I have received from my friends and colleagues in the legal community, as well as in my own circle of friends and family. It's not that I didn't expect to be supported, but it has been a wonderful feeling of communal investment in the MBA's success, and in the initiatives that we take on this year. And it occurred to me that this is a theme common to all of us - that of unity, collegiality and camaraderie. These are three ingredients that are of the utmost importance to success in any profession, but most importantly in a tight-knit, often contentious-by-nature profession.

As I expressed in my remarks at the President's Reception last month, it is because of the MBA's unity with the bench and the bar of the commonwealth that we finally have voir dire in Massachusetts. Both the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) and the MBA worked long and hard to bring voir dire to Massachusetts, and I think that everyone would agree that a fair and impartial jury is the cornerstone of our system of justice. "Voir dire," meaning "to speak the truth," is an incomparable tool in rooting out hidden bias when properly implemented.

In keeping with the MBA's commitment to educate our members and also our pledge of unity, I have created a Voir Dire Task Force, chaired by Marc Breakstone of Breakstone, White & Gluck. This Task Force is a working group of dedicated and passionate representatives from the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, MATA and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, as well as district attorneys. They will synthesize input from the representative trial bar for consideration by the Supreme Judicial Court's Voir Dire Committee in establishing acceptable protocols.

The Task Force will also work closely with the MBA's Education Committee chaired by the Honorable Bonnie MacLeod-Mancuso in preparing a comprehensive program to offer to our members, free of charge in January, which promises to be the go-to CLE training for how to conduct voir dire in Massachusetts under the new SJC protocols. It is extremely important, particularly at this stage, to make sure that voir dire is taught and conducted appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and we will have a voice in ensuring that proper implementation.

The MBA continues to be the personification of unity in so many ways. We see it at our own House of Delegates, where lawyers representing virtually every area of practice in all corners of the commonwealth, as well as diverse, affinity and specialty bars, have a seat. We also see it with our incredible MBA members who volunteer their time on our programs, and our dedicated staff who keep our educational and volunteer opportunities relevant and vibrant. And the MBA has a history of bringing the statewide legal community together by partnering with our colleagues in other associations to improve our system of justice. Our combined efforts have led to additional court funding, judicial pay raises, courthouse improvements and other advancements - and we'll continue to work together.

Another initiative that I am excited to share is the MBA's continuing role in advocating for increased compensation for assistant district attorneys, CPCS attorneys and bar advocates. To that end I was proud to accept an appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to his Commission to Study the Compensation of ADAs and CPCS attorneys.

The Governor's Commission is yet another example of a unified effort of defense lawyers and prosecutors to continue the road paved by the MBA's Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Salaries created by past President Douglas K. Sheff, and chaired by past President Richard P. Campbell. The Blue Ribbon Commission's eye-opening May 2014 report entitled, "Doing Right by Those Who Labor for Justice - Fair and Equitable Compensation for Attorneys Serving the Commonwealth in its Criminal Courts," was the jumping off point for the first meeting of the Governor's Commission, which was held on Sept. 26.

The Governor's Commission is comprised of representatives of the House and Senate, the Office of the Governor's Chief Legal Counsel, the MBA, the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, CPCS, the Attorney General's Office and the private criminal defense bar, and it is co-chaired by the Secretary of Administration and Finance and the Secretary of Public Safety and Security - another example of the MBA's commitment to a unified effort toward a common goal.

I would also like to urge everyone to attend an event that I am particularly thrilled about, and that is the MBA's Annual Bench-Bar Symposium on Oct. 16. The MBA has the great privilege of hosting the event this year, which will feature Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants' historic first State of the Judiciary address. Chief Justice Gants has been a long-time supporter of the MBA and has always been very generous and enthusiastic with his time and his efforts in making sure that bench and bar in Massachusetts continue to work together toward common goals.

In closing, as I remarked at the recent President's Reception, it truly does take a village, and the MBA is your village. We are here to help you, and we have the resources and the commitment to provide you with what you need to succeed. Please do not hesitate to use these resources, or to become one of them!

My goal this year is to continue the tradition of the MBA as the leader in charge to maintain a fair and independent judiciary, access to justice and excellence in our profession. We do that by offering education, opportunity, a strong partnership with the bench, a respected voice on the Hill and unity with our fellow bar associations throughout the commonwealth. I am proud to be a leader at the MBA, and proud to be a lawyer.