Inspiring honorees and Supreme Court insights mark 2017 Annual Dinner

Issue May/June 2017 By Malea Ritz

More than 1,000 members of the legal community gathered at the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2017 Annual Dinner on May 4, to celebrate a slate of honorees and hear the fascinating insights into the U.S. Supreme Court from CNN senior analyst and best-selling author Jeffrey Toobin, who gave the keynote speech.

At the beginning of the evening, MBA President Jeffrey N. Catalano addressed the sold-out crowd at the Westin Boston Waterfront by acknowledging the numerous civic engagement efforts that members of the MBA have assisted with over the past year, including its Leadership Academy; programs like the Judicial Youth Corps, Tiered Community Mentoring and Mock Trial; and the MBA's MassBar Beat podcast, launched during his year.

"There are many fingerprints all over the great work we do. So many of you have put the interest of others before yourself. And I deeply appreciate that," Catalano said. "One thing that I've learned is that Massachusetts lawyers, legislators and judges never stop proving what we're capable of."

Catalano segued into introducing the award recipients, saying that "sometimes we worry about whether we are giving out too many awards at these ceremonies. Let me be very frank about this - I don't think we spend enough time celebrating each other."

The first presentation was to Shayla Mombeleur, a third-year student at the University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth, who was chosen to receive the $10,000 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship. The President's Award came next, presented to MBA Past President David W. White Jr. of Breakstone, White & Gluck. Robert J. Muldoon JR. of Sherin and Lodgen LLP received the MBA Gold Medal Award and Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka received the Legislator of the Year Award.

Following dinner, Access to Justice Awards were presented to seven lawyers and one firm, including:

  • The Defender Award: Rebecca Jacobstein, the Committee for Public Counsel Services
  • The Prosecutor Award: Kevin J. Curtin, Middlesex District Attorney's Office
  • The Pro Bono Publico Award: Andrew Troop, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; and Christopher Mirick, Harvest Power Inc.
  • The Legal Services Award: Brian Flynn, Greater Boston Legal Services
  • The Pro Bono Award for Law Firms: K&L Gates, Boston

The Rising Star Awards: Weayonnah Nelson-Davies, Community Legal Aid; and Claire Valentin, the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts

Enlightening keynote

CNN Senior Analyst and best-selling author Jeffrey Toobin was the event's keynote speaker, bringing his unique knowledge and perspective as one of the country's most esteemed experts on politics, media and the law.

"What a great crowd, all this admirable behavior by lawyers, they're going to change the reputation of our entire profession," Toobin joked.

Toobin discussed the importance of selecting Supreme Court justices and their lasting legacies. He also dove into some Supreme Court history, beginning with his favorite Supreme Court justice, the now-retired David Souter.

"I loved David Souter because of his jurisprudence but also because he was so weird," Toobin said. "He led a 19th century life in the 21st century."

Toobin dissected the makeup of the current Supreme Court, observing: "It is often believed, and sometimes hoped, that the Supreme Court represents a refuge from the political battles that we are so familiar with. Well, I'm here to tell you, for better or for worse, it's not true."

Through his speech Toobin revisited the political makeup of the Supreme Court and its impact on social issues, citing numerous milestone cases over the years. "You never know how Supreme Court justice vacancies are going to work. Those of us supposed experts are often asked, but you never know," he said.

Toobin concluded that appointing a justice to the Supreme Court is one of the longest-lasting and impactful opportunities available to a president. He noted that the advanced age of three sitting justices means there could be additional vacancies soon.

Catalano then wrapped up the night by thanking attendees. "So to repeat what I said at the beginning of this year, join us in leadership. Because the MBA is the sum of the amazing people who support it," he said.

Earlier in the evening MBA Past President Douglas K. Sheff welcomed guests with some collegial remarks that were indicative of the celebratory atmosphere that was palpable throughout the festivities. Before asking members of the judiciary and legislature to stand for a round of applause from the audience, Sheff said: "Events like these are really the only time when we can actually get judges to rise for lawyers, and that's kind of fun for us. But only so we can properly honor them."

MBA Director of Media and Communications Jason Scally contributed to this report.

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