A farewell message from ACBA President Elizabeth Hughes

June 18, 2021
President’s Message By Elizabeth Hughes

As I pen this final President’s Message, it is with great pride and love for this organization that I have been so fortunate to lead during these unprecedented times of uncertainty. It is bittersweet that I leave office without having had the opportunity to fellowship with so many of you over the past year, but I am looking forward to brighter days very soon where we will all be seeing each other not on a computer screen.  

When Lori McMaster passed the gavel to me last year, I had no idea what to expect. We were still in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and basically, we were all just trying to stay alive and safe. I felt the weight of the responsibility of taking office at such a time and I was unsure if we could effectively continue to serve our members, or if this pandemic would cause irreparable damage to the ACBA. I am gratified to say that we have persevered, and we have persevered because of our collective passion for and dedication to our bar association.   

Over the past year, the ACBA has continued to offer significant benefits to its members. We have been able to continue to offer high-quality CLE programming in a 100 percent virtual format that has been well attended and we have received feedback that many members, in fact, prefer this remote instruction. Membership has remained steady and the ACBA is also in a position of financial stability, unlike many similarly situated bar associations across the country. This can be attributed to the sound financial leadership of Diane McMillen and our Finance Committee, many years of responsible financial stewardship, and tough sacrifices made by our executive leadership. We have also completed the renovation of the ACBA headquarters, despite a fire breaking out in the Koppers Building for good measure, in true 2020 fashion. The work on the new website platform is almost completed and it will be up and running soon, and we are moving closer to having an app for our members.  

Our Judiciary Committee put in countless hours, thoughtfully and thoroughly evaluating an unusually large field of judicial candidates as a service to our members and the public. The ACBA also provided a series of voter education videos for the 2020 election, starring our very own members. Thank you to those members who volunteered their time and talents to make sure that Allegheny County voters had the crucial information that they needed to cast their ballots.  Many thanks to Mary McKinney Flaherty and Regina Wilson for their collaboration on this project and to Alysia Keating and Marty Barron for their roles in bringing the project to fruition. This spring also saw the resurrection of the ACBA Law Day project, which I hope will be continued for years to come in conjunction with the YLD. I appointed dynamic co-chairs Katie Kennedy and Morgan Moody who took this idea and made it into reality with a dedicated committee. The ACBA is now collaborating with the Pittsburgh Public Schools and other districts in Allegheny County to provide middle and high school students with workshops and conversation about the law and what it means to them. 

As ACBA President, I created a Police Use of Force ad hoc committee after the brutal police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other people of color at the hands of law enforcement. This committee will continue to work hard and provide recommendations aimed to address systemic inequities and improve the way that law enforcement and the justice system engages with communities of color and other marginalized groups. During 2020, the pandemic amplified the inequities in our society and the entire world stood up to demand accountability. The ACBA continued to serve its members and provided a voice on important social issues that affected our members and the community at large. In accordance with our mission “to empower our members; promote a just, accessible, and inclusive judicial system; and serve the community at large,” the ACBA spoke out against racial injustice, the attempts to undermine judicial independence in the Commonwealth, and the attack on the rule of law and the democratic process relating to the actions of January 6, 2021.

As my time as your President draws to a close, I want to thank Immediate Past-President Lori McMaster for her wise guidance and unyielding friendship, which carried me through the dark days of the pandemic. I also want to acknowledge the support and dedication of the other members of the ACBA Executive Committee, President-Elect Joe Williams, Secretary Nicola Henry-Taylor and Treasurer Dan Fitzsimmons. I am eternally grateful for the incomparable executive leadership of David Blaner and Diane McMillen, and special thanks to Christina Daub, Brian Knavish, Ashley Rice, Amy Giesy and Jenn Pulice and the entire ACBA staff for the assistance that you all provided to me this past year. It has been difficult for all of us, but every single one of you rose to the occasion for the benefit of the ACBA. While we still have challenges ahead, I am confident that we will be a better, stronger, more dynamic and more inclusive bar association on the other side of this. Finally, to the members of the best bar association on the planet, thank you for your patience, your understanding, and for the kind messages and encouraging words that I received from many of you out of the blue that kept me going. Serving you all has truly been one of the greatest honors of my life.