McMaster reflects on her term as ACBA President in final president’s message

June 19, 2020
President’s Message By Lori McMaster

As I write this, my last President’s Message, I am struck by the enormity and range of issues with which the bar association has grappled this year.

We signed a new, ten-year lease at the Koppers Building and our staff moved to the sixth floor of the Koppers Building while a complete demolition and renovation of the fourth-floor offices is being conducted. We reconfigured the make-up of the Judiciary Committee in order to promote diversity and avoid potential bias while ensuring that the committee is composed of members who practice in each of the five courts within the Court of Common Pleas (civil, criminal, orphans’, family, and probate). We have addressed the detention of immigrant children by the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency, and allegations that a common pleas judge used racially derogatory words to describe a Black juror. The Board of Governors voted overwhelmingly to oppose House Bill 196 – which seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by requiring regional elections of Appellate Court Judges in Pennsylvania – as a legislative intrusion on the judiciary as a co-equal, separate and independent branch of the government. The ACBA retained the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh to conduct a rebranding study of the bar association’s name, and our visual brand.

A few days after more than 650 of us gathered at Heinz Field to jubilantly celebrate the bar association’s 150th Anniversary, Pittsburgh was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order declaring a Statewide Health Emergency and mandating all non-lifesaving businesses to close, and ACBA staff began working from home. President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark of the Fifth Judicial District declared a judicial emergency of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and declared that court proceedings would be conducted by advanced communication technology whenever appropriate and feasible. And in late May, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in yet another instance of police brutality against an unarmed Black man, prompting protests in Pittsburgh and throughout the country. Floyd’s death is another painful reminder of the systemic racism that persists in the United States and of the fissures that continue to pull us apart at a time when we should be united in our humanity.

Throughout all the above events, I have been deeply grateful for the knowledge, judgment and insights of President-Elect Elizabeth Hughes, Secretary Nicola Henry-Taylor, Treasurer James Mall, and Immediate Past-President Bryan Neft. These are extraordinary times and our officers have risen to the challenge. I once asked Bob Racunas what he most enjoyed about serving as president of the ACBA. Without hesitation, Bob replied “working with the ACBA staff.” I would answer the same. I will be forever grateful to David Blaner, Diane McMillen, Christina Daub, Alysia Keating, Brian Knavish and Jennifer Pulice for their guidance, extraordinary work ethic and generosity of spirit. The entire ACBA staff has demonstrated incredible resiliency and devotion to their work throughout this challenging year. I end my year as president with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to them.

My service in various roles within the bar association has been among the most deeply satisfying professional experiences of my life. I encourage my fellow members to aspire to leadership roles within the ACBA’s committees, divisions, sections and the Board of Governors. You, too, would find it immensely rewarding. In the coming years, the bar association will continue to grapple with the pandemic and its aftereffects, the racial and cultural divides in our community, as well as additional unforeseen challenges. We are indeed fortunate that we will face those challenges under the leadership of (soon to be) President Elizabeth Hughes and President-Elect Joseph Williams. Huge strides have been made to diversify the ACBA leadership, but we must continue to encourage diverse members of the association to become involved and to aspire to leadership positions. Our legal community and our bar association will be better for it.

All my best, Lori.