Looking back over the past year

June 27, 2014
President’s Message by Nancy L. Heilman

During the 2013 Bench-Bar Conference, I announced my intention to maintain and enhance the ACBA’s reputation as a national leader in establishing and implementing programs and services for the public, attorneys and law students, while encouraging the atmosphere of collegiality and respect that long has been characteristic of the ACBA

I wish to express my appreciation for the work of all of our officers, the executive director, the assistant executive director, directors and employees, and the division, section and committee chairpersons, all of whom have assured the smooth running of the ACBA and the further development of current initiatives. I also salute our members who participated in the activities of the ACBA and the Allegheny County Bar Foundation, giving their talent, time and energy.

While serving as president of the ACBA, I witnessed many accomplishments that occurred as a result of the hard work of so many people. Those achievements, broken down according to provisions of the ACBA’s mission statement, include the following:

Promoting education, advocacy and professional services:

• Inaugural Women’s Legal Summit, a well-received cooperative effort by the Women in the Law Division and the Institute for Gender Equality. It featured a keynote address and breakout sessions led by experienced women lawyers who provided specific ideas for women lawyers to increase their business;

• The “Back to the Bar” graduation ceremony was held for 20 female and five male participants, who were assisted in polishing their skills for re-entry into the practice of law;

• The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee held public hearings to discuss “Civil Legal Representation of the Indigent: Have We Achieved Equal Access to Justice?” ACBA President-Elect Jim Creenan testified as to the findings and recommendations of the Civil Legal Justice Coalition;

• The fall and spring bar admission ceremonies for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania were held in December and May;

• The ACBA Board of Governors created the Exempt Organizations Committee with Molly Sharbaugh as chair and Caitlin Price as vice chair. The committee’s mission is to enhance the expertise of lawyers serving the nonprofit sector, including employment lawyers, those who work at government agencies, and those who serve on nonprofit boards or do pro bono work for these organizations;

• The 30th Annual KD & You and the Law, in which ACBA volunteer attorneys provided free assistance to callers with legal questions, was held in April;

• The ACBA’s Young Lawyers Division hosted the ABA National Conference;

• The 11th Annual Lawrence W. Kaplan Lecture featured Sharon Strand Ellison speaking on “Taking the War Out of Words: Skills for Non-Defensive Communication”;

• ACBA Past President John P. Gismondi created the Gismondi Fund with a donation of $225,000 to initiate a Summer Fellowship Program for six University of Pittsburgh School of Law second-year law students. The students are working at Neighborhood Legal Services Association to provide for those in need and to gain valuable experience handling real cases and litigation;

• The Board amended Section 3 of the Lawyers’ Fund Purpose Statement to allow the fund to provide financial assistance to attorneys and law students working in public interest law positions. This amendment made possible the initiation of The Lawyers Fund Law Student Summer Fellowship Pilot Program, limited to second-year law students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Duquesne University School of Law. The students are gaining practical experience assisting 11 public interest organizations. The Lawyers’ Fund trustees will consider future funding sources and assess whether both the organizations and the fellows can benefit sufficiently from continuing the program.

Promoting equality and diversity among ACBA membership:

• The Hispanic Heritage Celebration was held with the El Sol Award being presented to Jacqueline B. Martinez;

• The Board established the Committee on Law and Disability with Paul R. Sullivan Jr. as chair and Jennifer Modell as vice chair. Through four subcommittees, this committee has begun to assess and address the needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities for accessibility, advocacy and legislation, outreach and programming;

• Black History Month Celebration was held in February with the presentation of the Spirit Award, accepted by Marcia M. Sturdivant, to NEED, which has provided over 19,000 black high school students with financial assistance and preparation for admission tests, support to increase retention, and progress toward graduation;

• The WLD held a luncheon featuring Donna Brazile, who spoke about “Challenges in Washington; Women in Politics”;

• The WLD held its annual meeting and presented the Judge Carol Los Mansmann Helping Hand Award to Lourdes Sanchez Ridge.

Fostering collegiality as a significant focus of the ACBA Mission:

• Reception and Dinner for Superior Court judges;

• Fellows Grand Reception;

• YLD Council Reception;

• Board of Governors Recognition Dinner;

• Lunch with the Judges;

• Wine Tasting Event sponsored by the WLD, YLD and Homer S. Brown Division;

• Membership Luncheon featuring Laurence Leamer, author of The Price of Justice, the story of ACBA members David Fawcett and Bruce Stanley representing a coal mine operator in a 10-year legal quest against Massey Energy and CEO Don Blankenship at all levels of the judiciary;

• Diamond and Golden Anniversary Celebration;

• The Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast was held in January. The Drum Major for Justice Award was presented to Hill House Association, of which Cheryl Hall-Russell is president and chief executive officer;

• Reception and Dinner for Commonwealth Court judges.

Advancing the public image of the profession and the highest standards of professional ethics:

• In conjunction with KDKA-TV, the ACBA held its 30th Annual KD & You and the Law program to offer an opportunity for members of the public to speak to a volunteer attorney who addressed their particular legal problem free of charge;

• “Bar All Bullying” programs. Tom Loftus, director of marketing, created a banner to encompass the following existing ACBA programs: “Don’t Be a Cyberbully”; “This is a Joke: Making Fun of Others is Not”; and “Shine a Light on Bullying” in cooperation with a local radio station. The “Bar All Bullying” theme makes it easier for the public to access programs on the website. The theme is unique among bar associations, making the ACBA a public service leader once again;

• Western Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Coalition. In cooperation with U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar, FBI special agents, and noted community leaders, ACBA members joined the Services Committee of the Coalition, intending to educate the bar to the enormity of trafficking in Pittsburgh, identify victims, and engage our attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to survivors.

Supporting and advocating for a fair and effective judicial system that is accessible to every individual regardless of economic status:

• The Board authorized financial support for the Legal Services Corporation Board of Director’s reception on the occasion of the first time the board has met in Pennsylvania;
• Judges Retention Reception in support of judges running for retention;

• The Board passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a Pennsylvania Access to Justice Commission and committing the ACBA to collaborate with the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Inc. to examine and promote access to civil justice for the poor through the operation of a permanent commission;

• ACBA president sent a letter authorized by the Board to Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, attaching the resolution about creating the Access to Justice Commission;

• ACBA president and the chair of the Federal Court Section sent a letter to congressional representatives expressing concerns about the impact of sequestration-level funding and requesting support for congressional action to increase funding for the federal judiciary by $496 million, the level recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee in Fiscal Year 2014. The letter noted that the federal court system supports itself on the money it brings in, but receives only two-tenths of one percent of the federal budget;

• The ACBA Diversity Collaborative Committee, the WLD, the YLD, the HSBD, and the diverse affinity committees sponsored “The Pathway to a More Inclusive Bench” for women and diverse attorneys contemplating a judicial career.

Exercising leadership on a local, state, and national level to further ACBA goals:

• The Board authorized the ACBA president and the chair of the Labor and Employment Section to send a letter attaching a resolution to the National Labor Relations Board opposing the proposal to close the Pittsburgh Region 6 NLRB office and merge Region 6 into the Buffalo, New York office;

• The ACBA president sent a letter to state senators and representatives opposing Section 212 of the discussion draft of The Tax Reform Act of 2013, which would impose the accrual method of accounting upon law firms with annual gross receipts of more than $10 million. Passage of the bill would require such firms to pay tax on income not yet received and that possibly never will be received;

• The Board opposed Senate Bill 76 and authorized the president and president-elect to send a letter to all state senators from Allegheny County, stating in part that the proposed broadening of the sales tax to include legal services would have “a profound impact upon lower-income consumers of legal services who are already having difficulty affording legal services. It also would deter people from utilizing the services of attorneys proactively, with the probable result of increased litigation because of uninformed choices, thus creating an additional burden on an already over-burdened justice system.”

The Business of the Bar Association:

• The Board created two new standing committees – the Amicus Curiae Brief Committee and the Membership Committee;

• The Board authorized the purchase of new software to replace antiquated software for the ACBA/ACBF, which will permit members to access and update contact information, and allow for electronic transmission of dues statements, payments by credit card, and electronic voting capabilities;

• Diane McMillen was selected as assistant executive director to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of David Leonard;

• The Board passed a resolution to retain Mock Bosco and Associates as auditor through June 30, 2015 with an option to renew for one additional year to aid in the transition of replacing the assistant executive director.