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Bar Watch Bulletin August 12, 2008

Final Day of ABA Annual Meeting
August 12, 2008

The American Bar Association's Annual Meeting will be taking place from August 7-12 in New York City. As always, ABA Watch will be reporting live, providing you with highlights of the day's events.  To read more about resolutions that will be considered by the House of Delegates at this year's meeting or to learn about recent ABA activity, check out our latest edition of ABA Watch.

What follows are some highlights from the final day of sessions at the annual meeting.

On Tuesday, the ABA conlcuded its annual meeting In New York.  Resolutions were considered at the House of Delegates, Attorney General Mike Mukasey addressed the audience, and outgoing ABA officers passed their office on to their successors. 

(NOTE: The recommendations below may have provisions that have been amended and/or omitted upon passage by the House of Delegates)  
 
Michael Mukasey to the House of Delegates
 
On Tuesday, United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey addressed the ABA House of Delegates.  Mukasey began by thanking the ABA for establishing and maintaining the professional standards for the legal profession.  Mukasey's speech then turned to discussing professionalism in the Department of Justice, namely the recent controversy arising from reports that Department employees violated civil laws governing the hiring of interns and career employees by considering political affiliations.
 
Mukasey asserted that "professionalism is alive and well" at the Justice Department and commended his colleagues as the "first rank of legal talent."  However, he acknowledged that the department's reputation has been damaged recently.  He referred to the two reports released by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, which discuss the allegations that political considerations were used in the hiring of immigration judges, Assistant United States Attorneys, employees assigned to Main Justice, Attorney General Honors Program participants, and Summer Law interns. 
 
Mukasey admitted "the system failed" and that the Justice Department "failed to check the behavior of those who did wrong." Both senior officials and employees alike failed to "cry foul" when they should have, according to Mukasey. 
 
Although these infractions have hurt the department's reputation, Mukasey did note that much has changed at the Justice Department since these events took place.  Department officials are now aware of their obligations, said Mukasey, and he is confident that the chain of command would work properly if these events were to occur again.
 
Mukasey also outlined new institutional reforms that will ensure a fair hiring process.  These reforms include mandatory training on the Department's Merit System Principles instituting Prohibited Personnel Practices codifying "roles for attorneys in the decision- making process." The Department will ensure employees that "politics must play no role either in the hiring of career employees or in the investigation and prosecution of cases."
 
Mukasey also discussed disciplinary actions against those who committed these practices, saying that criminal prosecution of these individuals would not be necessary at this point, pointing to the fact the Justice Department reports only found these employees to be violating civil service laws.   Mukasey assured the audience that those "most directly implicated have left the department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity - I doubt anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people."
 
Mukasey also addressed critics who suggest all employees hired under the "flawed" system should be fired or reassigned, saying, "two wrongs don't make a right" and that those hired improperly "did not, themselves, do anything wrong" and are not unqualified for their positions.  Mukasey also said that those hired under this process will be evaluated just as regular employees, and if they are found to be handling cases based on politics, "there will be swift and unambiguous response."
 
Mukasey maintained that the Justice Department is "on a surer foot today than it ever has been before.  Taking stock - and taking stock publicly - is an important part of determining and acknowledging what went wrong and why it went wrong, and it is crucial to ensuring that we do not again have to face such problems."

Final Resolutions
 
The House considered Recommendation 10D, sponsored by the Missouri Bar Association.  This resolution "urges state and territorial judiciaries, in cooperation with state, local, and specialty bar associations, to undertake assessments of their judicial systems using as an assessment tool, the State Court Assessment Project, developed by the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence."
 
Hon. Michael Wolfe, of the Missouri Supreme Court spoke on behalf of the project.  Wolfe called the assessment protocol, an idea of "transcendent brilliance."  Wolfe discussed his experiences in Missouri in 2005, where a campaign to remove Justice Rick Teitelman was undertaken during his one year retention vote.  Wolfe called the campaign an "attack on the rule of law" that energized the Missouri Bar to assess their judicial system.  Wolfe praised members of the Missouri Bar, saying that they have played a major role in establishing a "fair, impartial, and independent judiciary." The recommendation was unanimously adopted.  
 
Recommendation 300, sponsored by the Task Force on Gatekeeper Regulation and the Profession, "addresses certain proposed legislation and international policy initiatives intended to impose obligations on company information agents, including lawyers, to undertake extensive due diligence and determine 'beneficial owners' when assisting in the formation on non-publicly traded business entities and trusts, and urges Congress to refrain from enacting legislation that would regulate lawyers in the formation of business entities."  The recommendation was unanimously adopted.
 
Recommendation 301, sponsored by the Section of Science and Technology Law, urges state, local, and territorial legislatures and regulatory bodies to refrain from requiring private investigator licenses for persons engaged in computer or digital forensic work, including expert testimony; and supports the development of certification and competency requirements for such forensic activities."  The recommendation passed unanimously.


To see a summary of all of the recommendations considered at this year's ABA Annual Meeting and other related documents, click HERE.
 
Laurel Bellows Passes Gavel to William Hubbard
 
Laura Bellows, who has led the House of Delegates for the past two years, passed the gavel on to William Hubbard of South Carolina.  Hubbard said he looks forward to taking on his role leading the House of Delegates. 
 
Bellows offered some closing remarks upon her departure, calling her position "the best job in the ABA."  She then went on to thank all members of the ABA for sacrificing their time to advance the ABA's mission.  Bellows said that although the ABA has experienced great successes, there are still times where the ABA should have voiced opposition.  She mentioned "silence" on the issues of McCarthyism and Japanese internment as times when the ABA should have stepped forward: "Silence in the face of injustice encourages more injustice" said Bellows.  Bellows also commended the ABA in its "courageous" efforts to advance diversity in the legal profession.
 
The meeting ended with a recital of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere" by the members of the Massachusetts ABA, with the poem's language curtailed to encourage members to attend the ABA's midyear meeting in Boston.

This concludes our coverage of this year's annual meeting.  Please be sure to take a look at our newest edition of ABA Watch to get more information on recent ABA activity.