A year's worth of favorite moments

Issue August 2004 By Richard C. Van Nostrand

Throughout the year, I have tried with my column to address the hot legal issues of the day - from judicial independence to the death penalty to the Patriot Act and on and on. For the last 11 months, I have droned on without respite, exhorting and encouraging and evangelizing. Take heart, for the message sent by many of you to "give it a rest" has finally sunken in. Better late than never, I suppose.

Therefore, before bringing down the curtain on my tenure as president, I would like to offer a lighter and happier recap of some of my favorite moments from 2003-2004 (in no particular order):

A variety of events; a variety of locations

The position of president enables its temporary occupant to attend any number of events, eat countless chickens and listen to many diverse individuals speak on a variety of topics. This experience has been both uplifting and humbling.

Throughout the year, I have had the opportunity to listen to enlightening, engaging and memorable words from giants of the legal profession here in Massachusetts, including Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and Associate Justice Roderick Ireland, incoming American Bar Association President-Elect Michael Greco, Boston Bar Association President Renee Landers, House Judiciary Chair Eugene O'Flaherty and United States District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, as well as national legal luminaries, such as Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter, American Bar Association President Dennis Archer and President-Elect Robert Grey, Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, and law professors David Cole and James Coleman. Each of these (and so many more) has reminded me by their words and example of how truly noble and essential our profession is.

House of Delegates meetings - Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Hyannis

In a similar vein, I also had the pleasure of listening to the intelligent and impassioned, yet ever-respectful words of the dedicated members of the MBA's House of Delegates. Although a sound bite or two is sometimes reported, one cannot fully appreciate the depth of the discussion and debate heard at those meetings without being there. It was a great honor and privilege to serve as this body's chair.

Mock Trial Tournament Finals - Newton North High School v. Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School at Faneuil Hall

At the finals, the plaintiff's expert (a high school student) was on the stand being cross-examined about his testimony that illegal downloading caused the plaintiff to lose sales of her music CDs. Defense counsel was trying to establish that higher prices are what caused the fall-off in sales, not illegal downloading. In trying to get the expert to concede the basic principle that consumers are likely to buy a lower-priced item rather than a higher-priced similar item, counsel asked, "if you went into a store and one pack of gum was 50 cents and the pack of gum next to it was $300, wouldn't you buy the cheaper gum?" Without missing a beat, plaintiff's expert deadpanned, "actually, I'd shop at another store."

Annual Conference Gala Dinner, Sheraton Boston

At this event, MBA Treasurer Mark Mason was called upon to announce the winners of the raffle drawings or to award, in his words, "the door prizes." These announcements were interspersed with the speakers, one of whom being the aforementioned Marian Wright Edelman, the first African-American woman admitted to practice law in Mississippi and the nation's foremost children's rights advocate. Edelman compellingly recited startling statistics on poverty and racism and challenged the 600 lawyers in attendance to use our many gifts to do something about it. Following the thunderous standing ovation for Edelman, Mark rose with aplomb and somehow transitioned from her rousing call to the announcement of the next set of "door prizes," all without dishonoring the inspirational tone of her remarks.

Throughout the commonwealth

I have watched with great admiration as our volunteers, the unsung heroes of the Massachusetts legal profession, have worked tirelessly on behalf of the MBA, the profession and the public. Although by mentioning only a few names it is impossible to do much more than just scratch the surface, there was no better feeling than watching the good works of lawyers like Jim Van Buren, Pat Clendenen, Rey Ilg, Ed McIntyre, Susan Huettner, Jim Glickman, Mike Fee, Arthur Carakatsane, Bill Meade, Bob Lucas, Marianne Leblanc, Kay Hodge, Rick Eurich, Amy Cashore Mariani and the cast of literally hundreds of other volunteers that worked alongside them.

Two others, Lee Gartenberg and Denise Squillante, bear special mention. I must confess that I kept appointing Lee and Denise so their energy and enthusiasm and sense of fun (who can forget their songs?) could enervate and enthuse me and keep a smile on my face. Setting aside my personal agenda, however, the example set by Lee and Denise of selfless volunteerism and personal commitment serves as a great model for young lawyers everywhere.

American Bar Association Mid-Winter Meeting, San Antonio, Texas

Following on the heels of the SJC's second same-sex marriage decision ("we told you once, must we tell you again?"), the officers and senior staff of the MBA convened a four-hour Friday afternoon conference call about what to do and what role the MBA should play in the looming Constitutional Convention debate. Three of us were on cell phones scattered throughout the San Antonio Convention Center with a warm sun beaming outside; the other five back in Massachusetts in the midst of a worsening snow storm. Intelligence, perceptiveness and common sense were in great form throughout that long discussion. It was the best example of collective leadership that I have personally witnessed in this association. My heart-felt thanks go out to my fellow officers for their year's work, of which this was their finest hour(s).

20 West Street, Boston and 73 State Street, Springfield

Since beginning the presidential marathon, I have gotten to know and work alongside the dedicated staff of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Not many of you see many of them, but the work they do on behalf of all of us is what makes the engine run, day after day, week after week, year after year. Each one individually and all of them collectively were an indispensable part of what made this year an absolute joy for me.

My thanks to all of you - Abbe, Marty, Bill, Cheryl, Lisa, Bob, Jeanine, Terry, Tricia, Pat, Peter, Chantal, Lee, Beth, Carla, Krista, Alissa, Geoff, Rick, Steve, Gwen, DaShanna, Linda, Janice (and to the many others that space does not permit me to mention) - for your hard work and dedication and the respect and friendship you have shown to me. I will always remember you with great fondness and a warm smile.

I have found my tenure as your president rewarding and ennobling. At times, it has been frustrating and exhausting. We have accomplished much this year, but the job will always remain unfinished. The plate of my successor, Kathy O'Donnell, and her successors will undoubtedly be full. I wish her good luck and I hope she enjoys her term as much as I have mine.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to serve as your president this past year. I hope I have done so to your satisfaction.