Fitzgerald looks back at 2005-06 term

Issue July/August 2006 By Bill Archambeault

Warren Fitzgerald, finishing his term as 2005-06 president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said he was proud of everything the MBA's leaders, volunteers and staff have accomplished this past year.

Fitzgerald, a trial attorney and partner at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Fitzgerald PC of Boston who concentrates on personal injury law, said he's enjoyed his year leading the MBA, having created a number of task forces and committees tackling issues as diverse as ethnic diversity and judicial independence.

Though he plans to stay involved in the MBA, Fitzgerald said he's looking forward to returning to his practice more fully. However, after having focused on such a broad array of legal issues and having met so many people, he said, he'll see things differently than he did before.

"I'll do it with a different view, having many times this year stood back and looked at the profession and the judiciary from a different perspective,” he said. "The opportunity to be president of the association led me into areas I wouldn't ordinarily have gone, and provided me the chance to reflect on various aspects of the profession. It wasn't a chance to stop and smell the roses as much as it was a chance to view the roses from a different vantage point.”

"The pleasure of beingw president this year far exceeded my most optimistic expectations. It really was a joy.”

Fitzgerald said he was fortunate not to have been hampered by the crises or dilemmas that often arise and command the president's attention. The only real drawback he faced was assuming the presidency at a time when many of the MBA's key staff positions were unfilled. During Fitzgerald's term, the MBA hired Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington, Director of Media and Communications Tricia M. Oliver and Director of Finance and Administration Mark J. Doherty. Also, Director of Programs and Services Lisa A. Ferrara was hired shortly before Fitzgerald's term began.

"During this past year, we were able to complete the hiring of talented and dedicated professionals to staff the MBA, which (2004-05 MBA President) Kathy O'Donnell had started.

Fitzgerald particularly praised Wellington, who started Dec. 1, for restructuring the staff, making long-overdue changes and implementing new programs. Her hiring followed a 15-month stretch in which the position was vacant, with MBA General Counsel Martin W. Healy doing double duty as acting executive director.

"I believe the association staff, under Marilyn's exquisite leadership, will continue to support the organization with amazing talent, dedication and energy that makes the MBA the best state bar association in the country and the envy of even national associations.”

Wellington praised Fitzgerald's leadership of the MBA.

"It's been a pleasure coming into the organization during Warren's tenure. His strong leadership and commitment to the MBA has given us the opportunity to identify the administrative needs of the MBA and begin to move forward,” Wellington said. "His energy, leadership and strong support have helped us create a new beginning at the MBA and re-energize the staff.”

Fitzgerald launched and oversaw a number of new efforts, including the creation of the MBA's Task Force on Diversity, which is pairing MBA officials, minority attorneys and judges to go into high schools and colleges to speak with minority students about considering a legal career. The task force has already had teams speak to students in a number of schools and is planning to increase its schedule in the 2006-07 year.

"I just think it is a fantastic accomplishment,” Fitzgerald said. "It will be a very successful program for increasing minority participation in law schools, the profession and the association.”

Another creation was the Committee for Judicial Independence, led by former MBA President Edward P. Ryan Jr., which defends the judiciary when judges are attacked and speaks out when judicial independence is threatened.

"It's an effort I hope will continue as long as there would be any unfair attacks on the judiciary or there's a need for preserving the judicial branch from encroachment,” he said, noting that, unfortunately, he fears the committee's efforts will be needed indefinitely.

One of Fitzgerald's earliest initiatives, which is being led by MBA Secretary Denise Squillante, is the Lawyers in Transition program, which helps attorneys who have stopped practicing law to raise families or for other reasons, to stay in contact with the legal community during their absence and ease their transition back into practicing law.

Fitzgerald said it's important that the bar association provide a "lifeline” to attorneys hoping to return to practice.

The most recent effort to Fitzgerald's tenure is a task force temporarily called "Sharlene's Task Force,” named for the case in which 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre was beaten, fell into a coma and was ordered off life support prematurely. Fitzgerald envisions the new task force as helping lawyers understand what to do when they detect child or domestic abuse.

He hopes it becomes yet another one of the initiatives this year in which the MBA and the judiciary worked toward a common goal.

"I've been very pleased with the opportunity to work with the courts to improve the administration and delivery of justice,” he said.

"It's very encouraging that the bar in this state is able to speak with a unified voice in working with the courts on making improvements. I'm happy to see an era of cooperation between the bar and the courts in the improvement of the legal system and the delivery of justice.”

Fitzgerald credits O'Donnell with setting the tone for much of the organization's current progress during her term last year.

"I was so honored to follow Kathy O'Donnell and the amazing work she did,” Fitzgerald said. "I was pleased to be able to successfully finish a number of the things she started, and a number of things we started this year.”

President-elect Mark D. Mason, he said, is ready to do great things during his tenure, saying, "I'm sure any improvements that were started in the last year or two will be continued and will continue to be beneficial to the MBA.”

Fitzgerald reiterated that his fellow officers for 2005-06 were "the most talented, dedicated collection of officers at one time at the MBA.”

Mason, whose term begins Sept. 1, said Fitzgerald deserves credit for introducing new initiatives, such as the "Honoring the Profession's Finest” event on May 9 that honored U.S. District Judge William G. Young and American Bar Association President Michael S. Greco.

"The MBA has greatly benefited from Warren's exemplary leadership,” Mason said. "Indeed, Warren's vision of the MBA has led us to a promising future. In ‘Shaping the Future of the Profession,' Warren has ensured that we meet the needs of the present and future members of the Bar. His thoughtful, empathic and articulate manner remain his hallmark. As a Bar, we are indebted to Warren for his selfless contribution. On a personal note, thank you, Warren, for setting such a fine example of leadership.”

For his part, Fitzgerald said he is satisfied with what he and the MBA accomplished this year.

"No frustrations and no regrets,” Fitzgerald said. "I wish I could have done more.”