“It’s a part of its environment, and it graces its environment rather than disgraces it.”
On Law Day I mentioned our new Strategic Plan, which will continue, expand and make more visible and accessible the many ways our members are serving the citizens of Montgomery County. These are efforts in addition to counseling or representing those who cannot afford counsel. Of course, we take great pride in our Pro Bono Program—it is a model for other local bars. Next month the County Executive is rolling out a new pro bono initiative to complement our program. It will encourage representation of children who arrive in the U.S. seeking refuge after escaping extreme violence, abuse and neglect in Central America, and you’ll hear more on it in a few weeks. But in addition to pro bono services, our association and its foundation have pioneered a number of public service initiatives to leverage our members’ education, training, talents, interests and skills to the advantage of all Montgomery County citizens. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s early 20th century house designs, our bar is a part of its environment, and the challenge for us is to “grace” that environment rather than “disgrace” it. We are doing just that.
Our members are in County high schools inspiring lawyers of tomorrow by coaching mock trial teams, and through the C-IT (“Creating an Improved Tomorrow”) program they are opening dialogues between students and prosecutors, defenders, victims, legislators and other advocates on urgent social issues. In the few years since its creation, C-IT has focused on issues of self-defense and the use of deadly force raised in the Trayvon Martin case (Florida v. Zimmerman), the criminalization of cyber-bullying and the growing epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction. C-IT motivates and equips students to understand the issues and look for solutions, rather than becoming victims. Immediate Past President Lynn Boynton’s award winning “Speak Up and Save a Life” program is helping to save lives.
For younger citizens who may be at risk, our Youth Courthouse Project brings middle schoolers to the circuit courthouse for much more than just a building tour. Among the student participants are some students who face a very different “first visit” to the courthouse. They meet the Clerk of the Court, and visit her Assignment office, the Trust Clerk’s Office, Land Records and other offices to meet our able court personnel and get a glimpse of their work. They are taken into the grand jury room to learn about the secret proceedings conducted there from prosecutors who conduct them. Most significantly, they hear from Judge Debelius and members of the Sheriff’s department in the courtroom and duck into the adjacent lockup—a highlight of their visit! These tours are educational for students, their guides and bar leaders (trust me on this) alike, but they may be life-changing for the students. Let Patty Via, Steve Chaikin or me know if you’d like to participate in this program.
Have you ever thought about working in television? Did you know that Foundation volunteers have produced its cable access program, “Law School for the Public,” for nearly twenty years? It is the longest running public service program of its kind in the nation, and its 300th segment in June will focus on another groundbreaking initiative the Foundation is proud to support: Montgomery County’s Adult Drug Court. Each segment of the show brings together BAMC members, including judges and legislators. They discuss legal issues in the news and share their understanding of basic legal concepts and principles of interest to the lay community and to lawyers who may have little or no experience in a given subject area. Volunteers are welcome, and everyone has something to offer, whether in front of the camera (as a host or guest) or behind it, helping to operate the new digital equipment or to identify, coordinate and plan new, unscripted segments. You can view episodes online or on Montgomery Community Television, Cable TV Channel 19 or 21.
And speaking of Adult Drug Court, did you happen to see Judges Rupp and Quirk receive their outstanding Jurist Awards at Law Day for their volunteer work on that Court? It has been demonstrably successful in dramatically reducing recidivism rates among the eligible drug or alcohol addicted offenders who can complete the rigorous program averaging two years. To learn more about this collaborative effort of criminal justice and treatment stakeholders, watch the upcoming segment of “Law School for the Public” or check out the County’s website. The Bar Foundation’s monetary support for the Adult Drug Court, the Special Olympics Inspiration Walk and many other nonprofit endeavors is limited only by the resources at its disposal. In an effort to increase those, the Foundation retooled its Endowment Committee to focus and direct its charitable giving while improving the visibility of its fundraising. If you are interested in donating to the Endowment, see the Committee contact information listed in this newsletter.
I’ve mentioned just a few of the many ways our bar graces its environment, but we still hear more derogatory lawyer jokes than praise for the service of attorneys in our (or any) community. More than 400 years have passed since Shakespeare’s villainous henchman suggested “kill[ing] all the lawyers” [i] as the surest way to let chaos reign and treachery run amok. Yet we’re still explaining that Shakespeare didn’t really suggest killing all the lawyers as a good idea. While one of the purposes of Law Day is to cultivate respect for the law; it is left to us to cultivate respect for lawyers. Please skim the list of Committees and Sections in this Newsletter, and consider whether there is another way you can help us to do that
[i] “Henry VI, Part 2,” Act IV, Scene 2.