National Conference of Bar Presidents

NCBP News - Volume 1 Issue 2

Veiw the full NCBP News Spring Issue here.

What Would Your Bar Do?

Dear Bar Leaders,

During the term of many bar presidents, there comes a time when the association they represent must decide whether to take a position on a controversial issue.  One such time came last week for South Carolina Bar President Alice Paylor, when a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate’s opponents stated in a video advertisement that, in his work as a defense attorney, “[the candidate] protects criminals, not South Carolina.”  The South Carolina Bar went into action, directing its members and the public to S.C Lawyers: The Facts, its website aimed at providing factual information about the role of attorneys in the American justice system, including pointing out that defense in criminal cases is a Constitutional right.  President Paylor also issued a letter to the bar’s members encouraging them to help combat the negative political tactics that unfairly attack the profession. 

The advertisement drew the attention of ABA President James Silkenat, who wrote to the sponsoring organization’s president, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to express concern that the advertisement vilified the candidate for his work as a criminal defense attorney.  President Silkenat’s letter urged Governor Christie to reject the ad’s message, noting that the video “sends a disturbing message” to lawyers that defense of unpopular clients may have detrimental effects on their careers or future public service aspirations and to the voting public that such defense should be used as grounds for disqualifying a candidate for office. The president of the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA), Ralph Lamparello, also wrote to Governor Christie, appealing to him as a member of the New Jersey legal community and former U.S. Attorney for the state of New Jersey, to retract the ad.

Reaction to the advertisement also came from the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA), in a letter from President Forest Myers, Vice President William Pugh and Immediate Past President Thomas Wilkinson to Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Corbett, a member of the sponsoring organization’s executive committee.  The letter expresses that, while the PBA has no stake in the South Carolina election, its leaders felt strongly that campaign television ads should address substantive campaign issues and refrain from “lawyer-bashing.”

Outside bar circles, the ad’s propriety has been fodder for major newspapers, talk radio and television.  So, what would YOU have done?  Having anticipated that the attorney backgrounds of candidates might elicit controversial advertising, the South Carolina Bar had prepared its website to take on the issue in its own backyard.  The ABA, PBA and NJSBA quickly weighed the pros/cons of responding, expressing that they were making nonpartisan response to anti-lawyer advertising, and were not in support of or against any candidate.  Do you agree?  How should your bar association handle such a situation?  How will your members react?  The pros and cons of becoming involved in “controversial topics” will be the subject of NCBP’s opening plenary session on Friday, August 8, at the NCBP Annual Meeting, August 7-9, 2014.  I hope to see you in Boston for this thought-provoking kickoff to a full complement of interactive programming we have in store for you. 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Carl D. Smallwood
NCBP President

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