By Kevin Ryan, Esq., Executive Director
This Thursday, members of the bench and of the bar come together for the MCBA’s annual holiday party. Festivities start at 5:30 p.m. at the Wintergarden in Legacy Tower (you know, the old Bausch & Lomb building). We’re expecting a big crowd and hope to see you there.
This year’s event has a special importance, and not just because it’s my first time. Many of you know that MCBA President Mark Moretti has worked hard to improve the relationship between the local bench and the bar association. Both judges and lawyers are in the business of providing justice for the citizens of the area. Both have a stake in making the courts run smoothly and efficiently. Both have a stake in fostering a productive courtroom environment. Both have to work together daily and surely would prefer amicable rather than tense relations. In short, both judges and lawyers inhabit the same legal community, work in the same space, and depend upon each other in many ways. The holiday party gives us a chance to toast our close professional friendship, our fellowship, our appreciation for the work we do together.
It’s not just litigators who have a stake in bench-bar relations. Every member of the bar benefits from a sound, effective, and professional court system, whether you practice in the Hall of Justice or in your office. The courts provide the framework within which all legal work gets done – just think what would happen to your sales contract, your lease, your corporate documents if the court system collapsed or was roundly rejected by the public. The bar association as a whole also has a significant interest in the judiciary: judges are lawyers, potential members, fellow travelers in the halls (and Hall) of justice. Judges are experts and leaders with much to share. We need judges to sit on our CLE panels, to participate in our events (bringing their staff with them), to sit on committees, boards, and councils, to assist us in improving the law for all. A close, friendly relationship between the bench and bar serves everyone’s interest. We are all, in fact, members of the same legal family.
All family relationships have their moments, of course. Occasionally tensions emerge. When I arrived, we were in one of those “moments.” Fewer judges were joining the bar association, and fewer were encouraging their staff members to join. Fewer judges attended MCBA events, and fewer sat on CLE panels or joined us in board and committee meetings. But this situation, while unfortunate, must be seen as temporary. Close-knit families, like the bench-bar family we inhabit, grow beyond such moments because they recognize the long-term importance of the relationship. And, thanks to Mark’s work and the very positive response from our sisters and brothers in bar and bench, today we look forward to a sounder, more supportive, more collaborative family relationship.
You may know that the MCBA Board approved a moratorium on evaluations of judges running for office while a specially selected task force – headed by past president Steve Modica and filled with representatives from the judiciary, the bar, and, most importantly, the three major political parties – reviews the process and makes recommendations to the MCBA Board. Mark has breathed new life into the Bench-Bar Committee, which sponsored a well-attended “meet and greet” event with me as guest of honor in the Hall of Justice. Today, more judges are participating in bar affairs – sitting on panels and participating in sections and committees – and, while membership numbers have yet to increase, there is reason to think they will, slowly but steadily, over the coming years. The courts have invited the bar to be an early and active participant in discussions about the Excellence Initiative and the rollout of e-filing in Monroe County courts. The judiciary – from Judges Doran and Rosenbaum to the many other judges I have had the pleasure to meet and speak with since my arrival – has welcomed me warmly with a friendliness that speaks to the health of our familial relationship.
The annual Bench-Bar Holiday Party is a great opportunity for judges and lawyers to get together to recognize our mutual commitment to justice, to greet old friends and renew acquaintances, to demonstrate and celebrate our connections with one another. We hope to see you there, whether you wear a robe or not, whether you sit in front of the bench or behind it, no matter what political party you’re in, no matter what you’ve thought about what’s gone on before. Today we are walking together into a more productive and collaborative future. Come help us celebrate!
See you there.