Monthly Archives: September 2021

Time to Talk Town Hall Wins ABA Award

Compiled by Chris Fortier from Virginia State Bar Reports

The Time to Talk Town Hall Series from 2020 won a major national award.

Through a submission for the ABA Young Lawyers Division Awards of Achievement through our partners, the Young Lawyers Conference (YLC), the Series won the 2021 Award of Achievement for Diversity for the Time to Talk Townhall Web Series, which was a series of three town hall style virtual forums for discussing issues of equality, race and ethnicity in the wake of the nationwide protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and other persons of color. These issues were discussed through the lens of concrete legal frameworks and concepts.

The town halls were a joint project and covered policing, free speech, statue removal, protests, and addressing implicit bias. The web series was distributed after recording through the two conferences’ newsletters, Docket Call and Invictus.

Dave Masterman, chair of the Diversity Conference noted, “Programs like this one have added importance in difficult times, and goodness knows that the last few years have been difficult. This Award is both a wonderful recognition of the YLC’s and the Diversity Conference’s hard work on these issues and an inspiration for all of us to keep this dialogue open.”

The ABA Young Lawyers Division Awards of Achievement recognizes projects and programs put on by young lawyer groups from around the country. One major criterion is collaboration with other bar organizations to put on quality programming. The Diversity Conference and the Young Lawyers Conference have a strong partnership supporting one another to put on exceptional programs such as the award winning Hill Tucker Institute and the Time to Talk Town Halls.

Annual Meeting Review: Mentorship Today

by: Chris Fortier

The old notion of quaint visits in the office for mentoring no longer is the norm. COVID-19 transitioned many lawyers to working at home or even remotely. However, mentoring is not dead, it just looks different. Dean Blake Morant noted that mentoring leads to lifelong learning as our need for information is constant. However, as moderator Leslie Haley noted, 55-60 percent of Virginia lawyers are in law firms with five or fewer attorneys. Such firms may not have a formal mentoring program or resources in the firm to foster mentoring.

The Annual Meeting panel included Ra Hee Jeon, Judge Rossie Alston, Anita Poston, Dean Blake Morant, and Jay Myerson.

Mentoring can come from anyone at any time. Judge Alston emphasized listening to everyone, including non-lawyers. He stated that new lawyers come with knowledge of the law but not how to effectuate it. Older lawyers and court staff can show how to accomplish what one wants. Take the opportunity to learn doing things the right way as these folks provide bits of information to help! Dean Morant observed that mentoring comes in a variety of packages. “Find someone who is willing to work with you and you admire their success. Differences can enhance the synergies. While we have mentored online, it is a compliment not a substitute. The in-person presence helps you immensely.”

Poston discussed the effects of mentoring on applicants. Mentoring can assist an applicant with a spotted history get back on course. She observed that the issue areas with biggest problems seen in bar applications include substance abuse, financial issues, disregard of the law, and plagiarism. Mentorship programs should teach professional behavior to those in law school. For bar applications: she looks for those with issues to confront character issues with candor, to be up front. Character and Fitness wants to see you taking steps on a plan to resolve financial issues. Representation in front of character and fitness is mostly about mentoring and going into a plan.

Dean Morant provided a broad view of mentoring and professionalism, where we learn from one another. When one is learning, one is teaching with others. Professional Learning from others is critical to lifelong learning. Law school associations with others is where mentorship becomes important. We need education for the practice of law. We have an obligation to pass information on to the next generation.

Jeon stated that the practice of law is about values and networking with others. She urged young lawyers to surround yourself with good people so that you can ask questions and have the mentoring discussions. You can have multiple mentors such as an ethics mentor or a competency mentor. Myerson noted that he has new attorneys witness hearing, prepare witnesses, and coach witnesses. It is not a weakness to ask for help or ask questions. “You always get a fresh perspective.”

Haley noted that mentoring helped her life balance as someone along the way helped her figure out how to live life as a lawyer and as someone in a family. A mentor discussed the finer points of adjusting to children in her life and balancing her work. Jeon noted that she had this assistance too, as a mentor helped her figure out issues such as asking for time off to care for concerns with family.

The panel discussed how mentorship can go both ways, called reciprocal mentorship. For example, Judge Alston noted how President Myerson asked for feedback on being a better lawyer after a trial with him. He noted this outreach as an example of how someone years out can take advantage of mentorship. Dean Morant noted that mentors get a lot from their mentees. Ms. Jeon pointed out that recent graduates are up to date on and can share developments with technology, for example, creating table of contents in a Word document.

One such mentoring package can come from those outside your firm. President Myerson noted that going outside the law firm provides a different and helpful perspective. Rule 1.6 Comment 5A has the ethical guidance on this, however. Be mindful about disclosing details about clients and cases. The comment recognizes that lawyers need to consult one another as part of professional development. Honesty and integrity matters. Remember, the rule says “substantial concerns about honesty and integrity.”

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Chris Fortier is an attorney at the Social Security Administration and the multimedia editor for Invictus. The views represented in this article do not represent those of the Social Security Administration or the Federal Government.

Meet the New Members of the Board of Governors

Compiled by Chris Fortier

The Diversity Conference also welcomes its new Board members, whose terms started at the end of the VSB Annual Meeting in June.  Everyone named was elected to three year terms commencing at the close of the Annual Meeting. This group made its first meeting on June 24, 2021.

Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, a principal at SmolenPlevy in Vienna, has a history of service with the Diversity Conference, serving on different projects including our Annual Forum on Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Virginia, where she is also the General Counsel of the group. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association (2008-present) and was its President in the 2014-2015 bar year.

Daniel P. Frankl is a Roanoke based partner at Frankl, Miller, Webb, and Moyers where he has an insurance defense practice concentrating on individuals and commercial motor carriers. He also starts a three year term representing the 23rd Judicial Circuit on the Virginia State Bar’s Council. He is a member of the Roanoke Bar Association, serving on the Board of Directors. He chaired the Virginia Bar Association’s Highways Section from 2001 to 2004. He is a double graduate of George Mason University.

Courtney Frazier is staff counsel at Allstate in Virginia Beach. Before then, she was an associate at the Cooper Law Firm, PC. Courtney is a past co-chair of the Hill-Tucker Institute, an award winning collaboration of the Diversity Conference, the Young Lawyers Conference, and its sponsors including the Virginia Law Foundation. She is a graduate of the University of Richmond and Louisiana State University.

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Claire G. Gastanga served as the Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia until 2021. Before her time with the ACLU, she was a civil rights attorney and a consultant. She was also the first woman to serve as Chief Deputy Attorney General in Virginia. From 1996 until 2000, she was Chief of Staff and Special Counsel to the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Michigan State University College of Law.

Shemeka Hankins, Esq., of Invictus Law in Virginia Beach, becomes the second board member from the Hampton Roads area.A former prosecutor, Shemeka now serves on the defense side of criminal litigation. Shemeka is a past president of the South Hampton Roads Bar Association and a former member of the Board of Governors with the VSB Young Lawyers Conference.  She has won multiple awards for her bar service, with Significant Service awards with the YLC in 2015 and 2016 and the Conference of Local and Speciality Bar Association’s Local Bar Leader of the Year Award in 2020.  She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Regent University School of Law.

Judge John Tran of the Fairfax County Circuit Court, joins the Board as its Judicial representative. He was a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Alexandria and a former special assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. He ascended to the bench in 2013, becoming the first Asian-American to be elected to the bench in Virginia. In 2021, he was named an ABA Legal Rebel for his education of lawyers with WebEx conferencing technology.

The membership elected David Masterman of Vienna for the Chair of the Diversity Conference, Julie McClellan for Chair-Elect, Alicia Roberts for Treasurer, and Candace Blydenbaugh for Secretary. The Board voted to extend Victor Cardwell, Esq. and Zaida Thompson, Esq., for second three year terms. We thank Judge Eugene Cheek for his years of service and for his support to the Diversity Conference.

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All material compiled from law firm biographies, LinkedIn profiles, or press reports.

Annual Meeting Review: 101 Years of the 19th Amendment

By: Chris Fortier

It has been only 101 years since the 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920 granting women the right to vote.  One COVID year after the 100th anniversary of its passage, a panel convened to discuss where we are. Attorney General Mark Herring joined the program along with Professor Vivian Hamilton-Watts of William and Mary Law School.  This discussion and celebration, even if delayed by a year, is still relevant to our current events. The work continues for women’s rights and voting rights as the panel pointed out, as there are still areas where we have yet to achieve equality.

Suffrage for Women

Examining the history of women’s suffrage shows that while women gained the right to vote, those rights were still subject to previously enacted race and class limitations. When going over the history of the 19th amendment, Professor Hamilton-Watts noted some shortcomings in the suffrage movement. 

Women’s suffrage shows that while it opened up rights for women to vote, those rights were still subject to race and class limitations previously enacted by Congress and the states. Professor Hamilton-Watts noted that the leaders of the movement in the 1800s did not support or recognize the ramifications of the 15th amendment. However, suffragists went for a strategy of expediency, specifically going for white women’s enfranchisement, and had to get support of southern states.  As a result, African American women continued to deal with poll taxes and literacy tests.  Asian Americans and Native Americans were not able to enjoy suffrage as various laws prevented their vote until the 1950s. Officially, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 achieved universal suffrage for all races.

Professor Hamilton-Watts noted that women are going to higher office but far fewer women hold elected office today, as 27 percent of Congress and 29 percent of state legislatures are women. Ten million more women than men participated in the 2016 and 2020 elections. However, Latina women still lag in participation.  57 percent reported struggling to manage work and family compared to 37 percent of women overall.

The Civil Rights Act created the Preclearence rule, where states and localities with a history of voting discrimination had to clear their rule change with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  However, this rule was overturned in Shelby County v. Holder. As a result of Shelby County, states are ramping up voting restrictions.  Voting restrictions hit marginal communities disproportionately harder. Currently, states previously subject to preclearance are now passing voter suppression laws. 

Attorney General (AG) Herring noted that the Virginia Voting Rights Act passed this year created 45 days of no excuse absentee voting, removed the mandatory photo ID requirement, makes election day a state holiday, prohibits intimidation or racial discrimination from voting. If a locality wants to move precincts or change the location of the registrar’s office, it has to get permission (preclearance) from the Attorney General’s Office. Voter information was made in languages other than English. The Virginia Act also created a voter outreach and education fund.

AG Herring noted that while wording of law limiting voter participation is gender neutral, the effects of time limitations are on lead parents, primarily women. Professor Hamilton-Watts notes that limits have a disproportionate effect on women and women of color as they have less flexible hours in positions such as caregivers. 

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

Virginia was the 38th state to ratify the ERA in January 2020. The Constitution provides for equal protection because of the 14th amendment. While race generates strict scrutiny, sex only has intermediate scrutiny, meaning the law must be  substantially related to important government protection.  The ERA bumps up sex to strict scrutiny. Congress does not have wide-reaching jurisdiction over gender-based restriction, only limited jurisdiction.

When it came to what is missing, the ERA would give better gender-based protections with employment and gender-based violence for example, allowing for broad power to enact gender protections with the Constitutional basis. Castlelaw v. Gonzales outcome might be different as ERA would have required examination of law enforcement action for discrimination. The expressive effect of law is important as women are currently perceived as less than equal. For example, harassment or assault would be counteracted by an ERA.

AG Herring noted that every constitutional requirement has been fulfilled. When asked if there is a time limit to ratify, Herring stated that he believed there was none. He pointed out that there is no time limit to ratify amendments set out in the Constitution. As precedent, he pointed to the 27th amendment, that Virginia ratified in the 1700s but was not an amendment to the Constitution until 1992.  Congress could also remove the time limit with a bill pending to remove that time limit set in 1972. In any case, there is still work to do to make the ERA law.

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Chris Fortier is an attorney at the Social Security Administration and the multimedia editor for Invictus. He serves on the Board of Governors for the Diversity Conference. The views represented in this article do not represent those of the Social Security Administration or the Federal Government.

Juneteenth and the Official End of Slavery in the United States

By Alicia Roberts Johnson 

Many people believe or history books may tell you that slavery for African-Americans in the United States ended on January 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states shall be free.  Unfortunately, while January 1, 1863 marked the end of slavery for some African-Americans in the United States, it did not mark the end of slavery for those in Texas.  Continued to be held in bondage, it was some two years later on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger brought the good news to Galveston, Texas that the war had ended and all those in bondage were now free.  Prior to Major General Granger’s arrival in Texas, there were not enough Union soldiers in Texas to enforce the proclamation.  Upon his arrival Major General Granger would issue the following executive order to the people of Texas:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.  This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.  The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.  They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”  General Orders, Number 3, Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865.

It was out of this executive order that the holiday of Juneteenth would be born and recognized as the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.  To date, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or ceremonial holiday and many businesses such as Target, Nike, and the National Football League have declared Juneteenth a holiday for their employees.  While Juneteenth has been celebrated by many African-Americans for well over a century now, it has recently gained increased national recognition with the development of more robust exhibits at national museums such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as through national television broadcasts.  The Commonwealth of Virginia would join in the celebration of Juneteenth on June 16, 2020, when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order 66, declaring his intent to make Juneteenth a permanent state holiday.  This legislation was subsequently passed by the Virginia General Assembly in the fall of 2020 after lawmakers unanimously voted in favor of this historic legislation.  

Many communities and organizations across our nation have celebrations to commemorate Juneteenth to promote and cultivate awareness of African-American history and culture.  I encourage you to avoid using Juneteenth as just another day off, but rather use Juneteenth as a time to learn more about African-American history and the many contributions African-Americans have made and continue to make to our society.

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Alicia Roberts Johnson serves as the Chair-Elect on the Board of Governors of the Diversity Conference.

Editor’s Note: One day before this presentation, Juneteenth became a federal holiday with its first observance on June 18, 2021.

 

Editor’s Corner: FREEDOM, DIVERSITY, TOTALITARIANISM AND THE LAW

                                                              By: August Bequai, Esq.*      

I declare, that having received from the people the mandate to defend  its rights,  I regard an oppressor him who interrupts me.”                  

-Maximilien Robespierre

From its recorded inception, civilization has rested on three classes for its functioning: priests, warriors, and lawyers. Their roles and functions have varied from civilization to civilization; frequently interchanging. In Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the priestly class often assumed at least two of these roles; this was not the case in Ancient Rome, Greece, India, or China.

Equally, throughout history, the forces of freedom and diversity have found themselves pitted off against the forces of autocracy; the latter favoring an absolutist mindset. With the pendulum swinging back and forth; often finding lawyers at the helm of the former. By the late 18th century, autocracy came to assume a secular absolutist mindset in the West; referred to as totalitarianism by such scholars as J.L. Talmon. Fast gaining adherents globally in the 20th century, i.e., Communism, Fascism, and extreme nationalism to the detriment of freedom and diversity.

Onset of the Totalitarian Mindset

Autocracy and dictatorships are no strangers to human history. They are found in every part of the world; there are ample examples of these throughout history. No society has been spared the pain. However, a new autocratic mindset emerged in the late 18th century; referred to now as totalitarianism. In part, the outgrowth of the writings of Hobbes, Helvetius, Voltaire, Rousseau, and other Western thinkers; further propelled by the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Further cemented in the late 19th century by the rise of Marxism, agrarian socialism, and various extreme nationalist movements.

These combined forces played no small part in unleashing the French Revolution (May 1789 to November 1799); which came to have a profound impact on world history beyond Europe. While espousing freedom and diversity, the French Revolution gave rise to a secular absolutist (totalitarian) mindset that came to view the common good as paramount to the rights of the individual. It propagated the view that rule by an enlightened elite was best for the common good; those who espoused freedom and diversity, were traitors to the common good. Such views had historically been confined to religious extreme movements.

No one personified this absolutist mindset during the French Revolution more than Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer by training turned revolutionary. For him, the Parliamentary system of government was a fraud; a plot against the common good. Lawyers were a tool of a corrupt  elite to suppress the majority. Any legal system that espoused freedom and diversity, was to be crushed. Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler would take Robespierre at his word.

Robespierre was not alone in his thinking. Other French revolutionaries, like Louis Antoine de Saint-Just (a former law student), shared his views. For them freedom and diversity were “the art of human pride.” Political opponents were no more than vermin: enemies of the common good to be destroyed. For Robespierre and Saint-Just, the general will was one and indivisible; freedom and diversity would only serve to undermine it.

The True Believers

Unlike past dogmas that centered around religious movements, the French Revolution promised a secular heaven on earth. The rulers of this new compact would come from the ranks of a select enlightened elite. Lawyers were shunned as impediments to revolutionary change. The French Revolution would become a model for such groups as the Left SR, Bolsheviks, Fascists, and other secular dogmatists that followed.

The idea of a (secular) supreme leader also took hold under the French Revolution. Endowed with godly wisdom, he/she would enshrine the common good, free of legal restraints. A secular papacy, leading the masses. Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, and Mao Zedong would master that role. The law and lawyers would play no real role in this totalitarian society; they were to be used as needed.

The Lawyers 

Freedom and diversity have been part of humanity since the dawn of history. The Ancient Greeks incorporated these precepts in their legal system. They were included in the Magna Carta (1215), English Bill of Rights (1689), Virginia’s Declaration of Rights (1776), U.S. Constitution (1789), and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). They are the pillars of modern democracy.

Likewise, lawyers are the guarantors of the law. Freedom and diversity would be merely talking points if lawyers failed in their duties. The absolutist mindset, if espoused by lawyers, can prove to be the nemesis of freedom and diversity. To quote Frank J. Cobb’s, “The Bill of Rights/…is the…guarantee of human freedom.” Absolutism its nemesis.

*Gus Bequai, Esq. is the editor in chief of Invictus. The views expressed are solely those of the Editor. They do not reflect the views of the Virginia State Bar or the Diversity Conference.

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