Author Archives: vsbdiversityconference

LGBTQ+ CLIENTS IN TODAY’S LEGAL CASES

                                                         by Julie Currin, Esq.

        To begin to learn more about this diverse community, I did several immersion exercises.  I took a few days to binge-watch all the current episodes on the NETFLIX series “Queer Eye”.  In this series, five fabulous gay and/or transgender men help a nominated “hero” take a step forward in self-esteem, fashion, grooming, and furnishings.  Recently, they worked in Japan which added a new cultural dimension to the prior stories based in Philadelphia, PA,  a couple of Georgia cities, and a few more places in the Southeast United States.  I also read a Gender memoir by Jacob Tobias called “Sissy” about growing up gender non-conforming and nonbinary.  I attended a web-based continuing legal education program for LGBTQ+ Visibility Week on Seminal LGBTQ+ legal cases in the U.S. and U.K. and I did online research for tools used by clinicians with this population.  

        My study was designed around several same-sex marriages that were just now beginning the process of divorce in Virginia.  I wanted to find out the historical background of our clients to include family makeup, religiousness, coming out narrative, activism, trauma assessment (PTSD), basic alcohol screening and where indicated, suicide risk.  Then I wanted to answer two questions for use by the law firm where I am employed.  First, did the client feel accepted and treated with respect?  And second, how did the client feel the legal system was working for them as these are some of the first same-sex marriages interfacing with Virginia’s divorce laws.  

        Same-sex marriage became legal in Virginia on October 6, 2014, in the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case of Bostic v. Schaefer.  Yet it wasn’t until February 2019 that the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to explicitly and legally include surrogacy contracts for same-sex couples.  In these intervening years, no changes were made to divorce law in the Commonwealth that might specifically address specific LGBTQ+ case differences.  So how is the old law working for same-sex couples in divorce?

        D, a 25-year-old white male who identifies as homosexual was born in Georgia.  He described his childhood as “traditional” although his parents were unmarried.  He attended church in his early years but did not feel his family held any strong religious beliefs.  He spent developmental years 6-12 in a group home along with 2 maternal brothers and one sister due to his mother’s mental health issues.  It was only after many narrative questions, when an open-ended catchall inquiry was made, that molestation by a maternal uncle at age 4-5 and by a teenage boy at age 6 was disclosed as “maybe impacting his sexuality.”  D is in the Navy and did not self-identify as gay until approximately 16.  He hid this since he attended a “ghetto” school which he defined as a lot of fights, nearby gunshots, and violence.  He first came out at 19 and first told his father at the age of 20.  He waited longer because his Dad had made unaccepting comments about a lesbian step-sibling and he felt he would be kicked out of the house.  He told his father when he was leaving for boot camp and so was out of the house.  His father was upset and took months to get over it.  His mother was more accepting, as were a younger half-brother and a maternal aunt.  He does not feel that his Navy career has been impacted by this life choice.  He presented as very easy-going, described himself as a “clean freak” who generally laughs off or lets slide offensive gay slurs or jokes.  He did not scale for alcohol abuse, briefly overusing at home between 20 to 22, nor for PTSD or suicide risk.  He does not engage in activism.

         The AUDIT-C or Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Concise was utilized for all participants.  I also used the PCL-C or PTSD Checklist – Civilian Version and standard questions about suicidal ideation, any prior attempts, and current thought patterns.

        The main reason D feels his marriage did not last had to do with his mate not making the effort to be included in D’s extended family and feeling financially taken advantage of.   He did not feel in any way judged by the staff at our law firm nor did he feel that the legal system was working any differently for him than a straight couple.

        Having been the attorney working with D, these were not surprising results.  However, the late in the interview disclosure of youthful sexual exploitation made me aware of how important open-ended catchall questions can be in a narrative approach.

        My next participant was E, a 32-year-old Black Navy man born in Kingston, Jamaica.   E told me that childhood abuse was normalized in Jamaica during his early years.  He described being beat with paddles and belts.  He felt his father beat him more because he liked boys and tried to “beat it out of him” including hitting him with tree limbs, throwing stones at him, and punching him in the stomach.  He recognized his sexuality early at age 5 or 6, had his first experiences about 11 or 12, and at the age of 14 came out and was rejected by both parents initially.   One sister was accepting.  He feels he had to hide his inner self and be hypermasculine which caused great psychic stress culminating in two suicide attempts in his early twenties. Even now, E experiences psychosomatic reactions.  He said it is not easy being gay and Black, that it is stressful.  He struggles with self-acceptance and feeling worthy of God’s love as a result of his family upbringing and religious indoctrination. These are still impactful.  He does not abuse alcohol.  He feels African-Americans are less tolerant of homosexuality and that the church is hypocritical.  Because he is in the military, he continues to have to restrain his normal reactions to gay-bashing and feels that overt instances of public discrimination have increased under the current President.  He has symptoms of PTSD.  He uses exercise as a coping mechanism.

        E is married to a Muslim born in Senegal who has not come out yet to his family.  He feels two masculine gay men have a harder time making a relationship work like his marriage.  Although they began a divorce, E and his spouse are pausing in that process to try to work things out.  He felt accepted and not judged coming to our law firm for help.  He does not perceive at this stage of litigation that the legal system has treated his case any differently.  He would like me to interview his spouse.

        S is a 47-year-old white Bisexual female born in California.   She is highly educated and very verbal.   She describes herself as a “nerd jock.”  She has a degree in Psychology and teaches middle school health science/gym.  S has had significant relationships with men but leans more toward women.  She too has a military background.  She felt the need to hide her sexual identity when stationed overseas and when teaching in rural Virginia.  She feels accepted at the school where she teaches now.  She did not have a strong religious upbringing.  She did not screen in for alcohol abuse.  She does have symptoms of PTSD, including memory problems when highly stressed, anxiety and depression.  

        S married cross-culturally, an Asian woman with medical issues and raging tantrums.  After 9 years together and despite couples counseling and in-home separation, the parties are in an acrimonious divorce at this time.  There are accusations of adultery and domestic violence.  S feels the Courts treated her request for a protective order differently than in male/female cases.  Although she felt accepted at our firm, she feels her case is not progressing in the same way traditional couples divorcing would.  She feels the length of time it’s taking is traumatic and wonders if her attorney is making the same efforts, filing the same paperwork, pushing as hard in her case as in straight divorces.  She is interested in reading the final study paper.

        I had hoped to include one more female participant in this first grouping but was not able to schedule the interview before the deadline for this paper.  Nor do I include the first interview I reported because it was not as in-depth and did not have the benefit of the tools used in these three cases. Nor was I as immersed in LGBTQ+ issues at the time that I met with the first person.  

        As the first foray into these issues suggests, there is much we can learn about treating our LGBTQ+ clients with understanding and respect.  The truth is that we are “counselors” of law and when we identify issues that impact our client’s directly and potentially their cases, we have a duty to advise.  This could go so far as to take the form of a referral for professional counseling assistance but at minimum, we should be including additional questions in our intake documents and interviews to be better stewards of equal justice for all.

Julie Currin, Esq., is an attorney in Virginia Beach.

Exercise: The Cure For Stressed Out Lawyers

By Connie Morrissey Ruiz

        “Exercise and application produce order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to our friends …” Thomas Jefferson.

These words were true when said by Mr. Jefferson but resonated from times past with the words of Hippocrates who said:

        “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

As active attorneys today scramble to operate in the new Covid-19 environment, the ordinary pressures of too much to do in too little time are aggravated by isolation in the pressure cooker of quarantine/lockdown rules.  Existing health issues, physical and mental, can become inflamed unless addressed by an effective response.

Exercise can contribute to a preventive strategy in personal health planning.  It also serves to maintain good physical and mental health as part of health maintenance planning.  Equally important, it has already been established that exercise can play a major role in various treatment regimens for existing diseases and injuries.

According to Dr. Robert Sallis, a family and sports medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente:

        “Regular exercise may be the most powerful medicine we have – more powerful in most cases than any pill or procedure.  We literally have thousands of years of data, going back to Hippocrates, that exercise has a powerful therapeutic effect.”

In February, the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its Scientific Report to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. The report summarized the scientific evidence on physical activity and health and was used to develop the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes provides one example.  For years it was common for doctors to prescribe Metaformin; considered the standard treatment.  Metaformin lowers blood sugar levels by improving the way the body handles insulin which is a benefit for both those with Type 2 Diabetes as well as those who are pre-diabetic.   This drug is listed on the World Health Organization as an essential medicine deemed effective and safe.  However, doctors were amazed at the results of the Diabetes Prevention Program after a lifestyle of exercise and diet outperformed the drug Metaformin in a head-to-head comparison over 15 years, preventing people at high risk for diabetes from developing the disease.   Additional information on exercise treatment benefits can be found in the article Exercise Is the Answer for All That Ails You by Markham Heid.[1]

The impact on mental health cannot be overstated.  Studies have consistently shown that exercise can also enhance memory, improve attention, alleviate depression and equally important, can ward off neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  

The same endorphins that are released with exercise to make one feel good also stimulate the growth of new brain cells and help prevent age-related decline.  As explained in the article This Is What Exercise Does to Your Brain by Dana G Smith[2]:

        “Scientists are starting to discover how exercise increases levels of important hormones and neurochemicals that help forge new connections between brain cells, and may even lead to the birth of neurons in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, the organ’s mood and memory hub.”

If Exercise were Classified as a Drug, It Would Be Called A Miracle Drug

Exercise is the ultimate “work smarter not harder” to be healthier for day-to-day wellness essential to our daily performance in our jobs and careers.  It can strengthen immune systems to combat Covid-19 as well as the yearly flu and cold season and to prevent and/or treat diseases that we all long to prevent in our aging years like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Here are some stark statistics in 2020 from Research America:

  • More than 78 million adults (or 35.7%) and more than 12.5 million children (or 16.9%) in the U.S. are classified as obese.
  • By increasing the risk for cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and most cancers, obesity contributes to 1 in 10 deaths, making it the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
  • Obese individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure have a 26% greater risk of death than healthy-weight individuals.

Not enough attention is paid to the fact that the widespread adoption of effective exercise programs by Americans, combined with a proper diet plan, could result in a major reduction in health care costs associated with funding levels in Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention the private insurance market.  Americans have become too accustomed to taking pills as the first answer to nearly all health exigencies and doctors have been incentivized by pharmaceutical manufacturers to push their drugs.  Exercise, the miracle drug, is the elephant in the room.

How to Get Started: Begin With An Honest Assessment.

Are any of the following self-descriptive:

  • lethargy
  • irritability
  • depression
  • health issues
  • increasing dependency on pharmaceuticals and/or alcohol
  • strained personal and/or professional relations?

The answers should be honest as the information need not be shared with others.  The assessment should indicate the extent exercise can be a solution to any of these.

How quickly can an effective exercise program be incorporated into your lifestyle?  The short answer is immediately.  Any exercise is better than none.  Even desk-bound, standing up and walking around regularly, doing push-ups even against the wall can provide a start.  If gyms survive the Covid-19 shutdowns, there may remain multiple options available with qualified fitness professionals to guide the development of tailored exercise programs.  Multiple self-administered and group-led exercise programs also can be found online.

If a busy professional is unable to dedicate the World Health Organization  recommendation of 2.5 hours a week for exercise as a preventive health strategy (far short of the 2 hours each day adopted by Mr. Jefferson in his regimen), there are emerging alternatives available to achieve real results in record time.  One such method utilizes electronic muscle stimulation (EMS).  

EMS initially started gaining recognition as a means of enhancing sports training starting in the 1960’s when the Soviet sports scientists were using it with elite athletes and claiming force gains up to 40%.  The first EMS approach was with self-adhesive pads used both for rehabilitation as well as for strength performance in athletes.  However, since 2007, EMS has transitioned to Whole-Body EMS so when combined with an exercise routine lead by a certified Personal Trainer specialized in working with the technology, a 20-minute workout can elicit enough muscle contractions to be comparable to a traditional 90-minute workout.  Since then, the whole-body EMS approach spread thereafter to fitness clubs in Europe and has been made available to the public in multiple countries, now including the United States.

EMS represents the new wave of efficient exercise opportunities for Americans to ward off multiple medical/mental health issues and to promote overall well-being. One US provider of EMS technology is Personal20, owned and operated by this author, located in Herndon, Virginia, for time-limited professionals, with an additional location being planned.  There are a few other providers of the EMS technology and the industry is expected to grow.

Specifically, the development of the evidence-based P20 Method provides a whole-body workout with little pressure on joints.  By sending electric impulses to the muscles through the motor nerves, while doing simple exercises, they stimulate even weakened muscle connections.  Both slow and fast-twitch muscles are activated from the start so that a more intense, although low impact, level of training is received. On the Personal20.com website, there are multiple Google reviews from professionals, touting its effectiveness, including a review by the Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at Tata Communications.

More recently, EMS has been successfully introduced in clinical settings to help patients requiring physical therapy and chiropractic services. Promising results are emerging for those suffering from back pain, hypermobility issues, injury rehabilitation, and even pre-surgery strength development, especially for joint replacement/surgery.  

Summary

Attorneys are not excluded from the physical and mental health afflictions impacting all Americans.  Moreover, the pressures of stress and time limitations increase the chances of serious illness.  Knowledge about reasons and opportunities for change comes first.  Then taking the first/next step follows.  Addiction to the miracle drug of exercise is one addiction everyone can get behind.  The potential for improved health is unlimited and the potential for lowered healthcare costs is enormous.  Today is not too late to start.

About the Author

Ms. Ruiz is a co-founder of Personal20 EMS Studios and the Vivafit Women’s Boutique Fitness Franchise.  She is qualified as an EMS Specialist, Health and Fitness professional with several present and past certifications including:  EMS Certification by E-Fit, XBody, and Miha Bodytec; also American Sport & Fitness Personal Training, Michael King Pilates (formerly Pilates Institute),  AFAA and ACSM Group Fitness, Les Mills Body Pump, RPM, and Body Combat.  Ms. Ruiz has been invited to speak at national and international fitness conferences such as those sponsored by the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association (IHRSA), the ForumClub International Congress & FIBO Global Fitness.

For questions and additional information, she may be contacted through the website Personal20.com, or directly at constance@personal20.com.


Why Lawyers Matter: History and Lessons – The Editor’s Corner.

By: August Bequai, Esq.*

“…no government can stand which is not founded on justice.” – Aristotle

Evolution of the Legal Profession

The world’s legal systems fall under one of four major categories or a combination of these: civil law, common law, customary law, and religious law (primarily Cannon and Sharia). Of these, civil law is the most widespread globally and is heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code of 1804. The latter constituted the first major comprehensive codification of Western law since Justinian’s Code in the 6th century A.D. No legal document has had the same influence or impact worldwide as the Napoleonic Code. Components of it can be found in every legal system in the world; including the United States (Louisiana and Puerto Rico, partially).

The common law is the second most widely used legal system in the world. By the 12th century, what has come to be called the English common law had evolved from custom, local usage, judge-made laws, and acts of Parliament. While Wales adopted the English common law, Scotland and Ireland developed their own independent legal systems; heavily influenced by those of Continental Europe. With the rise and expansion of the British Empire, the common law system of governance followed; as did the rules that governed her legal advocates.

However, under the English legal system, unlike that in the United States, Parliament (the legislature) reigns supreme; the judiciary is its subordinate. Well until the rise of the Tudor dynasty, the legal profession in England, like that on the Continent, was largely the monopoly of the clergy. This changed with the Protestant Reformation and the legal and religious reforms of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Secular lawyers came to the fore. Their role and power increased with the rise of England’s mercantile class. The English East India Company needed secular lawyers, not clerics, to ferment its power over a growing empire that dwarfed England.

Customary law has been defined as the organic or living law of indigenous people; regulating their daily lives and dealings. The oldest of all legal systems, it is found in numerous localities worldwide. It is regulatory in that it regulates the lives and interactions of members of the local communities that are subject to it.  Under customary law, elders and other well-respected members of the local community are called upon to hear and arbitrate a variety of disputes. These can range from the simple to the serious.

In some communities, customary law is used to resolve such life and death matters as vendettas between clans or offenses which bring shame and dishonor to a tribe, clan, or family.  A number of nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have incorporated customary law into their legal systems. Section 211 of the South African Constitution recognizes the customary law and traditional authority practiced by many local communities in that nation.         

Religious law (primarily Cannon and Sharia) is also widely used worldwide. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D., the Catholic Church came to fill the political and legal void it left behind. Borrowing from Rome’s legal system, the Catholic Church developed its own hybrid (Cannon law) legal system.  Much of it was codified; with an army of clerical lawyers and judges trained to administer it. Throughout Europe’s Middle Ages, the law was the domain of the Catholic Church. Its monopoly on learning and reading ensured the dominance of Canon Law well into the Protestant Reformation.

In parts of Africa and Asia, the rise of Islam in the 7th century A.D., brought with it the proliferation of Islamic (Sharia) law. Until then, much of the legal system in place in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor consisted of Roman (Byzantine Empire) and Persian (Sassanid Empire) law. Until the rise of Islam, lawyers in those regions were trained in the legal systems of those two empires.

The first Four Caliphs in Islam and those that followed them-(primarily the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates)-established an Islamic judicial system, legal codes, law schools, and cadres of trained lawyers to implement Islamic (Sharia) law. While the Muslim rulers borrowed when needed from the Roman and Persian legal systems, at the heart of Sharia law lays the Koran, and its interpretation over the centuries by Muslim scholars, preachers, and schools. Sharia law is practiced today in one form or another in many parts of the world.

Lawyers Come to the Fore

In Ancient Athens (3,000 to 404 B.C.) and Republican Rome (501 to 47 B.C.), legal advocates were frequently individuals who were self-taught in the customs, practices, and legal systems of their societies. Many of them were public speakers; practicing law as a part-time avocation. While they could not legally charge money for their legal services, a barter system evolved to get around these restrictions. In both Ancient Athens and Republican Rome, unlike in Ancient Egypt (3,000 to 653 B.C.), every citizen was expected to argue his/her own case before the local courts.

The legal profession that we have come to know today had its beginning in 41 A.D. with the ascent of Claudius as Emperor of Rome. Claudius embarked on a series of legal reforms to meet the needs of the expanding Roman Empire (it had topped 100 million persons); also to address the political abuses of his assassinated nephew, Caligula.  

Among his legal reforms, regulations were enacted to provide for the formal schooling, training, and licensing of lawyers. Under Claudius’ legal reforms, lawyers were allowed to charge fees for their legal services, but these were capped. The military was also assigned lawyers to advise commanders in the field on the law of war. While physical brawls (some leading to death) between lawyers had been common in Pre-Claudius Rome, civility within the profession was stressed and enforced under his reforms. He had witnessed firsthand under Caligula’s reign, the anarchy that ensued when lawyers neglected the rule of law and became part of the mob.

By the time that Diocletian became Emperor of Rome in 285 A.D., lawyers had become a common fixture in the Empire. They came from every strata and region of the Empire. To facilitate the running of the vast Roman Empire, Diocletian divided it into two parts in 286 A.D. Administering the Eastern half of the Empire himself, and assigning Maximian to administer the Western half as co-ruler. Rome’s lawyers were called upon to draft the needed documentation to ensure a smooth transition. Roman law and the regulation of lawyers continued as before in both parts of the divided Empire.

With the fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D., the Eastern half, headquartered in Constantinople, assumed the mantle of Rome. It would live on as a successor state for another 1,000 years. Historians came to refer to it in the 16th century as the Byzantine Empire, because of its strong Greek influence. Hence, the term Byzantine Empire has come to reference the Eastern Roman Empire. They are one and the same state.

Lawyers as a class grew in number and influence under the Byzantine state. Legal education became the province of the state, and lawyers were required to study law for four years in state-licensed schools; they also had to join one of the Empire’s court bars; similar to the Inns of Court that were to take shape later in England and pass a written license exam.

The days of the amateur legal advocate were gone. Lawyers had come into their own as professionals and were respected members of society. Civility among lawyers was stressed, and those that failed to comply with the rules of conduct for lawyers were sanctioned or disbarred from practicing law in the Byzantine Empire.

Well into the 15th century, from their ranks came the judges, legislators, governors, and administrators that helped run the Byzantine Empire. Lawyers were also viewed as a stabilizing force in Byzantine society; ensuring that the law and not force, resolved disputes between citizens. When lawyers joined the mob, civil war and anarchy frequently followed. The Byzantine legal model had has a profound (though subtle) impact on the legal systems of Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Lawyers in America

During the early colonial period in America, there were no formal requirements for the schooling or licensing of the legal profession. Lawyers were frequently local business persons and farmers, who were self-taught legal advocates. By the time of the American Revolution, lawyers as a class had become leaders in their communities. They accounted for 45 percent of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and 69 percent of the members of the Constitutional Convention.

By the 18th century, lawyers started to form bar associations and establish law schools. The Litchfield Law School, established in 1789, went on to graduate more than 1,000 lawyers. The Harvard Law School and others followed in the 19th century. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, a Harvard professor, would help establish a national law school curriculum, and one of Harvard’s Deans (Christopher C. Langdell) introduced the case system.

 Many of the first bar associations emerged in New York City in the 19th century; their numbers growing to over 1,000 nationwide by 1930. The formal licensing, schooling and disciplining of lawyers had become the norm by the early 20th century. The profession grew to the point where it now numbers some 1.33 million lawyers; with civility being recognized as an important component of the state bar codes of professional conduct that govern lawyers. It is firmly understood that if lawyers are an important component of governance. That when they are not civil to each other or join the mob, the profession and society as a whole suffer. Dogma does not supplant 2,000 years of law.

Lawyers Act as a Firewall

While Shakespeare fumed at lawyers because they posed a check on the autocracy of his Tudor masters, the legal profession is one of the more long-lasting achievements of human civilization. It has played an indispensable role in guiding humanity through its primal pitfalls. Without lawyers to implement the law, humanity would be engulfed in civil strife and anarchy. History does not lack such examples.

In difficult times, lawyers must stay the course. They bear the burden of ensuring the peaceful functioning of society. Not long ago, I had the occasion to discuss the role of civility in the legal profession with an attorney from the former Yugoslavia. He had witnessed the horrors that followed the breakup of that nation. “Civility,” he said “is the glue that keeps the legal profession intact and makes it effective.” Adding, “When lawyers cast it aside, civil strife ensues.” More than two million citizens of the former Yugoslavia were killed, maimed, or displaced when the rule of law was set aside.

                        

Introducing Shelia Costin, Diversity Conference Chair 2020-2021

By: Chris Fortier

On June 20, 2020, Shelia Costin was sworn in (virtually) as the 2020-2021 Chair of the Diversity Conference. As we progress through the year, let’s take a moment to get to know our chair for this bar year.

1) Tell us a little about yourself, where did you grow up, and how you came to where you are today.

I was born and raised in Altamont, NY, a small village outside of Albany. I received my bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University. After spending four years on the Canadian border, I headed south to thaw out and received my law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. I practice in Alexandria, Virginia, with the firm of Holmes Costin & Marcus. My practice is focused on fiduciary litigation, commercial litigation, and adult guardianships, and conservatorships.

2) How did you come to the Diversity Conference?

I became involved with the Diversity Conference prior to its adoption as a conference because I wanted to be involved with an organization whose goal is to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. I was also drawn by the sense of community that I felt. The attorneys involved are incredibly talented and I find that I look forward to each board meeting. I also enjoy working on the numerous programs and forums that the Diversity Conference has to offer all Virginia lawyers.

3) I know you have done a lot with our Annual Meeting program. What is the most unique aspect of putting together such a high-profile program?

I am a bit of a law nerd and working with committee members and speakers to help an idea grow into a program is exciting. We all learn about topics not central to our practice areas when we attend CLEs but I get to learn so much more when I am involved in putting the program together.

4) What is your vision for the Diversity Conference for the year and long term?

This is an opportune time to be involved with the Diversity Conference. This year, the Diversity Conference will host a series of town halls to discuss the issues that are on all of our minds. In addition, I look forward to advancing our proposal to list bias elimination training as an approved form of Ethics CLE for all VSB members. I also look forward to getting to know and working with more of our members throughout the Commonwealth.

Chris Fortier is a member of the Board of Governors for the Diversity Conference and the Multimedia Editor for Invictus. Anything expressed here is the sole opinion of the author and do not reflect the views of the Social Security Administration or the Federal Government.

Editor’s Corner (The Liberum Veto: A Lesson for Lawyers)

                                   

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

By: Gus Bequai, Esq.*

           Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and with them only entangle and hold… (Anacharsis)

For historians, it is axiomatic that history repeats itself and great civilizations fall largely from within. In the 17th century, Poland was the most powerful and wealthy nation in Central Europe. It was the Poles under King John III Sobieski, who in 1683 defeated the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna; dealing them a military setback from which they never recovered.

Seventeenth century Poland was also one of Europe’s most diverse and cosmopolitan societies. While predominantly Catholic; within her borders also lived Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Budhists, animists, and morer. Living side by side with the Poles, were Cossacks, Lithuanians, Ukranians, Germans, Russians, Latvians, Estonians, Swedes, Mongols, Gypsies, Turks, Bulgars and Roumanians.

Poland was the envy of both her friends and enemies alike. Her Parliament (the “Sejm”), and not England’s, was viewed as the most democratic legislative body in Europe. Yet, by the late 18th century, Poland had become a failed state and was partitioned by her enemies (Russia, Prussia and Austria). She would not regain her national independence again, until the 20th century.

The debate that lingers among historians to this day is, “what caused Poland’s collapse?” and what are the lessons to be learned. While the answers are many; nevertheless, two key factors stand out: the Sejm’s liberum veto (“free vote”) rule; and a political elite that made use of the liberum veto to manipulate Poland’s political process when it suited its interests.

The Liberum Veto

To check the power of her kings, the Polish Sejm enacted a rule called the liberum veto; which gave every member of the Sejm the right to veto any proposed legislation that came before it. Thus, a single member of the Sejm needed only to shout, Sisto activitatem! (Latin: “I stop the activity!”), to derail legislation on its tracks.

No matter how well meaning, by checking royal power, the liberum veto led to serious political abuses; paralyzing the workings of the Sejm. Bribery, extortion and blackmail became the norm; with most members of the Sejm up for sale. In a span of 200 years, the Sejm held 150 sessions; the liberum veto was used to ensure that no legislation was enacted in 50 of those sessions.    

History Can Repeat Itself

Shakespeare’s view of lawyers aside, the legal profession is one of the oldest and most durable in history. Lawyers drafted the first laws and treaties in history; among these, the Code of Hammurabi, Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis, Treaty of Kadesh, Magna Carta, Canon and Islamic law and more. Lawyers have been at the forefront of efforts to advance human rights, civil liberties and diversity.

Lawyers have a history to be proud of; without lawyers, civilization would have long since disintegrated into anarchy. They serve as guardians of the law; from their ranks come society’s judges, administrators and legislators. A modern version of the liberum veto, no matter how well intentioned, cannot be dismissed. If enacted, it would erode the political and social edifices on which American democracy rests.  Lawyers need to be vigilant.

*The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. They are not representative of the Virginia State Bar, it’s Diversity Conference, or Invictus.

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