Category Archives: Diversity Conference News

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.

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.

 

Diversity Conference Statement on Disability Pride Month

Those with disabilities have recently observed Disability Pride month in July. On July 26, 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act became law. The changes it has brought about in the ensuing three decades have done much to make Americans acknowledge and work together to overcome things that discriminate against the disabled, whether they be physical barriers or work conditions lacking appropriate accommodations.

The Diversity Conference celebrates the attorneys, litigants, consumers of legal services – indeed, everyone – no matter where they may fall in the range of abilities.  Our mission statement expressly includes those with disabilities, stating:

“The Diversity Conference (DC) was established in 2010 to bring together Virginia State Bar members interested in promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in ensuring that Virginia meets the legal needs of an increasingly diverse population. Diversity refers to, among other things, race, age, ethnicity, gender, religion, education, disability, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. The DC recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people and offers opportunities to serve the profession and the public through various programs and educational sessions.”

We celebrate your pride month with you.

In Memoriam: Providence Ebubechi Napoleon

The Diversity Conference mourns the loss of its past chair, Providence Napoleon, who died Monday, April 19, 2021 at the age of 34. Providence led the Conference in the 2015-2016 bar year, serving as a steadying presence during the period where the Diversity Conference was being considered for funding.

Providence graduated from Florida International University cum laude in 2007 and from the University of Richmond School of Law cum laude in 2011. She was first admitted to the Virginia State Bar in 2011, adding Florida and Washington, DC as her bar admissions in 2013 and 2016, respectively. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Roger L. Gregory of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Honorable James R. Spencer of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and as a judicial extern to the Honorable Henry E. Hudson, also of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

She practiced law at McGuire Woods in Richmond before moving to the Washington, DC office of Allen and Overy. She advised clients on complex competition issues, including business actions that may amount to a competition violations, premerger notification filings, and compliance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.

Providence nobly served the legal profession.  Her entry to bar service was with the Hill Tucker Institute, a summer camp that introduced youth to the legal profession. She was a young lawyer delegate representing Virginia to the ABA House of Delegates and to the ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly. She was Chair of the Virginia State Bar Diversity Conference in the 2015-2016 bar year. She served on the Board of Governors for the Young Lawyers Conference from 2014-2018.

Providence was recognized as a rising star in the legal profession. Providence was named a Rising Star by The Legal 500 in 2019 and has been recognized by Legal Bisnow’s Trending 40 as one of the top 40 lawyers under 40 in Washington, DC.

Current and past members of the Diversity Conference Board of Governors expressed shock and disbelief with Providence’s passing.

She was so full of life, so vibrant, so engaging.

Judge Manuel Capsalis (Past Chair, 2009-2010)

Providence was so helpful and worked so hard to get the Diversity Conference to where it is today.  We will miss her so very much. 

Michael HuYoung (Past Chair, 2010-2011)

Providence had a heart of gold and an infectious smile and spirit. She was the best friend, colleague, wife, daughter and sibling that one could ask for. Her commitment to serving others was unmatched. Her impact will be felt by many for a long time. We’ve lost a giant.

Latoya Asia (Past Chair, 2016-2017)

Providence was such a beautiful person inside and out. The Virginia State Bar is forever thankful and will always remember her unwavering advocacy for the Diversity Conference.  Providence made a difference and paved the way for many lawyers and future lawyers.   She will be missed very much. 

Doris Causey (VSB Past President, 2017-2018)

Providence is survived by her husband of 10 years, Wendy, and her family. Visitation is Friday, April 30 at the L.C. Poitier Funeral Home in Pompano, Florida. The service is May 1, 2021 at Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church in Pompano, Florida.

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.

New Members Join the Board of Governors

On June 26, 2020, our Board rotated membership. Carole Capsalis, Providence Napoleon, and Latoya Asia all rotated off the Board after years of distinguished service. All three served as chairs of the Diversity Conference in consecutive terms. Chairs oversee the meetings of the Board, run the day-to-day business of the Conference, and represent the Conference to the Virginia State Bar Council and Executive Committee. We will miss their wisdom, enthusiasm, and dedication to the Conference but we thank them for their leadership during critical times for the Conference and the Virginia State Bar.

Rotating in to begin three year terms are three exceptional attorneys and volunteers.  We look forward to working with them over the next three years.

Brian Wesley, Esq.

Brian Wesley, Esq., of Richmond, is with Thornton and Wesley, PLLC. Brian’s service with the Virginia State Bar began with the Young Lawyers Conference, chairing the Minority Prelaw Conférences in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. He served on the Board and was President of the YLC during the 2018-2019 bar year.  He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Howard University School of Law.

Debra Powers, Esq.

Debra Powers, Esq., of Fairfax, is a partner at Taylor Hugley Powers, PLLC. She has a distinguished career of service to the bar, serving as chair of the Family Law Section with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, past president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association, and six years of service on the Virginia State Bar’s Disciplinary Committee. Ms. Powers is admitted in Virginia and Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of the University of Richmond and the University of Virginia School of Law.

Marcus Scriven, Esq.

W. Marcus Scriven, Esq., of Virginia Beach, is a solo practitioner who started his career in San Francisco.  Mr. Scriven has a long record of bar and community service, earning numerous awards over the course of his career. He also serves on the executive board with the Virginia State Bar’s Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Associations. Mr. Scriven is admitted in Virginia, California, South Carolina, Washington, DC, and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a graduate of Virginia Union University and the Golden Gate University School of Law.

Please provide a warm welcome to our new board members and a major thank you to our outgoing board members.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

ICYMI: Diversity Conference Statement on Death of George Floyd

VSB Annual Meeting mentors and mentees during the 2018 Annual Meeting.

On June 18, the Diversity Conference issued a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding the death of George Floyd and the events resulting from his death.

In the last few weeks, our collective conscience has awoken to the reality of inequality. We are dealing with the resulting pain, anger, and unrest that has come to light after generations of this reality not being fully addressed. As an arm of the Virginia State Bar and the Supreme Court of Virginia, we cannot take positions on political or ideological issues and we understand the reasons for this prohibition.

As VSB President Byrum stated in her note, “lawyers have been an essential part of the public dialogue; and we must continue to defend and protect citizens’ rights, and, particularly, to speak for those who have no voice, or have been denied it.”

We are committed to providing a public forum for that dialogue. Watch this space in the coming weeks as we, joining with the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference and the Virginia State Bar Conference of Local and Specialty Bars, provide regional and statewide forums allowing lawyers and the public to discuss the issues of the day. These forums will educate lawyers on the perspectives in the conversation, train them to the constitutional issues that we encounter, and build plans of action to improve society and bring its benefits to the many.

There is a lot of work ahead but we are committed to finding solutions and creating a path forward that betters society for all. We look forward to the journey.

Town Halls Furthering Dialogue

By Brian Wesley

We promised a forum for lawyers and the public to have a constructive dialogue in our June 19, 2020 statement. The Diversity Conference formed a Town Hall Committee to create programs and opportunities for lawyers to discuss the effects of our changing understanding of our reality.

Named Time to Talk Town Halls, this series of collaborative virtual town halls was sponsored by the Young Lawyers Conference and the Diversity Conference of the Virginia State Bar. These town halls featured presentations by various subject-matter panelists followed by a Question & Answer forum for participant engagement.

Long standing but under the radar issues have come to the light and the events of the last six weeks remind us as lawyers that access to justice for all Virginians and the rule of law are of paramount importance.  Given the need to address these issues, the Conferences have teamed up to discuss the legal implications surrounding a number of these interrelated topics.

In our first town hall on July 23, Perceptions and Realities of Policing, the panel explored topics including but not limited to: Section 1983 civil rights actions; the doctrine on qualified immunity and instances of excessive use of force; the removal of statues and monuments; and, 1st Amendment protection of protesters afforded under the U.S. Constitution.

Our second town hall on August 20, Free Speech, Statues, and Ongoing Protests, included analysis of free speech and property law concepts that have arisen with the removal of monuments in Richmond and Norfolk. The panel discussed the idea of government speech and whether putting up or removing a statue constitutes compelling speech, asking if the government compels or prevents free speech with action or inaction? The panel went over the history of how the monuments in Richmond and Norfolk arose and the recent history of how they have come down. The panel also covered the property issues and how free speech and real property law intersect.

For the most up-to-date information on the Young Lawyers Conference & Diversity Conference:

                Young Lawyers Conference                                Diversity Conference

Newsletter:        Docket Call                                                Invictus

Social Media:         Facebook        Twitter                                        Facebook  Twitter

Web:                VSB Website                                                VSB Website

Brian Wesley, Esq. is an attorney with the Richmond law firm Thornton and Wesley and current member of the Board of Governors with the Diversity Conference. He is a past President of the Young Lawyers Conference.

Photo by Antonio Jamal Roberson on Pexels.com

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