It was 11:55 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2001. My two sons and I were standing on Chang Mai Square in Thailand. We were watching the musicians and awaiting the New Year fireworks display. I was less than fully engaged by the excitement of the moment. In five minutes and half a world away, I would become the president of the Oregon State Bar.
The previous two years had drawn less than positive public attention toward our organization. We spent countless hours trying to get the boat back on course. It is in challenging times when one gets the opportunity to do the best work. I believe I contributed positively to making things right. However, I knew I had the advantage of toiling in the shadows of my friends and predecessor bar presidents, Larry Rew and Ed Harnden. Now, it would be my turn to be the point man. I was nervous, but hopeful that I would be able to lead the bar through whatever the immediate future would bring. True to form, the future arrived with its own set of problems — the economy and attacks on judicial independence.
At the end of the last legislative session, we had celebrated gains in court and indigent defense funding. By April of this year, these gains had been eroded and both budgets were in deep and dangerous deficit posture. The strains are beginning to be felt.
With respect to judicial independence, I have in my pocket as I write, my mail-in ballot for the upcoming Nov. 5 election. I checked 'no' on ballot measures 21 and 22 and listen to the simplistic, misleading, yet convincing radio ad telling me I should have voted otherwise.
Conflicting 5th and 9th Circuit Court opinions stare out from the Federal Court of Appeals level. Presumably, they will soon be corrected by the United States Supreme Court which will instruct us whether IOLTA funding, which we use for legal services and other beneficial purposes, is contramanded by the Federal Constitution.
The bear economy has hurt the Oregon State Bar and PLF investment plans, shrinking OSB reserves, and, in the case of the PLF, making it necessary to increase its assessment.
On the plus side, we still have this beautiful place called Oregon in which to live. We have some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country presiding over the business of the legal industry of the state.
We, as a bar, treasure judicial independence, access to justice, diversity in our ranks and in the community. We have a sound disciplinary system that has been thoroughly reviewed with recommendations for improvement passed by the House of Delegates at the October annual meeting. Speaking of the House of Delegates, I am pleased to say they also approved a new online legal research program for use by all OSB members, which will cost $15 per member per year. It will go on-line sometime in 2003.
We have a New Lawyer’s Division to be proud of and so much energy left in us old fogies, that it is never a problem finding good people willing to volunteer to help take us through those difficult issues which we, as an organization seem to face on a continual basis.
We also have a strong commitment by Oregon’s three law schools (in conjunction with the Quality of Life Committee and the New Lawyer’s Division) seeking to ameliorate the debt load crunch of those recent law grads who commit to public interest law over the bigger paycheck they could earn in other areas. You will hear more about the law school loan repayment program in the coming months.
Finally, I have come to understand through numerous ABA speaking opportunities in the last two years just how highly regarded our state bar is in the areas of access to justice (2001 ABA Harrison Tweed Award); the Professional Liability Fund, including the Lawyer’s Assistance Program; and our commitment to diversity via the Affirmative Action Program, and the newly created Diversity Section and CLE Diversity Requirements. Our Affirmative Action Program director, Stella Manabe, will be the 2003 recipient of the ABA Spirit of Excellence Award. Let us not forget Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Rosenblum, secretary of the American Bar Association and in line for its presidency.
In closing, I would like to thank the House of Delegates for their support on critical issues, Karen Garst and the entire bar staff for their good work and cheerful support, and, of course, my friends in the Board of Governors. Now it is Charlie Williamson’s turn to take the helm. Don’t worry, Charlie — the economy will improve, things will get better. You are a strong leader. The bar is in good hands.
To you, the membership, I thank you for the pleasure and wonder for the great experience of serving you. It has been an honor.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angel Lopez, a Portland lawyer, has served as president of the Oregon State Bar for 2002.
© 2002 Angel Lopez