ethics scales of justice

Today I urge you to consider something that I understand is often on the minds of Arizona lawyers: whether the current ethical rules (among other things) are a help or a hindrance to the practice of law.

For a long time (OK, forever), I have heard some say that the ethics structure fails to keep pace with the realities of law practice. Now, you have an opportunity to offer your views.

Patricia Sallen is the State Bar’s Director of Special Services & Ethics/Deputy General Counsel, but I just call her our ethics guru. And she and others have heard similar statements, and they are examining whether Arizona ethics and the regulatory scheme are meeting all of their multiple challenges. Here is Pat:

“A new Arizona Supreme Court committee will look at whether Arizona ethical and other regulatory rules should be amended because of the changing nature of legal practice in a technologically enabled and connected workplace and the growing trend toward multistate and international law practice.”

“Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer is chairing the new committee. A copy of the administrative order establishing it is here.”

“The committee’s charge specifically includes examining whether the current regulatory model – regulating the practice of law based on a lawyer’s physical location – should be changed and whether conflict-of-interest rules for both private and public lawyers should be clarified.”

“Should the rules be changed? If yes, what would you change? Email your ideas, thoughts and suggestions (as well as any questions!) tochangingpracticeoflaw@azbar.org.”

Time to share your thoughts.

Chief Justice Scott Bales on the Arizona PBS program Horizon, July 9, 2014.

Chief Justice Scott Bales on the Arizona PBS program Horizon, July 9, 2014.

A brief mention on this Change of Venue Friday.Arizona Supreme Court Strategic Plan 2014-19 cover_opt

In case you missed it: On Wednesday, July 9, Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales spoke with PBS Horizon host Ted Simons about the Court’s five goals, as described in the judicial branch’s strategic plan.

In the interview, Justice Bales touched on multiple subjects, including access to justice, specialty courts (such as drug courts and veterans courts), evidence-based practices, and lawyer discipline.

To see the whole video, go here (the interview with Justice Bales begins at about 10:17).

Download your own copy of the report here.

Have a great—and strategic—weekend.

Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales, left, speaks with Horizon host Ted Simons, July 9, 2014.

Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales, left, speaks with Horizon host Ted Simons, July 9, 2014.

Former Justice Ruth McGregor speaks at the 2013 State Bar of Arizona Convention -- and now in the Washington Post.

Former Justice Ruth McGregor speaks at the 2013 State Bar of Arizona Convention — and now in the Washington Post.

On Sunday, readers of the Washington Post were treated to an opinion piece co-authored by Arizona’s own Ruth McGregor, a retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Titled “Keep politics out of the courthouse,” the essay was co-written by Randall Shepard, a fellow retired justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The news hook for their salvo against improper political influence was a recent awful occurrence in Oklahoma. As they describe it:

“The chaos surrounding the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was not just a wake-up call on capital punishment and how it is administered. The final hours also saw political efforts to bully and weaken Oklahoma’s courts. Similar battles are playing out around the country, threatening the ability of our courts to be fair and impartial.”

“When Lockett’s attorneys filed a lawsuit seeking information about the drug mixture that ultimately failed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay to grant more time for review. But the governor announced that she would disregard the court’s ruling. A legislator introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who had voted for the stay, alleging ‘a willful neglect of duty and incompetence.’ The Supreme Court ultimately dissolved its stay and allowed Lockett’s execution to proceed.”

Did you get that? The governor looked at a court-issued stay and said, “Nope. Not gonna do it.

(You may recall reading that Lockett’s subsequent execution went terribly wrong.)

Justice at Stake logoWe cannot get into the Oklahoma justices’ heads. Perhaps they dissolved their own stay to avoid a continued head-to-head with the governor. Or perhaps they feared the impeachment resolution. But whatever their thinking, the ultimate decision did more harm to the independent judiciary than almost anything else, as it merely encouraged the further bullying of courts.

Justice McGregor and her co-author are board members of Justice at Stake, “a nonpartisan network working to keep courts fair and impartial.” You really should read their op-ed all the way to the end. Start here.

Reading the well-drafted opinion piece, I was reminded of an editor’s column I wrote back in 2009. In it, I commended to the consideration of the new U.S. President a jurist worthy of the United States Supreme Court. To my knowledge, President Obama never followed up and contacted Ruth McGregor (and he has not contacted me). But I thought you might enjoy what may be the one and only Arizona Attorney column that was also an open letter to the POTUS.

My SCOTUS recommendation opened Dear President Obama.” Keep reading here.

In the meantime, the retired justices suggest, if we needed more evidence of the real-life fallout that may come from the politicization of courts, an Oklahoma lethal injection provides it.

Below is an image of my 2009 column.

AzAt Editor's Letter May 2009 Ruth McGregor_opt

(click to biggify)

access to justice lady justice scales

An Arizona Access to Justice Statewide Forum was held in Phoenix, May 1, 2014.

Law Day may be celebrated numerous ways. Legal advice may be offered; educational seminars may be staged. Or the yawning gap between aspiration and reality may be highlighted.

The third approach was selected on Thursday, May 1, at a statewide forum hosted by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education and the Arizona Supreme Court. For a variety of reasons, it was an inspired choice. And given the realistic topic of discussion, it also turned out to be a surprisingly inspiring morning.

To begin at the end: Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales announced the formation of a new Access to Justice Commission, which will be headed by Court of appeals Judge Larry Winthrop.

Justice Bales said that there have been significant successes in Arizona’s goal of increased access. But this new commission will recognize current challenges, and “It will help to focus and achieve tailored plans for success.” As an example of a possible success, he pointed to a renewed focus on a tax credit to assist the working poor.

“If just half of all Arizona’s attorneys contributed to it,” Justice Bales said, “that would amount to $2 million.”

Arizona Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales, May 1, 2014.

Arizona Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales, May 1, 2014.

He said that the Arizona Supreme Court is renewing its commitment to access issues, and its soon-to-be-released strategic plan will move that goal to be the Court’s primary strategic aim.

He recalled the way students begin their day, and reminded a packed room at the Court, “It’s not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance that defines us as Americans; it’s the progress we’ve made to achieve its ideals.”

Those ideals can be difficult to reach, Chief Justice Rebecca Berch said.

Despite significant innovations in Arizona, “Access to justice is an area in which we are not living up to our potential. It is always painful to examine areas in which you’re not as good as you should be. But it’s helpful.”

The Chief Justice then described the substantial barriers to achieving fuller access to justice: poverty, limited-English proficiency, and huge numbers of self-represented litigants.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, May 1, 2014.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, May 1, 2014.

Statistics for all three challenges are sobering:

  • The child poverty rate in Arizona is 27 percent.
  • The senior poverty rate is 13 percent.
  • Despite Arizona lawyers giving hundreds of thousands of hours of pro bono legal help (ranked sixth in the nation), the unmet need is staggering.
  • The percentage of pro se litigants rose from 24 percent in 1980 to 88 percent in 1990. Justice Berch said the number could be in the 90 percent range now.

In response, Arizona has nurtured the growth of various solutions, including self-help centers, specialty courts, attorney volunteerism, and a transparent judicial merit-selection system.

The Law Day keynote was delivered by Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

She reminded attendees that legal aid can be “critical and life-changing.”

Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Karen Lash, Senior Counsel for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Quoting Robert F. Kennedy, she said, “Unasserted, unknown and unavailable rights are no rights at all.” A crucial development in shifting access to those rights, she said, is the formation of access to justice commissions across the country—from zero in 1993 to 33 of them today, “five in the last year.”

Reflecting on Justice Berch’s remarks, Lash said, “Arizona is doing what many states only wish they could pull off.” She admired “a State Bar that embeds access to justice in its core mission,” as well as the Court’s “appetite for new collaborations and a righteous anger” about enduring poverty.

The forum also included a panel discussion about sustainable and repeatable best practices that make justice more available. Moderated by Kelly McCullough, the panel was comprised of Gregg Maxon (veterans courts), Anthony Young (volunteer lawyer partnerships), Barbara Howe (state libraries), and Carol Mitchell (video remote interpretation project).

We will continue to track the launch of the new commission. If you have particular questions or suggestions about best practices that should be covered, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Hon Michael D Ryan portrait

A new portrait of Hon. Michael D. Ryan, dedicated on April 25, 2014.

On Friday, April 25, a terrific lawyer and judge was honored with the dedication of an oil painting depicting him. The jurist recognized was Justice Michael D. Ryan.

You can read Justice Ryan’s obituary here. I wrote about him in Arizona Attorney Magazine here.

Today, I share a great story about the event written by the staff of the Superior Court for Maricopa County. I was very sorry to have to miss the event, but I am pleased that Mike Ryan’s friendly visage has become a permanent part of the courthouse.

Here’s the story:

On April 25, Superior Court celebrated the distinguished career of The Honorable Michael D. Ryan with a portrait dedication ceremony.

Justices, judges, former judges, court staff, friends and family attended the ceremony at the Old Courthouse in Phoenix to pay their respect to a brilliant legal mind who dedicated 24 years to working in the Judiciary. Justice Ryan served as a Superior Court Judge, a Court of Appeals Judge and an Arizona Supreme Court Justice.

During the ceremony, Justice Ryan’s wife, Karen, and son, Kevin, unveiled the portrait and Presiding Judge Norman Davis, Commissioner R. Jeffrey Woodburn and Retired Judge Ron Reinstein spoke on behalf of their friend and former colleague.

Justice Ryan was known as a fair and thoughtful jurist who managed his courtroom in a firm but respectful manner. He was respected by all who appeared before him as well as those who served beside him.

As a Superior Court Judge, he presided over high profile cases such as AzScam, the Phoenix Suns drug case and the criminal trial of Governor Evan Mecham. Prior to joining the Bench, he served as a Maricopa County prosecutor.

Justice Ryan received his Juris Doctorate from Arizona State University. He also was the recipient of two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star for his service as a United States Marine Corps platoon commander in the Vietnam War.

indigent defense need-blind justice by Yarek Waszul

Illustration by Yarek Waszul

AZ Supreme Court logo

This Thursday morning, a thoughtful and experienced panel will discuss how legal services are dispensed in Arizona. Here is part of the Law Day event announcement from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education:

“At the Forum, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch will discuss access to justice in Arizona; Karen Lash, Senior Counsel of Access to Justice for the U.S. Department of Justice, will offer a national perspective; Hon. Lawrence Winthrop will recap the results of input from regional forums; a panel of experts will share some best practices from around the state; and Vice-Chief Justice Scott Bales will wrap up with the closing remarks.”

I will attend and report to you what was said. I am curious if any new initiatives are part of the conversation (such as an Indigent Defense Commission, which I discussed previously). And it would be helpful to hear about some successful best practices from elsewhere in the country.

Dave Byers, Director, Administrative Office of the Arizona Courts

Dave Byers, Director, Administrative Office of the Arizona Courts

Yesterday, the Arizona Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts announced the following about Director David K. Byers. Congratulations, Dave!

“The National Center for State Courts (NCSC.org) announced last week that David K. Byers, Director of the Administrative Office of the Arizona Supreme Court, has been named the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Warren E. Burger Award for excellence in court administration, one of the highest awards presented by NCSC. Named for the late Chief Justice of the United States, the Warren E. Burger award honors ‘a state court system administrative official who demonstrates professional expertise, leadership, integrity, creativity, innovativeness, and sound judgment,’ according to the Center’s award criteria.”

“‘The award honors court administrative officials who have taken decisive steps to improve the operations of courts at the state or local level that may have application to courts nationwide,’ states the NCSC’s website.”

“‘We are pleased and proud that Dave Byers has been honored with this award. No one could be more deserving,’ said Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch. ‘He has provided excellent support and guidance for the Arizona court system for more than 35 years. He has been creative in finding solutions to the issues that have arisen. His leadership has helped bring national recognition to Arizona’s courts and has improved the administration of justice. He has worked tirelessly to create a responsive, world-class court system. Through NCSC and other national committees, Byers has shared his expertise to benefit court leaders throughout Arizona, the U.S., and abroad.’”

Arizona_Supreme_Court_Seal“As Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Byers is responsible for overseeing and administering a court system that employs 10,000 people and operates in more than 200 locations; processes more than 2.6 million cases per year; supervises 42,000 adult felons on probation; and has a combined budget from all courts in excess of $550 million dollars. The Supreme Court also oversees the State Bar of Arizona and the discipline process for the state’s 15,000 plus attorneys and 500 judges.”

“NCSC President Mary Campbell McQueen said, ‘Dave Byers serves as a national role model for court leaders everywhere. He has been on the forefront of helping courts remain innovative, effective, and accessible during the recent difficult financial downturn all state courts faced. Dave has been on the forefront in court advancements on issues from implementing e-filing to improving foster care to protecting fair and impartial courts. NCSC is proud to name Dave Byers as our 2013 Burger Award recipient.’”

“In 2012, Byers was honored with the Gabe Zimmerman Leadership Award, which recognizes professional excellence of non-elected officials. The award is named for former Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ director of community outreach, who lost his life in the 2011 Tucson shooting that killed six and injured 12, including Giffords.

Arizona_Supreme_Court_SealI received some interesting news recently from Heather Murphy (she is the Director of Communications for the Arizona Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts). Heather let me know that judicial education—what we all know as COJET—turned 30 this week. (It doesn’t look a day over 20!)

The anniversary was on November 18, to be precise. (And when you’re dealing with continuing education, you want to be precise!)

When it comes to lawyer education—MCLE—I have heard an earful over the years. But many attorneys may be unaware of all the continuing ed that judicial officers must obtain.

I am looking for stories of court innovation that we can tell in 2014 as part of our NextLaw initiative, and I’m expecting some of those stories may come from our own Supreme Court. I appreciate this story, which is a jump-start on that effort.

Here is a great retelling of the events that led up to this year’s anniversary, as told by the Court itself:

Arizona Supreme Court building

Arizona Supreme Court

 

On this date in 1983, the Arizona Supreme Court established the Council on Judicial Education and Training (COJET). The purpose was to establish educational policies and standards for the court system. Training through COJET covers everything from changes in law, best practices, innovations in court settings, and current issues or topics affecting the administration of justice in our communities.

Now 30 years later, COJET courses have evolved from classroom or seminar-based learning to courses delivered through the internet, via webinars and other technology-based delivery methods. Technology has made it possible to deliver training to the entire state judiciary on a cost-effective basis.

Every full-time employee of the court system is responsible for adhering to a 16-credit hour COJET training requirement to ensure that the staff receives timely, relevant continuing education to enhance and support their role in the courts. People working fewer than 40 hours per week also have training requirements varying from four to 12 hours.

“COJET training is required for everyone, from human resources and support staff to detention and probation officers, managers, clerks and administrators,” said Jeff Schrade, Education Services Director at the Arizona Supreme Court. “For the 2012 calendar year, we delivered training to 8,822 employees statewide.”

For the typical employee, training can be a combination of self-study courses, seminars or conferences. At least six of the credit hours must be facilitated learning in a workshop, seminar, conference, educational group broadcast or college course that meets certain accreditation requirements.

Over the past 30 years, the Council has become the Committee on Judicial Education and Training and the scope has widened to include monitoring the quality of educational programs, recommending changes in policies and standards and approving guidelines for training programs.

Schrade outlined some of his group’s milestones over the last 30 years:

  • The first COJET training videos were produced in 1988.
  • In 1991, the topic of domestic violence was selected for the first statewide broadcast training, which was delivered to five remote sites.
  • An all-day broadcast on victims’ rights followed in 1992.
  • The first national broadcast program took place in 1993 on the topic of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The Probation Officer Certification Academy was launched in 1995.
  • In 1998, Arizona became one of a small number of states authorized to deliver locally the accredited programs normally offered at the National Center for State Courts in Virginia.
  • The Judicial Education Center opened in 2001, providing a central location with multiple classroom configurations for large or small training events.
  • The Arizona Supreme Court began delivering courses via webcast in 2009.
  • In 2012, training requirements were temporarily pared back to 12 hours for non-judge court staff due to budget constraints at the state, county and municipal court levels.
  • In 2013, the 16-hour COJET requirement for full-time staff was restored.
  • The Presiding Judges Leadership Academy was also launched in 2013.

“The secret to our success is that we deliver highly relevant training on issues that court staff encounter on a regular basis but we also focus on emerging issues and trends,” Schrade explained. “We have a great committee that helps us plan training classes, study and respond to evaluations and develop new curriculum as needed.”

Law for Veterans website screen shotLast Friday, as folks were clearing out of work and looking forward to a holiday weekend, staffers at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education were putting the final touches on a new website—one dedicated to aiding veterans and their families.

LawforVeterans.org is a creation of the Arizona Supreme Court, in cooperation with the AZFLS&E and the Military Legal Assistance Committee of the State Bar of Arizona.

The site aims to be a “one-stop clearinghouse for access to legal and other important veteran benefit information,” providing legal information, articles, resources and forms.

The Court explains that the site features 10 specialty subject areas “ranging from identity theft to employment law. There are sections with helpful Q&A topics as well as a place to ask legal questions, find a lawyer, or locate other resources veterans might need.”

The site “will be the public face of a broader support network.” The Court announced that more than 270 volunteer legal professionals will “respond to questions and help match veterans with the resources they need.”

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch says, “Veterans Day 2013 marks the initial public launch of the site, but we realize the site itself is a platform upon which we will build and add content, based on the needs and input of veterans and service providers that stand ready to assist them.”

Polsinelli attorney Kris Carlson is cheered by the website’s creation. He is a former Green Beret and co-chair of the Military/Veterans Group of the American Health Lawyers Association Behavioral Task Force. He views the site as a great resource.

“‘Law for Veterans’ is absolutely fantastic,” Carlson says. “This resource was badly needed.  Transitioning from the military into civilian life can be difficult. Behaviors that kept the service member alive during time of war are not easily forgotten, and some can leave veterans at a disadvantage when re-integrating into civilian life.”

Carlson continues, “The site’s comprehensive approach can provide assistance to Arizona’s men and women veterans in many critical areas as they struggle to leave the war behind them.”

Many veterans struggle with reintegration into civilian life, which can be difficult. As a result, some may become involved in the criminal justice system; claims denials; insurance problems; family law issues; or physical, mental or substance abuse challenges.

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

AZFLS&E CEO Kevin Ruegg says, “The Foundation is thrilled to have the Supreme Court entrust us with this project and very grateful for the partnership with the Bar’s Military Legal Assistance Committee. We hope to accomplish two things: furthering our mission of promoting access to justice for all Arizonans, and assuring our veterans know that we understand that our justice system would not be here without their fight for this country’s freedoms.”

Staffers at the Foundation who led the rollout effort included Public Legal Information Manager Kim Bernhart and CTO Al Flores, along with Lara Slifko and Dan Hall. Bernhart points to this effort as another in a successful line of sites launched by the Foundation, including Law for Seniors and Law for Kids.

Brigadier General Gregg Maxon (ret.) is a special adviser to the Administrative Office of the Courts, where he assists jurisdictions in their efforts to create veterans courts. The Supreme Court said he was “a key advocate in the planning and development” of the new website.

Among the data he gathered:

  • 2.4 million men and women served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • 1.44 million are now eligible for V.A. health care.
  • 774,000 have obtained V.A. health care.
  • Of those receiving treatment, 52 percent are diagnosed with mental disorders such as PTSD, depression and substance abuse.

“A unified treatment and rehabilitation approach brings better results,” says General Maxon. “Through partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs and local, state or national non-profits and community-based organizations, we can honor our veterans with the resources they deserve.”

Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales adds, “Courts and the legal community are recognizing that we can better serve certain populations by tailoring website content and court services to meet their needs. Our veterans deserve this help. We don’t want them hurting, alone or in trouble with nowhere to turn.”

The Court encourages businesses, government agencies, chambers of commerce, associations, and non-profits to add a link to www.LawForVeterans.org.

2013 Arizona Judicial Branch Awards logo

First, the apology: Sorry about the late notice.

That out of the way, I can tell you that the deadline is today, September 18, to submit nominations for Arizona Judicial Branch Achievement Awards.

Who receives those? Chief Justice Berch describes the group categories as:

  • Probation
  • Limited Jurisdiction Courts
  • General Jurisdiction Courts
  • Individual Achievement in Accomplishing the 2010-2015 Vision
  • One At-Large Award for outstanding contributions in meeting the goals of Justice 2020 A Vision for the Future of the Arizona Judicial Branch 2010-2015, as outlined in the Judiciary’s plan for continuing to improve public trust and confidence in the Arizona court system

More information on the awards and their criteria is here.

The online form is simple to complete; it may just take you a few minutes.

To get an idea of the kind of excellence we’re talking about, here are the 2012 winners.

Many Arizona lawyers work extensively with judicial officers and staff. I’m very confident that someone out there has spotted excellence worth recognizing. Today’s your chance.

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