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.

AJEI logo Appellate Judges Education Institute

When it comes to terrific legal events (here and here), why should we confine ourselves to Arizona—especially when the pleasures of San Diego are so close?

That’s my thinking as I pass on news of an appellate law event that really deserves your attention. What? You don’t have an appellate practice? That little fact should not dissuade you from considering attending quite an impressive learning opportunity.

The 10th annual Appellate Judges Education Institute will be held at the Marriott Harbor and Marina Hotel in San Diego on November 14-17 (next month). Organizers of the AJEI Summit say that they’ve designed the programming to appeal to appellate judges, appellate lawyers, and appellate staff attorneys—legal editors are likely to be wowed, as well.

The conference website is here. As the materials indicate, the summit will include a reception at the U.S.S. Midway on Thursday, November 14. The conference is sponsored by the Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI), the Appellate Judges Conference of the American Bar Association’s Judicial Division (AJC) and by the SMU Dedman School of Law.

The complete agenda is here.

I have been told that the summit is typically attended by more than 200 state and federal appellate judges, lawyers and staff attorneys. And although the program focuses on appellate law, many of the sessions will be of general interest to lawyers.

I’d have to agree with that last point. The speakers will include Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Ret.), U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., more than a dozen appellate judges, including Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, and many nationally recognized appellate advocates and legal scholars.

The event also will include a Supreme Court civil case round-up by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Irvine School of Law (whom I interviewed when he visited Arizona; excerpts from our conversation are here).

Presenters include even more Arizona notables:

  • Hon. Scott Bales, Vice Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court
  • Hon. Ruth V. McGregor, Supreme Court of Arizona (Ret.)
  • Professor Jane Bambauer, University of Arizona Rogers College of Law

(Our own Justice Bales serves as the summit’s Program Chair. Just yesterday, we received the Supreme Court Order noting that Chief Justice Berch’s five-year term as Chief will end in June 2014, and Hon. Scott Bales has been elected by his peers to serve as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court for a five-year term, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Congratulations!)

Appealing as the summit is, I will be unable to attend. So if there is a lawyer or judge planning on attending who would like to author a blog post (or perhaps a magazine article) on the event, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. I’m not seeking an overview of the whole multi-day event so much as some cutting-edge appellate topics or takeaways that would be of help to the appellate practitioner—or lawyers generally.

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.

The 2013 luncheon of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education once again recognized some of the finest lawyers in the state for their commitment to access to justice in Arizona.

Attorney Barbara Dawson accepting the Foundation's 2013 Walter E. Craig Award, June 20, 2013, Arizona Biltmore Resort.

Attorney Barbara Dawson accepting the Foundation’s 2013 Walter E. Craig Award, June 20, 2013, Arizona Biltmore Resort.

The following attorneys were honored:

  • Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch: Hon. Mark Santana LRE Award
  • Ellen S. Katz: Foundation for Justice Award
  • Stanley Friedman: William E. Morris Award
  • Barbara Dawson: Walter E. Craig Award

Congratulations to all the recipients.

The State Bar was also represented at the luncheon. Chief Communications Officer Rick DeBruhl led a conversation with CBS5 reporter Dave Cherry. They illuminated the audience on media and law.

And Incoming Bar President Whitney Cunningham brought the specifics when he urged five strategies on attendees who want to give back but are not sure how to begin:

  1. Take a pro bono case via one of the established legal aid organizations.
  2. When you cannot take on an entire case or matter, provide limited-scope representation.
  3. Ghost-write legal papers for an unrepresented person.
  4. Sign up for the Modest Means Program.
  5. Become a Foundation Fellow.

    Incoming State Bar President Whitney Cunningham, June 20, 2013.

    Incoming State Bar President Whitney Cunningham, June 20, 2013.

Cunningham included two fascinating statistics in his presentation:

  • If every lawyer in Arizona provided only half of the pro bono time recommended by Rule 6.1, its value would be greater than the $80 million cut from the Legal Services Corporation budget.
  • Becoming a Foundation Fellow (which nonlawyers may do too) will cost you $16.67 per month. That is approximately equal to one double-shot soy latter per day. Cunningham claims to have lost 20 pounds since he signed on.

The luncheon remains a high point in the Convention. Well done to all involved.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch uspeaks to the need for more special advocates for children, April 3, 2013. (Mary K. Reinhart/Arizona Republic)

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch speaks to the need for more special advocates for children, April 3, 2013. (Mary K. Reinhart/Arizona Republic)

Just a short note this Monday morning to remind all that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To honor the justice system’s commitment to some of our most vulnerable, Chief Justice Berch held a press conference on the steps of the Arizona Supreme Court.

The April 3 event shone a spotlight on the state’s CASA program: Court Appointed Special Advocates. As the organization describes itself:

“CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA volunteers are everyday people appointed by a judge to speak up for abused and neglected children in court. In Arizona, there are 15 county CASA programs administered by the CASA of Arizona office which is a program of the Dependent Children’s Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts. CASA of Arizona and its volunteers have been advocating for abused and neglected children in Arizona for over 25 years.”

As the Chief Justice reiterated CASA’s call for help: “Don’t wait. Advocate.”

You should more about the organization—and sign up to help—at their website.

Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Maurice Portley speaks at press conference, Phoenix, Ariz., April 3, 2013 (Mary K. Reinhart/Arizona Republic)

Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Maurice Portley speaks at press conference, Phoenix, Ariz., April 3, 2013 (Mary K. Reinhart/Arizona Republic)

You also should read the Arizona Republic article by Mary K. Reinhart on the presser and the need for more advocates.

Here is the opening of Mary’s article:

“Arizona has never had enough volunteers to work with children in foster care, and judges this week made an appeal for more court-appointed special advocates.”

“The volunteers, or CASAs, act as advisers to juvenile-court judges who oversee the cases of children removed from their homes because of suspected abuse or neglect. Each volunteer is paired with a foster child, and often becomes the one, consistent adult during a child’s time in care. They represent the child in court and make recommendations to judges about their best interests.”

“There are about 850 CASAs for more than 14,300 foster children.”

AZ Supreme Court logoI began an earlier draft of this blog post with the encouraging message: We all should go to judicial investitures. That followed on the heels of two great judge swearings-in—for Court of Appeals Judges Randall Howe and Sam Thumma. For my time and money, there may be no events that provide more insight into what makes judges tick than those events. And I believe that is true for all attendees, whether they are a lawyer or not.

But then I read a news story this week that reminded me it will take more than a heartfelt gathering to remind Arizonans that we have a terrific judiciary (perhaps the finest in the country). Being cynical and all, I’m not convinced we voters are up to the task of understanding and preserving what we’ve got. But I’m hoping I can be proven wrong.

The news story was penned by longtime reporter Howard Fischer, of Capitol Media Services, and it’s titled “Groups Campaign To Oust Supreme Court Judge.”

Right off the bat, let me assure you I’m not urging a vote one way or another on the Justice’s retention. That is between you and whatever data you have available. This post is about the data.

Anyway, as Howie describes it:

“A loosely organized effort to oust a state Supreme Court justice is forcing him to consider an unprecedented campaign to keep his post. … The anger is focused on [Justice John] Pelander because the Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that Proposition 121 can be on the ballot. That measure, if approved, would amend the state Constitution to create an open primary system where all candidates run against each other regardless of party affiliation, with the top two advancing to the general election.”

Hon. John Pelander

Hon. John Pelander

Again, you should vote in the retention election however you’d like. But this whole dustup is about … Prop 121?

Really? REALLY?

For a treatment of the subject that is far more compelling and eloquent than my two-word screed, you should read Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch’s commentary in the Arizona Republic from this past Monday. She also is careful not to urge any particular vote, but she does point us all to some sources of actual data that might inform our ballot choice: The Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, and the Arizona General Election Guide, which is mailed to each registered voter.

As always, the Chief is judicious (part of the job title, I think). But the op-ed does reveal some raised hackles:

“[U]nfortunately, in this age of social media, blogs and e-mail, anyone can post anything concerning a judge without regard to accuracy. Judges may be unfairly portrayed or information about rulings may be misrepresented by people who have an agenda or have simply misunderstood an opinion.”

That takes us back to Howie’s article, which you can read here.

So let’s examine that “Top 2” primary issue, which is ostensibly the sole source of upset against a Supreme Court Justice. You may recall that it was just back on September 6 that the Court ruled that the item could be on the ballot.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch

I would urge the following for anyone “on the fence” due to this ruling: As the Chief says, review the data at the website of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review, and read your own voter pamphlet.

And then, go the extra step: Read the ruling itself.

I’m confident that my lawyer–readers will not moan about having to read a 6-page ruling. But if you have non-lawyer colleagues who ask about this issue, urge them to read it, too.

I can suggest that for one big reason: It’s well written (by Justice Bales, the order’s author), which means it is accessible to many, not merely to lawyers.

I also can suggest it because reading the actual ruling will remind us all that the Court (and Justice Pelander) did not affirm or deny the merit of Prop 121; it handled the election question—judiciously—as it does with countless other ballot-measure cases, year after year.

As a voter service, I’ve posted the ruling here. But because I have no interest in creating a firestorm of partisan claims, I’ve also posted the appellant and appellee briefs. I suppose if you want the full picture, you may want to read those too. But do start with that ruling.

That’s in the short term. But in the long term, one wonders what kind of Pandora’s box has been opened. We need only look to Texas, or Iowa, or numerous other states to see the insertion of political pressure into judicial retention elections. In those places, justices may sit stonily and ethically silent amid an onslaught of public critique. But the result may be the ouster of good people, along with a further coarsening of the discourse.

Many, many people in Arizona (including a majority of the voting public) support Arizona’s current system of merit selection for certain judges and justices. But even if that system is retained going forward, how will it be altered if groups—“loosely organized” or not—mobilize to transform retention elections into a shouting match? How many people will be interested in the job of judge when the quality of their work is assessed not on the swath of legal output that fills volumes like sea foam covers a beach? Instead, it could be upended by a single, particular ruling in which you’ve joined, a ruling that grabs the popular imagination for misunderstood reasons—a single seashell on a vast coral reef.

Arizona, at a turning point.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch has issued a call for nominees for the judicial system’s highest awards. Nominations close August 24.

According to the Court, it “will present one award to each of the following groups: Probation, Limited Jurisdiction Courts, General Jurisdiction Courts, Individual Achievement in Accomplishing the 2010-2015 Vision, and 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 from the Chief Justice is here. Click here for criteria, and here for the nomination form.

And here is the Court’s strategic plan titled Justice 2020.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch

The annual award breakfast of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association was held Friday morning. At the event, the AWLA recognized Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch with the Sarah Herring Sorin Award, the group’s greatest honor.

A recurring theme of the event’s comments focused on why groups like AWLA are still vital and needed in 2012.

AWLA President Kim Demarchi took that question on head-on when she looked back at Arizona history. She noted that Sarah Herring Sorin was admitted to the Bar—the state’s first woman lawyer—in 1892, 22 years before Arizona became a state. And then in 1951, Mary Anne Richey—for whom the annual breakfast is named—was the only woman admitted to the Bar that year. Thirty-seven years after statehood, the only one admitted.

“What AWLA is about today,” Demarchi said, “is support for each other, service to the community and a willingness to collaborate and build coalitions.”

Longtime AWLA member (and past President) Paige Martin echoed that mission. She also reminded attendees the reason the Chief Justice was receiving the award: not for being Chief or her work on the Court of Appeals before that, “but for her day-to-day acts of being a mentor.”

Martin also read a wonderful tribute to the Chief from Justice Berch’s daughter, who could not attend due to a conflict in her work teaching at Southwestern Law School. Among her remarks: “My mom is the glue that holds our family together. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”

L to R: Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, Kim Demarchi, Paige Martin

Chief Justice Berch then spoke movingly about mentoring, which she called “the work of everyone who cares about our profession.”

She then encouraged a new generation of women lawyers to advance to leadership positions, especially as part of the judiciary.

“I know we’re all balancing a lot, but you have to apply for those positions.”

Although more and more lawyers may be women, she said, “Look at who are the associates and who are partners. At law schools, look who are tenured faculty and who is teaching legal writing.”

The Chief demonstrated her down-to-earth advice when she urged attendees to focus on what’s important and to sometimes push other things down the to-do list.

Let your house go another day without dusting, she said. “I’ve served Grape-Nuts for dinner,” she laughed. “I am fond of popcorn and a glass of wine for dinner.”

“Get up and do the things we need to do that will have a lasting effect.”

To emphasize that drive, AWLA Vice President Janet Hutchison announced the winners of the AWLA Mary Anne Richey Scholarships: ASU Law student Ashlee Hoffmann and UA Law student Judith Davila.

Congratulations to the AWLA for another great event. More photos are available at the Arizona Attorney Facebook page.

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch speaks at the We the People competition, Jan. 6, 2012, at Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Ariz.

“What I don’t know is a lot,” ran through my head many times last Friday. That’s when I sat as a volunteer judge in the state finals of the We the People competition.

WTP is a remarkable program put on by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education. It brings together a large group of high school students, who compete on school teams to demonstrate their stuff in regard to the United States Constitution.

On Friday after the judging was complete, I remarked to a high school teacher (whom I later noted had coached the top team) that the kids were amazing and truly talented—so much so that I was feeling a bit unschooled as the long day wore on.

If you’re ever feeling the slightest bit apprehensive about the depth of today’s youth, stop by WTP. That’ll fix ‘ya.

At lunchtime, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Rebecca White Berch, stopped by to praise the kids and to remind them of the state’s Centennial. In that effort, she said, the Court had helped create “Behind the Laws & Decisions,” a DVD box set that includes documentary series detailing Arizona’s history and court cases. The project was made possible by the Arizona Supreme Court, McCune Television, National Bank of Arizona and the Foundation.

More information on the DVD set is here.

I have posted some more photos at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Arizona Bar members—and State Bar of Arizona staff—were treated to a unique presentation on Monday afternoon. It was a CLE that examined a topic that is often a lightning rod, but that is enshrined in the state Constitution.

The CLE was called “Diversity Considerations in Judicial Merit Selection.” Appropriately, the headliner (if we may use that term) was Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch. She shared her perspectives on the role that the “D” word plays in establishing who may don the judicial robe.

Other panelists were Doug Cole of HighGround Public Affairs, Assistant United States Attorney John Tuchi and lawyer (and former aide to then-Gov. Janet Napolitano) Tim Nelson.

Each of the panelists has had experience with one or more of the commissions on judicial court appointments. As such, they could explain and reveal a little about how commissioners weigh applicants’ diversity, along with many other areas of experience.

The panel was ably moderated by Senior Bar Counsel David Sandweiss.

Sandweiss and the Chief Justice explained the founding documents that enshrine diversity as a value—both in the state Constitution and in a set of principles that the State Bar adopted in 1992. As Chief Justice Berch recalled, Sandra Day O’Connor had once said that she would hope a wise old man and a wise old woman would come to the same conclusions. But data have shown that there may be significant differences in the weight evidence receives, the Chief said, depending on whether a judge is a woman or a man. Neither is necessarily correct, but diversity on the bench helps assure that multiple viewpoints are represented.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch

As Chief Justice Berch said, “Decisions we make in life are part and parcel of all that we are.” Because of that, she said, lawmakers—and the State Bar—decided to value diversity.

Doug Cole echoed the position that commissioners are charged with looking at the whole applicant, not just a narrow slice of their resume. He amused the audience with some responses that he has found most surprising to Question 64—the query found on the judicial application in merit-selection jurisdictions that requires applicants to describe their experience with diversity—again, a constitutional requirement.

  • “I am white and male.” (That was the complete response.)
  • “I have friends who are diverse.” (I shortened the actual response, but not by much.)
  • “Not applicable.”

Cole said that such responses miss the point, because diversity and facing adversity may occur in anyone’s life.

“The best applicants’ answers may be moving and touching, including life experiences and important turning points in people’s lives.”

So yes, Cole said, if you’re a white male, you still may have a good understanding of diversity.

John Tuchi agreed with Cole, but spoke also about the uncertainty of a word that has been given no delimited definition. Therefore, the assessment of what diversity means may vary among and between commissions and commissioners.

Tim Nelson described the statistics that reveal some strides have been made in increasing the ranks of minority judges. The bench is currently comprised of judges who are 71 percent male, 29 percent female and 16 percent minority. Those numbers nearly mirror the membership of the Arizona Bar—though they trail the breakdown of state residents.

“Right now, we have a bench that matches the profile of our Bar.” Whether that is sufficient is a broader and more challenging question.

Panelists also spoke of the obstacles they face encouraging lawyers to apply for a judgeship. For instance, Cole said that there is a shortage of private lawyer applicants, which is likely related to the pay cut that an experienced law firm partner would see if she applied.

Chief Justice Berch added that she has reached out to former law students who are minority to encourage their application. But they have responded, “You don’t get it.” Many of them may be the first child in their family to attend college, let alone law school. Now that they have reached a pinnacle of law firm partnership, the sacrifice to become a judge may be just too great.

“We may put too much on their shoulders,” she said. “And that can be unfair.”

Here are some more photos from the event (they also may be found on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.)

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