NY Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman

Is there a new generation of state Chief Justices? Should there be?

I’ve mentioned before the great content Richard Zorza publishes on his Access to Justice Blog. And this week he praised the New York State Chief Justice. But then he went beyond that praise to suggest there may be a new way of doing business in the offing.

Zorza reported on Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman’s speech in regard to a new pro bono requirement for New York lawyers. But he added, “The news provides yet another example of how a Chief can use his leverage and ‘bully pulpit’ to put and keep access to justice on the public agenda.”

Bully pulpit is a loaded term, one not typically associated with judges and court administrators. In fact, when I read Zorza’s line, I’m sure my eyebrows arched, at least a little.

But Zorza anticipated that, and so he says:

“Some Chiefs are nervous about seeking the limelight, or being too ‘political.’ CJ Lippman seems to have avoided these problems by focusing directly on the courts and on access to justice. He brings to his agenda a long history in the courts, in many roles, during which time he has developed many relationships that have surely been helpful in this more public role. It has also not hurt that he is operating in a relatively progressive political environment. But it is also noteworthy that Chiefs in different environments, such as the one faced by Texas Chief Wallace Jefferson, have been able to make similar progress using similar techniques.”

Is there a role, as Zorba suggests, for “an emerging new generation of Chiefs more willing to be more assertive in their roles”? Are stakes higher, demanding a higher response? Are the forces arrayed against courts, funding and access issues becoming more ominous, so CJs have to mix it up more than ever?

You can read Richard’s whole post here.

In February 2011, I had the chance to attend a conference at which Chief Lippmann delivered the keynote address. He is a passionate and articulate advocate of the justice system and access issues, to that I can attest.

I posted some photos from that criminal justice conference, including photos of the Chief, on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.