An Exciting and Busy Year Ahead

Michael MillerI am deeply honored to serve as the 121st president of the New York State Bar Association. It is humbling to note that so many pillars of our great profession have come before me. I will do my best to live up to the lofty standards set by my predecessors and look forward to working with my colleagues as we embark upon an ambitious agenda over the next 12 months.
Our emphasis in the coming year will be on a broad range of topics relevant to the effective administration of justice in the 21st century. We will focus on important criminal justice issues; explore the criteria and best practices for screening candidates for election to judicial office; discuss key law practice management matters; delve into legal issues impacting transnational families; and address America’s scourge of mass shootings, assault weapons and related legal issues. Finally, we will have greater emphasis on out-of-state members, a large segment of our membership that has grown significantly over the past decade.

To help achieve these goals, I have established the following task forces and working groups:

All too often these days, judges are subject to harsh personal criticism for their decisions. But while decisions are fair game, the integrity or motives of judges are not. Judges are not permitted to respond, even to personal, ad hominem, attacks. A great challenge of the digital age is to effectively respond to events and developments within the relevant news cycle. I have established a rapid response advisory group, including leaders from NYSBA and other bar associations around the state, to help us respond quickly to unfair attacks on members of our judiciary. 

There is no more important pillar to the foundation of our justice system than the quality of our judiciary. It has long been the policy of NYSBA to advocate for the selection of judges by appointment, rather than by election. However, as long as there are judicial elections, it is vitally important that the process of evaluation is fair and fosters the best judiciary possible. So, I have established a task force to survey the state and report on the various vetting structures that exist throughout New York. Based upon its investigation, the group will propose best practices, guidelines and minimum standards for review of judicial candidates. It will also make recommendations to assist local bar associations, good government groups and others in developing new effective non-partisan judicial evaluation efforts and improving existing ones. 

NYSBA issued a groundbreaking report in 2009 that made valuable recommendations to improve the administration of justice and shed light on what is a profoundly serious and festering problem. A newly empaneled task force will update the 2009 report with recommendations based upon new developments, technology, science, experience, and judicial decisions and make affirmative recommendations to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions.

This task force will build upon the work of NYSBA’s Task Force on Re-Entry and will recommend state and national policy changes and best practices. The group will examine existing programs and consider a range of issues, including options for those released into urban and rural settings, inconsistent rules and limited availability of substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing options, and the impact on recidivism of the general lack of release planning and employment opportunities in the state system.

The epidemic of mass shootings in America that began with the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999 continues unabated. The genesis of many of these mass shootings has been the ability for a person with a history of serious mental health issues or domestic violence to obtain assault weapons. Between 2009 and 2016, 54 percent of all mass shootings in America involved a perpetrator who had been violent toward a partner or relative, despite federal laws designed to prevent domestic violence perpetrators from gun ownership. 

The task force will consider the connection between mental health and mass shootings; the relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings; the potential effectiveness of enhanced waiting periods and enhanced background checks; uniformity of rules regarding purchases in stores and gun shows; whether private sellers should be required to conduct background checks on the domestic violence registry; and federal and state model regulation of assault weapons and related accessories, such as large ammunition magazines, “bump stocks” and other devices.

In 1997, NYSBA issued guidelines for the use of paralegals. It is time for another look at the role of the paralegal in the context of the 21st century law office and in the virtual law office. This task force will explore relevant ethics considerations, confidentiality and privilege, supervision, make recommendations for best practices in light of relevant ethics opinions and other developments, and look at the possibility of some form of NYSBA membership for paralegals. 

NYSBA continues to face a challenge that is shared by most voluntary bar associations – and indeed most professional associations – across the country: attracting new members and retaining existing ones. I believe that all roads lead to membership and that everything we do should support our membership development efforts. 

In the coming year, as we continue our work to improve membership efforts in all areas, we will embark on a vigorous campaign focusing on out-of-state NYSBA members. We have experienced solid and consistent growth in out-of-state membership over the past decade, both domestic and international, and 24 percent of our current membership is out-of-state members. 

It is time to provide a more meaningful membership experience for those members outside the United States, and for members in American cities outside New York State where we have significant membership, and to further grow this valuable segment of our association. We will be looking at how we can most effectively meet the needs of these members and what kinds of events and programs we can offer to support them. 

I am looking forward to an exciting and busy year working with our exceptional executive committee and dedicated staff – and with all of you, our members.