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Indiana State Bar Association celebrates diversity

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Hundreds of attorneys and judges converged on Indianapolis recently, attending the annual meeting of the Indiana State Bar Association.

The annual conference at the Marriott and Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis offered multiple educational sessions Oct. 13-15, while the ISBA’s House of Delegates heard reports from its various committees and other related legal entities about the progress in the past year. Though no specific new or old business came up for a vote this year, the ISBA welcomed its new president and saw firsthand the culmination of attorney advertising rule revisions its leadership had approved four years ago.

This year’s theme for the meeting was “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps,” and most of the committee reports and the conference sessions had diversity themes – such as the immigration and family law seminars, an access to justice session, and appellate practice sessions.
 

Morgan Indianapolis attorney Roderick Morgan finished his term as the Indiana State Bar Association president Oct. 15, after a year of promoting diversity within the profession. Part of his duties included an awards luncheon where he handed out honors. (Photo submitted)

At the annual presidents’ dinner, Justice Peggy A. Quince of the Florida Supreme Court was the keynote speaker. She served as the state court’s chief justice from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2010, and was a part of the court during the historic presidential election and re-count in 2000 that led to the landmark Bush v. Gore case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Like it or not, this is a diverse country and it’s getting more diverse by the day,” she said, noting that it’s important to keep the topic of diversity in regular conversations. “Diversity gets a lot of lip service, but it’s slow to happen. We all have biases and prejudices, so we must try to make sure they don’t spill over into our judging and lawyering. The only way to ensure that is to stay aware of it and attending trainings to discuss diversity.”

Echoing what Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Rucker discussed at the appellate practice session earlier that day, Justice Quince said it’s important to recognize the key reasons for diversity: democracy, business, leadership, and demographics.

She said it’s important to recognize diversity in all corners of the legal community, from minorities to how non-minorities perceive diversity when it’s practiced. The Florida justice talked about a friend who’s an African-American judge, and had a black bailiff, black prosecutor, and black public defender in the courtroom.

“How do you think a white person in that courtroom might feel when their life, liberty, or property is at stake?” she asked. “That’s not diversity.”

Terre Haute attorney Jeffry A. Lind with firm Fleschner Stark Tanoos & Newlin took over as president from Indianapolis attorney Roderick Morgan, who had just finished his term as the ISBA’s first African-American president. At that same luncheon where he was installed, Lind recognized Indiana Bar Foundation executive director Chuck Dunlap and made a contribution equal to one billable hour for the IBF’s “An Hour for Civics” fundraising campaign.

That donation followed an earlier House of Delegates report from Dunlap about the past year’s financial struggles that have left the IBF in dire straights. He told bar association leaders that the historically low interest rates have hit Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts hard and created problems funding pro bono and related programs statewide.

An annual report submitted at the House of Delegates meeting shows that IOLTA income has gone from $3 million to $1.5 million in recent years, to $670,000 for 2011.

That translates into a drastic reduction in what the state’s Pro Bono Districts can operate on, according to the report. Grants totaled $1.69 million last year and for 2010 they totaled $1.57 million, and the 2011 requests of $1.41 million has been reduced to about $1 million. But only $427,000 is available to distribute from IOLTA revenues, the report shows.

Any shortfall must be addressed by the IOLTA reserve fund of $1.9 million, but the Indiana Supreme Court has set a guideline limiting use of the fund in any given year to 20 percent of the balance. The organization leadership asked Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard for permission to exceed that amount so that 25 percent of the reserve balance could be used, providing about $175,000 in additional funding. The Supreme Court approved that request.

But even with that, more money was needed and that’s when those at the ISBA meeting heard more good news for the Bar Foundation.

Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum president Linda Meier announced at the delegates meeting that the ICLEF governing board had agreed to give $100,000 to the Indiana Bar Foundation. She said the money is unrestricted, meaning it can be used on any of the IBF initiatives such as pro bono or civil education programs and services.

Though the IBF still likely faces a shortfall, it can use carry-over funding from some of the districts to help fill the hole. The IBF expects that it will request reconsideration in July 2011 if interest rates improve, but the IBF does expect some “unavoidable reductions” in personnel because of the economic picture.

The House of Delegates also made mention of revisions to Indiana Professional Conduct Rules approved by the Supreme Court, tweaking the attorney advertising rules for the first time in about a generation. The ISBA leadership had studied that issue in 2006 and sent proposed revisions to the court that year, and Chief Justice Shepard said the court had waited to announce these changes until the annual meeting where it all began.•

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