Posted Oct 20, 2004 08:11 am CDT
Early in his inaugural speech as ABA president, Robert J. Grey Jr. introduced two fellow Virginia lawyers who had mentored him and now sat near him as he addressed the association’s House of Delegates.
Not that long ago, those men –L. Douglas Wilder, Virginia’s first African-American governor, and 97-year-old Oliver Hill, a leader in the early civil rights cases that led to Brown v. Board of Education–could not have become ABA president, and probably not even members, Grey told the gathering at the association’s annual meeting in Atlanta. But Grey said their efforts made it possible for him to stand before the House as the ABA’s second African-American president, immediately succeeding its first, Dennis W. Archer of Detroit.
“Oliver Hill and Douglas Wilder didn’t just open the door,” said Grey, “they knocked on it. And when it would not open, they knocked it down. They tore it off the hinges so it could not be locked behind them. And because of them, and others like them, I was able to walk through that doorway and stand before you today.”
Now, said Grey, “It is a new day, and we have turned a new page. Those in this room turned that page. We turned it together, and we will turn many more.” Grey, a partner in the Richmond, Va., office of Hunton & Williams, is the second member of that firm to be ABA president. The other was the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. Grey’s one-year term will run through the 2005 annual meeting next August in Chicago.
From 1998 to 2000, Grey was the first African-American chair of the House, which sets policy for the ABA. For the next two years, he chaired the Committee on Research About the Future of the Legal Profession.
While Grey intends to emphasize diversity issues during his year as president, some of his major initiatives for his term stem from the committee’s work. At the annual meeting, Grey announced a two-pronged approach to address concerns about the jury system. The American Jury Project is developing a model set of jury standards. Among the issues for review are whether jurors should be able to take notes, question witnesses and discuss evidence as the trial progresses.
“Part of Robert’s genius in this was to bring a number of other associations and groups into the project in advisory roles so that, while the ABA will be the one promoting new model standards, it will really be coming from the profession,” says project chair Patricia Lee Refo of Phoenix. She is the immediate-past chair of the Litigation Section. The project expects to present recommendations to the House for consideration in February at the 2005 midyear meeting in Salt Lake City.
Grey also appointed the Commission on the American Jury to work on bolstering commitment to jury service. New York Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye is the commission’s working chair, while U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serves as honorary chair.
Grey said the results of a new ABA-sponsored public opinion poll indicate that most of the public consider jury duty a privilege rather than a burden. Three out of four poll respondents said they would prefer juries instead of judges to decide their cases. “We need to remove the barriers to effective jury service,” Grey said. “This is the one area other than the vote where so many people can be actively involved in our democracy.”
Grey also intends to work at increasing the participation of individual lawyers in the ABA’s efforts on behalf of the justice system and the legal profession. He told the House that he will make building ABA membership a personal priority.
“Everywhere I go this year I will take a stack of membership applications,” he said. “Every time I speak to a group of lawyers anywhere in the world, I will ask them to join the ABA. I challenge you to do the same.”