Posted Sep 01, 2008 01:30 pm CDT
The usual thing for an immediate-past ABA president is to take some deep breaths, perhaps a few days off, and then return to a law firm that hasn’t seen much of him or her over the past year or so and get back into the swing of day-to-day law practice.
But William H. Neukom, who ended his term at the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City, will be taking a different route. Come Oct. 1, he will go on indefinite leave from K&L Gates in Seattle, move to San Francisco and take over duties as general managing partner of the Giants, the city’s Major League Baseball franchise.
Neukom has been an investor in the Giants for nearly 15 years and has been managing partner for the past six.
But Neukom has no intention of cutting his ties with the ABA or the Rule of Law Initiative that was the centerpiece of his presidential term. He took advantage of every opportunity at the annual meeting to pitch the World Justice Project, which he founded as a vehicle for developing support for coalitions around the world to advance the rule of law as a means of building societies that provide equality and opportunity for their citizens.
At a news conference in New York City, he downplayed his future role with the project. “I don’t matter very much—no one does,” he said. “But I don’t have any less interest in this as past president than I did as president, and I’d like to be involved” as the project progresses.
Although the World Justice Project will continue as an independent entity supported by its own funding sources, it will maintain a close relationship with the ABA. Neukom said the ABA provides no general revenue funding for the project, but a commission of the association will work with the project on substantive and logistical matters. Neukom will serve as Board of Governors liaison to the project.
In keeping with his attention to international issues, the ABA’s House of Delegates called for the U.S. government to develop a closer relationship with the International Criminal Court and approved a program on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Another highlight of Neukom’s term did not go unnoticed. Last year, he led a group of lawyers in protest over actions taken by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf against that nation’s highest court. As national elections approached in November, Musharraf suspended the national constitution and put more than 60 judges under house arrest, an action that triggered widespread demonstrations by thousands of Pakistani lawyers, who marched in protest wearing their traditional black business suits.
In Washington, D.C., Neukom led a march of black-suited lawyers from the ABA and other legal groups in support of their colleagues in Pakistan.
And in New York, the ABA gave its Rule of Law Award to Pakistan’s embattled lawyers and judges. “The ABA had to do something in response to President Musharraf’s lawless acts,” said Neukom during the Rule of Law Initiative luncheon.
Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association who accepted the honor on behalf of his colleagues, said the situation there remains grave. And as the crisis drags on, he said, the stakes are getting higher and he fears for the future.
“People gradually lose their commitment to the constitutional system,” Ahsan said, “and they become apathetic about its survival. Thus are crucial battles lost, and thus are crucial battles being lost.”