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Taking On The Tough Issues

President-Elect Nominee Michael Greco Has a Reputation for Candor

Posted Apr 1, 2004 12:51 PM CDT
By Terry Carter

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Michael S. Greco admits he doesn’t smile easily, but he did so at a joke made at his expense dur­ing a news conference showcasing him as the next ABA president-elect nominee.

It was during the mid­year meeting in San An­tonio, two days before the nominating committee named Greco as its choice. ABA President Dennis W. Archer in­troduced Greco, adding that the job would be his in 2005 if he didn’t stumble beforehand.

The ironic backdrop for the joke was Greco’s refusal to take a cautious role when he was appointed to the ABA Task Force on Terrorism and the Law. The task force was created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Greco already was deeply into his bid for the association presidency. Candidates for the top offices tend to be care­ful while campaigning, wary of faux pas or controversy that might undo the support they’ve gained.

The issues before the task force, which would analyze and comment on the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist initiatives, were as emotional as they were serious. And the group’s diversity, a balance of liberals and conservatives, had the potential for sparks.

TAKING A CRITICAL ROLE

As the task force dealt with the issues, some of Greco’s colleagues believed he took on a role as the conscience of the legal profession. Says task force member Esther Lardent: “He played a critical role as a strong spokesperson for preserving the core values and liberties that make our nation unique. And he did it in his usual low-key and collegial way, but without pulling punches.”

Four months after the attacks, the task force advised the Defense Department that it believed military tribun­als should be used only in very limited circumstances. Defendants before the tribunals should have access to lawyers, open proceedings and the right to seek habeas relief in U.S. courts, the task force concluded. Some of the task force’s conclusions were subsequently adopted by the House of Delegates.

Greco’s nomination now goes to the House, which is virtually certain to elect him when it votes in August. A litigation partner with the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lock­hart in Boston, he has held key leadership positions in the ABA as chair of the Individual Rights and Respon­sibilities Section and the Standing Committee on the Fed­eral Judiciary. He is a former president of the Mass­achusetts Bar Association.

In that capacity in 1985, Greco and two other state bar leaders were instrumental in creating a grassroots group to counter Reagan administration efforts to reduce the size and scope of the Legal Services Corp. The group of state and local bar leaders battled along with the ABA against drastic funding cuts.

Now thrust into the debate over terrorism policy, Greco has this advice for lawyers: “Stick to clear thinking, and don’t be moved by a crisis mentality. The U.S. Constitu­tion can handle crisis and emergency. The last thing we should do is signal to the world that we don’t have enough confidence in our institutions.”

He adds, “It would have been easy for me to duck this issue, but I don’t think responsible lawyers and leaders of the association can do that.”

Greco says he will continue during his year in office to focus on issues in the battle against terrorism. He also hopes to address what he sees as efforts to diminish the role of lawyers in society, particularly by some federal agencies seeking to regulate lawyers.

Greco says he will be talking about the concept of a renaissance of idealism in the profession. He says lawyers feel “a malaise and disenchantment, buffeted by economic pressures and federal agencies that want them to snitch on clients.”

The key, he says, “is to get back to the reasons we became lawyers—the idealism and desire to improve society. We’ve drifted away. It’s the lawyers who are the guardians of the Bill of Rights.”

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