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Changing With The Times

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When Robert J. Grey Jr. reviewed his year as ABA president at a news conference held during the annual meeting in Chicago, he described progress on two issues he had emphasized from the start of his term: the American jury and the attorney-client privilege.

But Grey of Richmond, Va., also focused on issues that, while not necessarily at the top of his agenda when his presidential year began, were there by the time it ended at the close of the annual meeting in early August.

One of those issues–the U.S. government’s handling of the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq–has stalked every ABA president since Sept. 11, 2001.

During his term, Grey called for independent investigations into allegations of mistreatment of people being held by the government in U.S. military facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in other countries.

In conjunction with his news conference, Grey said he would send Neal R. Sonnett of Miami, the ABA’s observer at the U.S. military tribunal hearings, to return to Guantanamo Bay when those proceedings resume.

Judicial independence is another issue that breaking events pushed to the front of Grey’s presidential agenda.

“There is no greater priority right now than protecting our nation’s judges,” Grey said during his news conference. Threats and intimidation, he said, “have no place in our system.”

Those comments conveyed a dual meaning in light of recent events. Concerns about the safety of judges and other court personnel were heightened in February, when the husband and mother of a U.S. district court judge in Chicago were murdered, apparently by a disgruntled litigant who had appeared before the judge. Then in March, a criminal defendant in Atlanta fatally shot a judge, a court reporter, a deputy sheriff and a federal agent.

Meanwhile, political rhetoric about the judiciary heated up in conjunction with court rulings allowing life support to be withdrawn from Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state who died soon after, and battles in the U.S. Senate over President Bush’s nominees to the federal bench.

At the annual meeting, the ABA’s policy making House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution affirming “that a fair, impartial and independent judiciary is fundamental to a free society.” The measure also declares that the ABA “deplores attacks on the independence of the judiciary that demean the judiciary as a separate and co equal branch of government.”

The House also passed a resolution that calls for a review of security services for federal judges and supports limits on releasing personal information that might endanger federal judges or their family members.

Core Issue Remains

Despite new issues that arose throughout the year, Grey was able to stay “on message” regarding his jury initiatives.

In one of several annual meeting programs focusing on how the U.S. jury system is changing, participants considered the possible impact of the ABA Principles Relating to Juries and Jury Trials. The principles were drafted by the American Jury Project–which Grey appointed last year–and adopted in February by the House of Delegates. In Chicago, the ABA Board of Governors also authorized creation of a Commission on the American Jury Project that will advocate for adoption of the ABA’s jury principles at the state level.

In other developments relating to Grey’s presidential agenda, the House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution supporting preservation of the attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine, and opposing actions by government bodies that cause their erosion.

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