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New ABA president Michael S. Greco is the product of some vastly different places.

He was born in Calabria, a region that occupies the geographic toe of Italy. He has spent his professional life as a member of Boston’s vi­brant legal community.

But it was the references to Greco’s childhood home that stood out in his speech to the ABA House of Delegates outlining his presidential agenda. When Greco spoke at the association’s annual meeting in August in downtown Chicago, he was only about 20 miles from the western suburb of Hinsdale, where his family moved after emigrating from Italy.

In particular, Greco recalled the influence of Alice Glass, his fourth-grade teacher and lifelong friend. She died in 2002, but her husband, George, a retired lawyer, was in the audience, as well as one of their daughters.

“Alice Glass’ efforts as an educator and our efforts as lawyers have something basic in common,” Greco said, “something that gives true meaning to what teachers and lawyers both do: We work to make the world a better, safer place for our children, and their children, and for humanity.”

Greco is translating those principles into the primary initiatives of his term as the ABA’s 129th president–and the first one born on foreign soil. That term will end next August at the close of the annual meeting in Honolulu.

One of those efforts will seek to build a greater public understanding of how separation of powers works in U.S. government, with a particular focus, Greco said, “on the vital importance of an independent judiciary.”

Greco cited the findings of a recent survey conducted for the ABA by Harris Interactive indicating that while Americans voice strong support for separation of powers in government, their understanding of exactly what the concept means and how it works is somewhat fuzzy.

That is cause for concern, Greco said. “Citizens who do not understand or value their rights are easy prey to those who would abuse or steal those rights,” he said. Greco announced the appointment of the ABA Commission on Civic Education and the Separation of Powers to foster greater public understanding about the issues. Honorary co-chairs of the commission will be retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, a classmate of Greco’s at Princeton University. The working chair will be Robert H. Rawson Jr. of Cleveland.

Public Citizens

Greco’s appointment of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession also has roots in his childhood home.

“Growing up in Hinsdale in the 1950s,” Greco said, “I saw that it was lawyers who invariably were asked to lead important town committees, to solve civic disputes, to make our town better for everyone and to help people in need. Those lawyers truly held the time-honored position of lawyer as public citizen.” But, he said, “It should be a concern to all of us that fewer lawyers today are becoming visible as public citizens.”

The renaissance commission will lead efforts to rekindle that commitment, Greco said.

Greco announced that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Theodore C. Sorensen, who served as special counsel to President Kennedy, will be the commission’s honorary chairs. The working chair will be Mark D. Agrast of Washington, D.C. In another action, Greco appointed a Task Force on Civil Justice, chaired by Maine Supreme Court Justice Howard H. Dana Jr., to study the issue of creating a defined right to counsel in certain serious civil cases. Greco said he also will continue efforts to bring more diversity to the ABA and the legal profession. Somewhere, Mrs. Glass is very proud.

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