ABA Midyear Meeting Highlights

Power Walking, Power Talking

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It is a given that an ABA president starts out in the office with a few themes and goals then waits for the inevitable accident, incident or issue that demands dropping everything and responding as spokesperson for the association

ABA President Karen J. Mathis, who is pushing practical initiatives about children at risk and pro bono work by retired lawyers, didn’t even break stride when asked to appear Jan. 31 before the House Ju­diciary Committee on a hot button issue.

A week and a half later, Mathis of Denver was at the ABA Midyear Meeting talking about her initiatives and a resolution aimed at helping those who care for the children of military personnel.

It’s all in a day’s work for Mathis. To make time for her busy schedule, she has given up a few hours of nightly sleep the way some forswear vices. She also has limited her exercise regimen to power walking in airports, such that “people look at me like I’m weird.”

At her appearance before the Judiciary Committee, Mathis was one of several witnesses but got much of the questioning. The new committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., used the hearing to launch an investigation into the increasing use of signing statements as authority to disregard or decline to enforce legislation that the president signs into law.

The ABA House of Delegates adopted policy in August opposing the “misuse” of such statements.

Using signing statements to negate the intent of legislation is “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers,” Mathis said. She told the committee that a president should either veto a bill, giving Congress a chance to override such a decision, or sign it into law and enforce it.

Support for Families

In getting back to her initiatives, Mathis, a self described “military brat,” has included the children of military personnel in her effort to help young people. At the midyear meeting, Mathis announced a proposal before the House concerning problems encountered by military families when the parents are dispatched overseas, particularly into harm’s way. The shuffling of children among relatives, friends and others to accommodate the deployments can create legal problems and other issues for families, employers and school systems.

The resolution, which the ABA House adopted the next week, urges Congress to pass legislation permitting nonparental caregivers to use accrued vacation or other leave time to care for children of deployed military personnel. It also calls on school systems to let such children attend institutions that are suited to their needs, without any tuition or other restrictions.

In yet another spin off from her youth initiative, Mathis, joined at her news conference by officials from Girl Scouts of the United States of America, announced Take Charge a violence prevention program rolled out in 10 major cities thus far. Girl Scouts councils will lead these outreach efforts to teach teens about school safety, dating violence, abuse and conflict resolution.

The Girl Scouts developed the program with the ABA Com­mission on Youth at Risk, which Mathis created. The commission has hosted roundtable meetings in a dozen cities. The sessions bring together educators, social workers, lawyers, judges and others interested in keeping youngsters out of the judicial system and, instead, involved in productive endeavors.

In setting up a roundtable, the commission makes contacts with local lawyers and others “who know the climate and who the players ought to be,” says Dwight Smith of Tulsa, Okla., the commission’s chair.

“Some of the places we’ve been, people tell us they are continuing to meet,” Mathis says. “They’re looking at things … with different eyes. We’re bringing in ideas from other places as we move around the country.”

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