ABA Midyear Meeting

Subprime Fallout Takes Center Stage at ABA Midyear

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Some ABA sections get all the glory when the news media covers programs at the ABA midyear and annual meetings.

The ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities is known for leaping into controversial issues, and the ABA Criminal Justice Section often finds a case in the news as the starting point for an interesting program.

But the ABA Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles that runs through Tuesday could be a moment in the California sun for the ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. The section is sponsoring programs on several hot-button issues, including the subprime mortgage crisis and California’s efforts to fight global warming. Is there some strange confluence of the planets that has put regulatory issues so much in the news?

The answer lies not in astrological signs but in the broad reach of the section, says Christine Franklin, senior counsel at Chicago’s Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg and a panelist on the subprime program. The section’s strength is that it encompasses the full range of regulatory practices and has an “umbrella of many issues” under it, such as banking regulations, securities regulations and lobbying, she says. The subprime crisis, for example, involves the financial services sector, which is highly regulated.

“There are any number of both policy and regulatory issues that play into” the subprime meltdown, she says, “from Federal Reserve monetary policies on down to possible regulatory inaction. We’re also looking at what state and local jurisdictions such as California are doing in response to the crisis.”

A second program on the subprime crisis, sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division, explains how lawyers can help clients affected by the subprime fallout, according to an ABA news release summarizing highlights of several programs.

The economic fallout over the subprime crisis may be providing grist for two programs, but the faltering economy apparently hasn’t thrown up any hurdles to midyear meeting travel. There were 2,884 advance registrants for the meeting, which is “just where we should be,” says Marty Balogh, director of the ABA Meetings and Travel Department.

The weather was more problematic. A snowstorm played havoc with travel schedules of Chicago-based ABA staffers, who had to cope with delayed and canceled flights. ABA members who missed the housing deadline are running into another problem: Remaining hotel rooms are sparse since the meeting is being held the same weekend as the Grammy awards. How is Balogh dealing with the shortage? “Begging and pleading,” he said in an e-mail.

Another program sponsored by Administrative Law Section takes advantage of the Hollywood connection. Taking place, appropriately enough, in the Beverly Hills Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, the program features screenwriters and legal consultants for shows such as Boston Legal and Law & Order discussing lawyers’ often-negative portrayal on TV. The discussion will be particularly helpful to trial lawyers, who need to understand how they are perceived by the public, Franklin says.

Two Supreme Court cases are highlighted in Administrative Law Section programs. One discusses the Supreme Court’s January ruling in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta, which held that third parties are not liable for participating in corporate wrongdoing if they did not directly mislead investors. The case involved implied private rights of action, which “affect many areas of state and federal administrative law,” says Southwestern Law School adjunct professor Caroline Newcombe, who helped put together the Stoneridge program and two others.

“I guess I’m trying to help everyone understand, administrative law is everywhere, it really is,” Newcombe says.

Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine law school and the former Whitewater independent counsel, speaks at the group’s dinner on the Supreme Court’s Bong Hits for Jesus decision. The court ruled in June that a school could punish a student for advocating illegal drug use by unfurling the “Bong Hits” banner at a school-sanctioned parade. Starr represented the school board free of charge.

Of course, criminal justice issues are still on the midyear meeting agenda.

On Friday, judges, prosecutors and lawyers will discuss issues raised by the Jena 6 case in back-to-back programs entitled “Is Jena 6 the Tip of the Iceberg?” and “Re-Approaching Jena.” The first program will discuss issues raised by the prosecution of six black students, initially charged with attempted murder by the local district attorney after an attack on a white student. Critics had charged the youths were treated more harshly than whites. The second program will address alternative ways to address highly charged issues, such as mediation and restorative justice.

One of the panelists is U.S. Attorney Donald Washington, the first black U.S. attorney in the Western District of Louisiana, who reviewed an incident in which white students at the Jena, La., high school hung a noose. He concluded there was no proven link between the noose incident and the black students’ later attack on a white, but said racial tensions were common to both.

The House of Delegates meets Monday to consider policy recommendations ranging from a proposal to adopt bar passage standards for law schools to a call for the federal government to take a leadership role in addressing climate change.

The House will also be introduced to the new ABA president-elect nominee, to be selected by the association’s Nominating Committee at this meeting. Three people have filed for consideration. They are James Silkenat of New York City, Carolyn Lamm of Washington, D.C., and Paul Moxley of Salt Lake City.

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