Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My NCBA YLD Chair Column: "Celebrating the Past While Making the Future the Present"

At the NCBA Annual Meeting the Young Lawyers Division celebrated its 6oth anniversary as well as the past bar year, and it anticipated a new bar year.  As Chair I will continue with successful projects, but I also added the Innocence Project so young lawyers will be able to help set the innocent free.  In addition, I created separate committees to address minority issues in the following groups: LGBT, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian American; different groups have different needs, and I want the YLD to be as responsive as possible to each of these groups’ needs.  Ultimately my goals for the year are: 1) continue with our successful projects; 2) help the innocent; and 3) address the particular needs of separate minority groups so that we embrace and celebrate our differences.
            At the awards luncheon the YLD had the privilege of hearing ABA President-Elect William Hubbard speak on why he loved being a young lawyer.  Namely he spoke about being able to make a difference through YLD service projects as well as learning to use the law as a positive force.  Hubbard discussed his goals of promoting justice and equality, which are chief among his goals when he starts his tenure as ABA President after the ABA Annual Meeting in Boston this August.
            The YLD presented several awards.  Jillian Brevorka of Greensboro received the Robinson O. Everett Professionalism Award.  Sam Forehand of Raleigh received the Charles F. Blanchard Yong Lawyer of the Year Award.  Kristen Kelly received the Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award.  Note: Brevorka also received the Blanchard award in 2012.
            As the YLD beings the new bar year, I look forward to continuing successful projects and committees such as Wills for Heroes, Project Grace, Legal Feeding Frenzy, Legal Link, and the Bar Exam Committee.  I am also eager to begin work on the Innocence Project and in our LGBT, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian American committees.
            North Carolina is like other states in that many innocent people are in prison and on death row.  As a resident of Winston-Salem, I remember the Daryl Hunt case where Hunt was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for almost two decades for a crime he did not commit.  Ten of those years were after DNA evidence exonerated him. 
Roland Cotton spent years in prison for a rape he did not commit.  There are many others who suffered similar fates; many continue to be deprived of their liberty. 
            Through the Innocence Project committee the YLD will assist universities and other organizations devoted to exonerating the innocent.  Committee members will help screen cases, search databases and perform other research.  Considering “seeking liberty and justice” is our motto, nothing is more essential than helping to free the innocent.  This is a multi-year project I hope will continue long after I am chair.
            The Minority Focus Committee is chaired by Deyaska Spencer.  Part of the work of this committee is expanding the purview of minorities through new committees.  The new LGBT, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian American committees will address issues particular to these diverse groups.  In particular, the LGBT committee, chaired by Colin Cooper, is planning a “Wills for Equality” event where estate planning documents will be drafted for same sex partners.  The other committees are also developing their own projects to address the unique needs of their populations.
            The YLD has come a long way in the past sixty years, and it has done a tremendous amount of good.  But there is still more to be done—there always will be.  Not everyone is treated equally.  Discrimination is far too prevalent in our state and in our nation. We need to celebrate and embrace our differences.  As our state continues to grow more diverse it is up to us as lawyers to lead the way to a better and more just society. 

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