State Bar President’s “Swan Song” – End of Year Report

This month’s issue of the Georgia Bar Journal includes my swan song (“End of Year Report”) which I delivered June 1, 2012, at the plenary session of the State Bar annual meeting in Savannah. For those who need somnolent bedtime reading, here is the text as edited and published

End of Year Report
Kenneth L. Shigley

The bylaws of the State Bar of Georgia specify the duties of the president. One of the responsibilities is to “deliver a report at the Annual Meeting of the members of the activities of the State Bar during his or her term in office and furnish a copy of the report to the Supreme Court of Georgia.” Following is the report from 2011-12 President Kenneth L. Shigley on his year, delivered June 1 at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting.

Ken Shigley, outgoing president of State Bar of Georgia, June 1, 2012

Chief Justice Carley . . . and all the rest of y’all, thank you for your encouragement and support in a year that my late father-in- law would have called, with a twinkle in his eye, reasonably adequate.

A year ago, I noted that our worst mistakes are mathematical in that we miscalculate the brevity of life and the length of eternity. Brevity is the most striking aspect not only of our lives but especially of a one-year-term as State Bar president. Few great objectives can be taken from idea to completion in one year. Bar leadership is necessarily a marathon relay.

A year ago, I noted that if we were able to accomplish anything during the year, it would be by standing upon the shoulders of all of the great Bar leaders who have come before, many of whom are here today. We have been blessed with harmonious relationships at the Capitol this year, and that was primarily due to the blood, sweat and tears of Bar presidents who served in a time of political transition in Georgia, especially Robert Ingram, Jay Cook, Gerald Edenfield, Jeff Bramlett, Bryan Cavan and Lester Tate. They left big shoes for me to fill.

When I saw the presidency looming, I had been a solo practitioner for 16 years, so I linked up with a law firm of old friends at Chambers, Aholt & Rickard to have some infrastructure and backup. They have done everything I asked of them and I appreciate that. Thirty years ago last week, I met a smart, funny young woman on a church beach retreat. On the 30th anniversary of the day we met, our daughter graduated from college, and she is now engaged to a guy she met on a Campus Crusade spring break trip. Is there a pattern here? Without Sally’s loving support, I wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans. What a long and winding road we have traveled together. Thank you, sweetheart.

This job would have been impossible without the best Bar staff in America—led by Cliff Brashier, Sharon Bryant, Michelle Garner and about 72 others. If I name more I will commit sins of omission.

The members of the Executive Committee, committee chairs and a great many of you doing yeoman’s work have been absolutely essential.

I cannot say enough good about those fellow lawyers with whom we have worked at the Capitol— Gov. Deal, Speaker Ralston, Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, Chairmen Wendell Willard, Bill Hamrick and Rich Golick, and the governors’ executive counsel, Ryan Teague, as well as all the members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. It has been refreshing to find the Bar and the lawmakers on the same side of the table working on issues rather than aligned against each other.

A year ago, I suggested we should be like good Boy Scouts and leave the campground a little cleaner and a little better than we found it; to be good stewards of our profession and court system. That we have done.

A year ago, we talked of being good stewards of the criminal justice system that now incarcerates 1 out of 70 Georgians and costs more than a billion dollars a year just for prisons. As State Bar president, I had the privilege of serving on the Criminal Justice Reform Council as an appointee of Gov. Deal. The Bar’s Criminal Justice Reform Committee, chaired by my good friend Pat Head, played an important role, and I hope it will have an even more important role going forward. We hoped to help Georgia become both tough on crime and smart on crime, turn tax burdens into tax payers and protect public safety while salvaging lives of folks who are in trouble mainly because of substance abuse, stupidity or mental illness.

That legislation passed and was signed into law by Gov. Deal. The job is not finished, but this is a good first step toward assuring that there are always prison beds available for the dangerous folks we are rightly scared of, while those we are merely mad at can be dealt with in less expensive, and we hope more effective ways.

A year ago, we talked of improving support for the indigent defense system. With your help, we helped to relieve the pressure on the system regarding representation of co-defendants by PDs in the same circuit where there is no actual conflict of interest; and the Legislature appropriated $40 million of the $41 million raised by designated fines and fees. It’s not perfect, but it’s an incremental step toward providing more adequate defense for citizens accused of crimes. However, there is more to do, both in adequately funding indigent defense and adequately screening financial eligibility for appointed counsel.

A year ago, we talked about taking the proposed Juvenile Code off the back burner, putting it out for comment and seeing if we could move it forward. In our meeting last August, we devoted a lot of your time to vetting the pros and cons. After a number of necessary compromises in legislative committees, it was passed by the House, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, we informally polled you between meetings and the Executive Committee endorsed it. Then it stalled after brand new and much higher budget estimates appeared at the end. The Juvenile Code will be part of the work of the Criminal Justice Reform Commission, on which I will continue to serve in the coming year. I am hopeful that it will be ready for your endorsement and for passage in the next session of the General Assembly.

A year ago, we talked about being good stewards of our court system. The Next Generation Courts Commission, chaired by Judge Lawton Stephens, was tasked with developing proposals for the future of courts in Georgia. It is organized into committees assigned to discuss and make recommendations on business process improvements, funding, education and outreach, program improvements and technology. It includes a broad cross section of representatives from every class of courts, members of the State Bar, the Administrative Office of the Courts, clerks of court, state legislators and court administrators. The National Center for State Courts Business Process Reengineering Project is providing research and staff support. Work so far includes topics such as: e-filing, statewide electronic access to court files, the role of accountability court, maintaining education needs in the courts despite limited funding, responding to business needs more efficiently such as through remote interpretation and identifying funding challenges expected over the next decade.

A year ago, we talked about how it is time for Georgia to catch up with Alabama in electronic court filing. We have made some progress this year but we are not there yet. Work on this has been an education on the Byzantine politics in the relationship between the judicial branch of government and the three interlocking organizations of Superior Court clerks. We have moved the ball forward. We will get there, but not on my watch.

A year ago, we talked about stewardship of our legal system through legislative improvements. This year we helped gain passage of the Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act and the International Arbitration Act. This spring we launched a joint task force with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to develop a proposed uniform court rule on discovery of electronically stored information, one that we hope will improve upon the federal model.

A year ago, we talked about stewardship of the Bar Center, which is incomparable among state bars in the United States, which is now paid for and subsidizing Bar dues rather than the opposite. Laying the ground for long term planning for utilization by future generations, we have included in the Bar Center Committee lawyers with backgrounds in architecture, engineering and energy efficiency.

A year ago, we talked about updating our communications infrastructure in the Bar website to incorporate media and technologies that did not exist a decade ago. That has been done.

Judicial pay remains a chronic concern that the Bar should address. The purchasing power of judicial salaries at both federal and state levels has declined significantly over the past generation. Due to the complex mix of county-by-county variations, the analysis at the state level is quite complex. We should commission an economic analysis of this decline in purchasing power and the impact on the pool of judicial applicants. Most of us recognize that judicial salaries are not competitive with what a successful private practice lawyer in his or her prime can earn. While the desire to be a judge and to render public service may override a pay differential, it’s hard for lawyers to make that sacrifice in their prime earning years when they expect to send their children to expensive colleges.

A year ago, we talked about launching a Continuity of Law Practice Committee to address situations where solo and small firm lawyers die, become disabled or otherwise become unable or unavailable to take care of their clients. Chaired by Craig Stafford, this committee developed a proposed rule for receiverships in these situations which is on our agenda today. Next it will adapt for Georgia planning guides that were developed by other state bars that lawyers can easily use to make contingency plans.

A year ago, we talked about protecting consumers from the predators within our profession. The Fair Market Practices Committee, chaired by Gerald Davidson, developed amendments to lawyer advertising rules including constitutionally permissible disclosure and disclaimer provisions relevant to consumer choice—on our agenda today—and is working on an aspirational statement on professionalism in lawyer advertising and improved measures to police our own ranks.

A year ago, we talked about starting a Bar Leadership Institute. The Local and Voluntary Bars Committee, led by Tom Herman and Rita Sheffey, put on the Bar Leadership Institute in April. I expect it will grow in years to come.

A year ago, we talked about supporting and mentoring lawyers who feel called to build their lives and careers in small towns. The Main Street Lawyers Committee worked to develop a program of instruction and mentoring for lawyers who want to build their lives and careers in Georgia’s many fine small towns, as fitting smoothly into small town life is different from big city law practice. In March, they held the first Main Street Lawyers CLE program at Mercer Law School.

A year ago, we talked about adopting the SOLACE program that originated with the Louisiana Bar as a means for members of the legal community—lawyers, judges, law office staff, court staffs—who have a medical crisis in their family, to reach out to the statewide legal community for small but practical assistance. Under the leadership of Judge Bill Rumer and Karlise Grier, that seed has been planted.

A year ago, we talked about charging the Long Range Planning Committee, chaired by Pat O’Connor, with the task of addressing trends affecting the legal profession and how the organized bar can respond to those. I refer you to the excellent report of that committee.

My friends, you have allowed me the privilege of a lifetime, an immensely broadening personal and professional experience, both exhilarating and exhausting. Now my time is up, and I will be both succeeded and surpassed by my good friend, Robin Clark, whose skills, efficiency and political acumen far exceed mine. I urge you to support and encourage her as you have supported and encouraged me.

God bless you all.

 

  • This is discussion of how it is time for Georgia to catch up with Alabama in electronic court filing. We have made some progress this year but we are not there yet. Work on this has been an education on the Byzantine politics in the relationship between the judicial branch of government and the three interlocking organizations of Superior Court clerks.