Mark Dubois ()
As I have noted here before, in addition to my usual bag of tricks, I am presently serving as president of the Connecticut Bar Association. The job comes with a requirement of infinite patience and a thick skin. At a recent meeting, one member accused us of having a crisis in leadership. This was after I had been in charge for 21 days. That must be some sort of a record!
Some may have heard that the organization recently decided to sign on to a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit defending the post-Newtown changes to Connecticut gun laws. As you might imagine, this was a hot issue. Nothing touches the American soul more than a discussion about the Second Amendment. And as expected, there were strong voices for and against our participating in the matter.
Afterwards, a few members felt so betrayed by the outcome that they either threatened to or did resign. I replied to all of them that I hoped that our tent was being enough for many voices, but I understood if they felt so deeply about the issue as to need to take such action. Here’s why:
Just about 30 years ago, the CBA was asked to involve itself in the discussion of whether Connecticut needed tort reform. The cyclical insurance market had, once again, shifted to a point where premiums for liability insurance were high, doctors were angry about what they perceived to be frivolous lawsuits (I don’t remember reading either of those words without the other at the time), and some politicians had determined that what was truly wrong with our society was that a bunch of greedy tasseled-loafered lawyers were suing everyone and their brother for fun and profit without any basis in fact or law.
As these things go, a legislative head of steam developed and it was clear that “something had to be done.” The CBA then, as it is now, encompasses a broad range of lawyers laboring in many fields. There were strong feelings for and against many of the proposals. Ultimately, a pretty comprehensive proposal was developed at the big sausage-making factory called the legislature. Choosing to be a part of the discussion, the CBA staked out a position which, as I remember, supported much of the bill.
Being young, intemperate, a bit of a hot head, and a trial lawyer, I felt betrayed and angry. I fired off a strong letter to then-CBA president Ralph Elliot resigning my membership. I vowed that from that day forward, only the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association would get my dues dollars. No more CBA! Bunch of stooges for the big business interests and insurance companies!
Somehow I forgot to give the news to my office manager. When the next CBA dues invoice showed up, she paid it. Not long after that, I started volunteering for CBA committees and joined the House of Delegates. I figured that the best way to change a group was to work from within. I have now risen to the top, as a colleague recently noted, “just like pond scum.” And now I am getting e-mails like I sent to poor Ralph.
One of the problems of being a big organization is trying to manage competing interests and values within the membership. If there is a lawyer in the free world who does not have strong opinions, I have not yet met her. Meetings of our House of Delegates give up nothing to the British House of Commons.
Someone recently proposed we abolish our House and run the show only by the Board of Governors, a smaller and more collegial bunch. (Think U.S. Senate vs House.) My reply was that as expedient as it might be to have a smaller and more cohesive group at the helm, I actually valued the hugger-mugger and wide-open debate of the larger body, encompassing more ideas and less agreement.
We are presently in the midst of considering whether we should rewrite our governing documents. Some will urge that we restrict our mission to matters solely related to the profession and the courts and stay away from third-rail political issues. Others will urge that we remain a voice for societal improvement. I will be trying to referee the debate.
Ralph Elliot was a cultured and erudite gentleman. He probably would have had some sort of wry comment about karmic payback. He died a few years ago, but wherever he is now, he’s probably chuckling.
Mark Dubois, the former chief disciplinary counsel in Connecticut, is now an attorney at the New London firm of Geraghty and Bonanno. He is also president of the Connecticut Bar Association. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the CBA.