Incoming Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor William P. Fedullo said that supporting the city’s school district and re-examining the bar’s judicial ratings system would be among his top priorities during his yearlong term starting Jan. 1.
Fedullo, an attorney at Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo, delivered his inaugural address Tuesday before a crowd of attorneys, judges and elected officials gathered at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia.
In an interview with The Legal, Fedullo said that in light of the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, he aims to step up the bar association’s initiatives in supporting Philadelphia’s public school system.
“I think the bar association needs to live up to what Brown v. Board of Education talked about,” Fedullo said. “That includes making sure that the schools are fully funded.”
Fedullo noted that many members of the bar were educated in the city’s schools, including Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper.
“I’m wondering if kids nowadays are having the same opportunities that these folks got. With all the cutbacks that are occurring, there’s a concern that basic services are not being delivered,” Fedullo said. “There are no nurses in some schools; there are no counselors in some schools. We want to do everything we can as a bar association to help the school district.”
Appointing a task force to formulate ways to help is one avenue that Fedullo said he wants to pursue. Another is to continue the collaboration with the bar and Temple University’s Law Education and Participation (LEAP) program, which educates middle and high school students about becoming lawyers.
“I think it’s important for the bar association to put its full weight behind the school district, especially in this time of need,” Fedullo said. “I want to influence people who aren’t engaged in doing that to do so.”
Fedullo mentioned that he also wants to re-examine the bar association’s candidate ratings system for the city’s common pleas and municipal court elections.
“I’m going to look at how we do it, how we can tweak the system, whether or not we need to add another rating possibly beyond ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended,’” Fedullo said.
One of the issues that will be considered is whether the bar association should reveal its specific reasoning behind why certain candidates are endorsed and others are not, Fedullo said.
Additionally, Fedullo mentioned that he wanted to review the judicial election process on the whole, including the fairness of ballot position.
“Sometimes if you draw the top ballot spot, you automatically become the top ballot spot for judge. Is that a fair process? What can we do about that?” Fedullo asked. “What if someone two years out of law school comes and draws top ballot position? Are they all of a sudden ready to be a judge? That doesn’t seem fair for a lot of reasons.”
“We’re hoping that by the end of my year we’re going to have a process that gets the word out to the citizens through the media to elect only the recommended candidates,” Fedullo continued, “until merit selection comes to pass.”
An upcoming event that Fedullo said he and the bar are looking forward to is the 2014 World City Bar Leaders Conference, hosted for the first time in Philadelphia.
The conference consists of lawyers from major metropolitan centers across the globe convening once a year in a chosen city to discuss issues facing the legal profession and developments in law.
“This is a real gem that we’re getting because they don’t pick a city unless they consider you world-class,” Fedullo said. “We’re going to have bar leaders from London and Paris, from Italy and Russia and China. We intend to have a great program for them.”
Fedullo said he wants to take this opportunity to showcase to the world the bar’s progress in terms of its civil Gideon initiatives.
Of civil Gideon, Fedullo said, “We’d like to make that a reality, we’d like that to be funded. There’s been some great leadership with regard to Chief Justice Castille in this issue. So we’re hoping that this comes to fruition this year.”
Finally, Fedullo said the bar is developing a “Law Firm Laboratory,” or a program that details how attorneys can forge their own firms and independent practices.
“It’s for young lawyers and lawyers who may want to go out on their own. We intend to run the series throughout the year to help these lawyers, because employment issues are serious in our profession right now, especially for young folks coming out of school,” Fedullo said. “We want to show them how an Alan Feldman did it or how many others who have started successful practices have done it.”
During his speech, Fedullo thanked his wife, Shelli Fedullo, who is a partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker; his son, Bill Fedullo; outgoing Chancellor Kathleen D. Wilkinson; and several other members of the bar association for their support and encouragement.
William Fedullo will be the 87th chancellor of the bar association. He served as vice chancellor from 2011 to 2012 and has twice served as the chair of the association’s Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention. Fedullo is a graduate of Delaware Law School, now Widener University School of Law.