Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2005

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Over the Line Attacks on Lawyers
~MSBA's Immediate Response Team poised, ready to act~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Communication is a top priority of MSBA’s new President. This year J. Michael Conroy, Jr. hopes to improve communication between the legal profession, the business community and the public in general. Conroy also pledges “to take on any group that unfairly attempts to impede MSBA’s communication efforts,” and he has instituted an action plan so the Association is prepared to act promptly in the event of an “over the line” attack on a lawyer or judge or the legal system.

“For many centuries, lawyers served honorable and distinguished roles in societies,” states Conroy, “and that service continues today.” However, some special interest groups now “occasionally try to tear down or diminish the lawyer’s role in society, often hiding or manipulating the truth. We will not let that happen unfettered.”

To address offensive “over the edge attacks,” Conroy has created a special Immediate Response Committee and charged it with the task of monitoring attacks on lawyers, the legal profession and the judiciary. Through this structured team of volunteer lawyers, MSBA will move quickly when an “over the line” attack occurs, taking on those who materially misstate facts. The Response Team will frame the important issues and craft an immediate and effective response that addresses the misstatements. MSBA will expose the true facts.

Through the Response Team, “MSBA has an institutional mechanism in place to reply to false statements about the legal system, the legal profession, judges and attorneys,” MSBA’s President declares. As examples, he points to “medical malpractice legislative initiatives and unfair attacks on judges or attorneys in cases like the Terry Schiavo matter and the representation of defendants like Timothy McVeigh.” MSBA will help frame debates on important issues fairly “so members of the public can make well-informed decisions. MSBA will lead, by joining the discourse with accurate facts and avoiding pejorative comments.”

Conroy strongly objects to “negative generalizations about our excellent profession.” He proclaims, “MSBA will directly respond to individuals, groups or professions who misrepresent significant matters in a harmful fashion. We will not generalize negatively about other institutions, businesses or professions; there will be no negative generalizations about insurance companies, hospitals, the press, politicians or other professions. And, we will not include those who did not contribute to an offending publication.”

“If we do not wish others to generalize about us unfairly, we must set the example,” MSBA’s President asserts. “We do not object, nor will we reply to, general opinions that everyone is entitled to express. We are not objecting to the opinions citizens are entitled to express.” However, MSBA will strenuously object “to material misstatements of fact. False representations will be defeated with accurate and concise facts.”

The President’s objective is to return communication to legitimate debate. “We will do our part to discuss, educate and improve society, without necessarily pointing fingers at others, but by offering constructive reforms in a conversational tone.”

“As envisioned, when an inaccurate statement is made and facts have been misstated, members of the Immediate Response Team, through a Committee-structured electronic transmission, will send their proposed response or basis for a response to the entire group,” explains Conroy. “Members of the team may originate their own response or it may come from another attorney or member of the public.”

Chaired by Thomas D. Murphy, the Immediate Response Committee consists of two prominent MSBA members in each county and Baltimore City, representing diversity in terms of individuals, practice areas and MSBA interests. This team will be activated if one of its members, or any lawyer or citizen reports an attack. “If a Committee member believes the attack merits a response, that member will send a draft by electronic mail to the entire Committee,” Conroy explains.

“If the drafted response is approved by a majority of a quorum of MSBA’s Immediate Response Committee, the draft will then go to MSBA’s Executive Committee,” the President continues. “If the response is approved by a majority of a quorum of the Executive Committee, it will be signed and published, hopefully within 72 hours.” However, “if all the checklists are not met, there will be no response.”

Conroy emphasizes that responses will not be directed to insignificant opinions, but rather to inaccuracies that have exceeded the bounds of legitimate comment using false statements. “Where false facts appear, we believe it important for citizens to have debates framed fairly and accurately so the public can make informed decisions.” To set the record straight, MSBA will point out the false facts and highlight the accurate facts to frame a debate.

“In light of the intense scrutiny our judicial system is now undergoing, in Maryland and throughout the country, Mike Conroy’s decision to implement such a measure through MSBA, to counteract material misstatements of fact about judges and lawyers, is very timely,” states Murphy. “Our independent judiciary is the envy of the world because it is exactly that – independent. Ad hominem attacks upon judges, our judicial system and the lawyers who serve it subvert public respect for the rule of law.”

“When necessary, MSBA’s Immediate Response Committee will work to set the record straight for the whole community,” continues Murphy, who, when he was president of the Montgomery County Bar Association, implemented a similar measure to respond to unjustified criticism of the judiciary. According to Murphy, when colleagues at the Bar work together to counteract such attacks, it works extremely well.”

“Our members will benefit by better legislation being passed if not only the legislators but also public participants have the best facts available with which to make their decisions,” adds Conroy. “Our members will be better informed and they will have more positive relationships with new and existing clients who have a better understanding of a lawyer’s role in such areas as personal injury, estate planning, health care, real estate, family law and trial work.”

“We must, and will, take the high road,” concludes MSBA’s President. “We do not intend to be thin-skinned, shy or retiring. Going forward, if people want to attack us with false statements of fact, we will tee it up and deal with them. We will firmly, directly and aggressively defend our profession.”

Conroy encourages all MSBA members to contact their local response team representative if they come across an offensive publication, whether it is a letter, editorial, broadcast or media vehicle, or one is brought to their attention. Once notified, the Committee will begin the response effort. If all of the checklists are met, he promises a reply within 72 hours.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2005

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