July 2011 President's Column
2011 Annual Meeting Remarks
By Robert C. Dortch, Jr.
Well, it's here. I knew more than a year ago that this day would come. When I was asked if I would consider taking on the position of President-Elect of the Mecklenburg County Bar (which for some reason results in that person becoming President), I knew there was this thing called the "President's Column" in the monthly newsletter. No matter how many people I asked, they all had the same answer: yes, Bob, the President actually writes the President's Column. Really? But many of those same folks also said: not that many people actually read the columns. So, I've got that going for me.
The 99th Annual Meeting of the 26th Judicial District, Mecklenburg County Bar was held on May 19, 2011. After several cool and shady years at First Presbyterian Church, the meeting returned to sunny Marshall Park this year. Unlike last year, there was no hot topic on the agenda and attendance appeared to be a little down from the prior year. Approving meeting minutes and an annual budget just doesn't have the same attraction that raising your dues did a year ago. Todd Brown welcomed everyone in attendance and highlighted some of the Bar's many achievements during his year as Bar President. Those achievements were due in large part to his insightful and steady leadership. Thank you for your service Todd.
The Bar and its 4300 members are in the midst of some very exciting and challenging times. The Bar celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. Many of our members are hard at work to ensure that 2012 is an event-filled centennial celebration. Mark R. Bernstein and Ray S. Farris co-chair the Bar History Committee and have been hard at work, among other things, raising funds for The History of the Mecklenburg County Bar, a book that chronicles the Bar's past 100 years. Mark W. Merritt and Shirley L. Fulton and their Centennial Celebration Subcommittee are busy putting together a gala, lecture series, museum exhibition and receptions that will include at least one nationally recognized speaker. Thanks to all of you for your hard work and commitment to the Bar.
If you've been to the Bar's headquarters at the corner of Queens Road and Luther, you probably noticed that we're out of space. It is not unusual for 2 or 3 members of our dedicated staff to work in spaces intended for one person or in what was previously storage space. If you have attended one of MCB's CLEs, then you know that there is not enough parking available to accommodate everyone. The building itself is in need of some significant repairs. Pender R. McElroy and William H. McMullen Jr. co-chair the Future MCB/MBF Facility Committee. They and their committee continue to tirelessly research and investigate numerous sites that might be suitable for the future Bar/Foundation Center.
The Bar remains committed to promoting diversity throughout our legal community and the Bar's Special Committee on Diversity is one means of doing so. One of the great successes of the Special Committee is the Charlotte Legal Diversity Clerkship program. This year, more than 300 first year law students from across the county applied for 7 summer clerkship positions. Their resumes are truly remarkable. These young people spend half of their summer clerking with one of the participating law firms and the other half clerking for the law department of one of the corporate partners. This is a huge undertaking by the law firm and corporate partners. Thank you for your tremendous commitment of time, energy and funds to the program.
Thank you to our public interest attorneys. To many of our citizens, you are their sole definition of "lawyer". You were not very happy with the MCB Board when the dues increase was put to a vote at last year's annual meeting. Admittedly, the Bar has struggled in the past with how to increase its relevance to the public interest attorneys. We're striving to do better and we will continue the dialogue with Public Defender Kevin P. Tully and District Attorney R. Andrew Murray on how best to serve you. It may help that four of your co-workers were elected to the MCB Board of Directors at this year's annual meeting.
Over the last few years, the Bar has taken significant steps towards getting its administrative house in order. Past President John W. Lassiter made it a priority to get a strategic plan in place. The strategic plan has now been approved thanks to the hard work of the Bar's staff and Strategic Planning Committee co-chair Carla N. Archie and the committee itself. The plan sets out a road map on a broad range of topics that include board governance, member services, communications and technology, financial management and the future bar/foundation facility. The Committee is in the process of implementing a best practices for Committee structure to establish a more uniform approach in establishing and maintaining committees with regard to purpose, effectiveness, reporting, accountability, etc.
The economy remains a major concern to most of us. Budget deficits are impacting an already underfunded judiciary. The NC Administrative Office of the Courts issued a Voluntary Reduction in Force Plan in January 2011. The Office of Indigent Defense Services recently notified NC attorneys, judges and clerks that hourly rates for court appointed counsel were reduced, effective May 2, 2011. Who will continue to do court appointed work for $55-$70/hour? The answer may be: all of us if those already on the court appointed lists choose to drop off those lists. It was recently reported that drug courts may very well lose their funding. These are very challenging times for our friends who work at the courthouse. We need your help in advocating for the judicial branch of government.
We're very fortunate to belong to a strong and respected bar. We can always make it better. Let us know how we can become more relevant to you or your practice. If you are already active in Bar activities -- thank you. If you aren't involved, I encourage you to call the Bar or me and let us know you want to get involved. Let us hear from you. This is a great Bar. You can make it better. If you have read this far -- a special thanks to you.