Learning and working to fulfilll the promise of equal justice
Monday, June 29, 2020
Posted by: Joe Menden
The State Bar of Montana's current elected officers, in addition to 23 of its past presidents, have signed a letter to bar members regarding race relations and the justice system.
In the letter, which was emailed to all bar members on Friday, June 26, the past and present bar leaders expressed their commitment to being a part of a forum of discussion about race and the legal system. According to the letter. that forum will include a series of online educational programs "involving lawyer-leaders from a variety of backgrounds discussing these issues from their unique vantage points as officers of America’s courts."
Following is the text of the letter sent to bar members:
Dear Colleagues in the Montana Bar:
These are challenging times for those of us who take an oath to our Constitution and the promise of equal justice under the law. The recent, tragic death of George Floyd and others, and the pain that is evident in communities across the country, remind us that there is much work to be done to fulfill that promise.
While Montanans may feel insulated from national events, we still see injustice and unfair treatment of minorities in our own state. We must acknowledge that Native American populations suffer from violence at disparate rates compared to white populations. Additionally, structural and political barriers create a system where Native Americans are especially disenfranchised from Montana’s justice systems.
Regardless of where we practice law, the troubling fact remains that America’s minority populations see a higher percentage of incarceration, involvement in the criminal justice system, and cases in the child abuse and neglect system.
These are tough realities that we need to confront as a profession by working together with our elected and community leaders, our colleagues in law enforcement, human services and associated professions, and members of the judiciary.
The Preamble to the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct reminds us that “as a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the legal system [and] the administration of justice,” and “should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend upon popular support to maintain their authority.”
Martin Luther King Jr. said it more directly: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Among the many purposes of the State Bar of Montana outlined in our own constitution is to “aid the courts in improving the administration of justice, to safeguard a forum for the discussion of and effective action concerning the practice of law, and to foster relations between the bar and the public.”
In this national moment of division, as lawyers and officers of the courts, we ask, what better time is there to renew our commitment to use our special training and leadership to educate and to assist our local communities every day in pursuing and practicing equal justice?
As past and present executive leaders in the State Bar of Montana, we are committed to being part of that conversation.
Over the next several months, the State Bar of Montana will be conducting a series of online educational programs involving lawyer-leaders from a variety of backgrounds discussing these issues from their unique vantage points as officers of America’s courts. While we do not suggest that lawyers have all of the answers to the troubles we face in society, at a minimum, we do believe our State Bar Constitution and our Rules of Professional Conduct direct us to provide a forum for these important discussions and to be involved in the conversation.
We acknowledge the deep pain in so many communities, we look forward to listening carefully, providing that forum for learning and understanding, and working with all of you as we continue down the path to fulfilling the constitutional promise of equal justice under the law.
Current Elected Officers:
Juli Pierce, President
Kate McGrath Ellis, President-Elect
Eric Nord, Past-President
David Steele, Secretary-Treasurer
Brian Smith, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Judge Leslie Halligan
Bernard F. McCarthy
John “Jock” Schulte
Justice Terry Trieweiler
Judge Shane Vannatta
Justice John Warner