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PRESS RELEASE: President Critelli’s Final Report to the Courts and the Public

Jun 26th, 2005 | By | Category: Practice Notes

June 17, 2005

To the Honorable Justices and Judges of the Courts of Iowa:

The President of the Iowa State Bar Association’s Report to the Courts

A learned society, a guild, a general council; what exactly is the The Iowa State Bar Association? One thing it is not… it is not a trade association, for, if it were, it would only serve one constituent, our own members. It is in fact a “law society” with a duty to serve three constituencies: Iowans, Iowa Courts and Iowa Lawyers. This was recently driven home –rather dramatically– when I was preparing the budget for our extensive legislative initiative. Over one half of our entire legislative effort goes to serve the public interest. Innovative and technical amendments to Iowa’s corporate law, uniform commercial code, probate code, etc. serve not the lawyer’s personal gain but the greater public good. In fact with the sole exception of an increase in indigent defense fees, our entire affirmative legislative program was devoted to furthering the public’s interest. One quarter of our initiative goes to further the Court’s interest, be it a salary increase or full funding for the judicial system itself. It is only the remaining quarter where one might see legislation designed to protect the legal prerogative…and effort that is solely defensive, i.e. reacting to other legislation proposed by other interests seeking to change the status quo regarding existing legal rights or legal protection.
But a learned society does not limit its activities solely to legislative initiatives. Each year our Sections and Committees devote literally thousands of hours to promoting the interests and legal knowledge of the public, furthering and improving the administration of justice as well as advancing the education and training of our profession.

Since the inception of the common law, the bench and bar have flowered from the same root. As we grow it is crucial that we recognize and honor our common ancestry. If we are to remain strong as a profession of justice, we must both value the twin concepts of Independence of the Courts and Independence of the Bar. Courts must remain free from undue political influence from the other branches of the government. Likewise, for the public to have confidence in the justice rendered by our Courts, it must have access to legal representation that is not conflicted by undue influence and pressure by the Courts. For the system to work properly, the courts must not be subservient to the legislature nor the bar subservient to the courts.
This year the Independence of the Courts was threatened by an unwarranted electoral attack on a sitting judge. Recognizing the vulnerability of the judiciary, we were able to make the case to the electorate that a judiciary free from the political whims of the day and faithful to the rule of law is an essential ingredient of our Republic. As expected, they understood. However in the same quarter of the State, bench-bar relationships came under scrutiny by a press that does not understand that it is essential that the bench and bar maintain a close collegial relationship. Nothing could be worse for Iowa or our high quality of justice than a monastic judiciary. However collegial relationships are often misunderstood. To ensure the benefits of bench-bar collegiality in a setting above reproach, the Bar continues to sponsor joint bench-bar activities including the semi-annual Bench-Bar Conference.

We enjoy a judicial system that is of high quality and free from scandal. It is the envy of many states. However to keep the status quo, it is necessary to provide reasonable compensation and staff support for our judicial officers. Working with court administration and the Judicial Compensation Commission, the Bar formed a Task Force on Judicial Compensation composed of leading business people from across the state. They reported that our judges were entitled to a substantial increase in compensation. While increased compensation was approved by the Senate, it lost its way in the House. But it is by no means dead and it will not be forgotten. Next year the report will act as the foundation for a fresh legislative approach at increased judicial compensation.

The tragic events in Georgia made us acutely aware of the necessity for security in our courthouses. Iowans deserve no less. Our Task Force on Courthouse Security, composed of many individuals from all walks of life, is nearing completion of a report and recommendation uniform safety regulations for our courthouses.
We worked with the Supreme Court regarding the study of the Iowa Rules of Professional Responsibility and will gladly take the challenge of funding, establishing and maintaining a Standing Committee on Ethics and Practice to issue formal opinions on ethics and guidelines regarding practice of law.

All is well in Iowa. But, unfortunately, as I travel and practice around the country, I perceive the winds of change are blowing an ill-wind. There is a developing trend toward what I call ‘poison pen jurisprudence,’ whereby the judicial writer takes literary license to criticize, belittle or otherwise berate counsel. This behavior promotes discord between the bench and the bar and seriously damages the relationship between client and counsel. Worse yet, it undermines the respect that the public has for the court and its officers. Allied with this unfortunate trend is an air of judicial arrogance directed not only at counsel but also client, witnesses and even jurors. It is most usually manifested in matters of time management. The judicial calendar is not sacrosanct but exists to serve the needs of the parties and public. A juror, witness, party or counsel whose personal needs are made to be irrelevant by an arrogant judiciary, results in a citizen who demands the right to over-see the courts through the power of the ballot box…as has been experienced in some of our sister states. We have been spared the stress, acrimony and electoral combat because we are two flowers from the same root. By constantly watering the root and appreciating the bloom, we are assured a successful future.

We value your membership and friendship. As I leave office, I do so with the knowledge that J. C. Salvo shares the same commitment to our constituents as do I and that as a result our future is bright. It has been an honor being your President.

Nick Critelli, JD
118th President
Iowa State Bar Association

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