MSBA’s Board of Governors endorses same-sex marriage bill

Add the Maryland State Bar Association’s Board of Governors to the list of organizations supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland.

The Board on Tuesday “voted by an overwhelming majority” to support S.B. 241, which will be taken up by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Jan. 31. It was recommended by the MSBA’s Standing Committee on Laws and also has the backing of the Young Lawyers, Family and Juvenile Law, Elder Law, Estates and Trusts, Immigration and Delivery Services sections.

“I could not be prouder of our endorsement, which while protective of religious sensibilities and prerogatives, clearly and emphatically extends those civil rights embodied in our fundamental belief that ‘all men are created equal’ — and not simply ‘all heterosexual persons are created equal’ — to our entire citizenry,” said MSBA President Henry E. Dugan Jr. in a statement.

Maryland would become the seventh jurisdiction allowing same-sex marriage and lawmakers in several other states are also debating the issue. The Washington state Legislature is poised to pass its version of the bill.

Maryland has a “history of non-religious civil marriages that is and has been distinct and entirely separate from religious marriages, and this bill pertains exclusively to these civil marriages and the extensive civil rights that arise from those civil marriages,” Dugan said. “It is fair and just to all while injuring none.”

Former MSBA president speaks to Today

Have you ever wondered what happens to Maryland State Bar Association presidents after their one-year terms expire?

Well, MSBA Immediate Past President Thomas D. Murphy’s fate was to wind up on NBC’s Today Show in a news piece about Robyn Gardner, a Frederick woman missing in Aruba, and Gary Giordano, her traveling companion being held there in connection with her disappearance.

Murphy told the morning show, in an item aired this morning, that he represented a company Giordano sued for breach of contract. The company’s defense was that Giordano had forged a name on the contract.

“He has the capability to create a lie,  live the lie and try to make everyone else believe his lie,” Murphy told the show.

Giordano has said Gardner went missing when they went snorkeling and that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

But Murphy cast doubt on that explanation in recounting what he heard about Giordano while investigating him with regard to the breach-of-contrast suit he eventually dropped.

“He doesn’t go in a swimming pool,” said Murphy, of Murphy & Mood PC in Rockville. “He doesn’t go in the ocean because he wears a toupee and he doesn’t get it wet.”

Murphy said of his Today show appearance that “I really think it’s my obligation, when asked, to share with people the discoveries I made about this guy’s ability … to create a lie and continue it.”

Law clerks show their smarts at MSBA

At Thursday’s “Are you smarter than a law clerk?” session at the MSBA conference in Ocean City, Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia’s law clerks proved that they are pretty darn smart.

They answered all but one question correctly. Even the one they got wrong they originally got right; they just waffled in the end and answered “yes” instead of “it depends.”

Playing the role of Vanna White, Battaglia (pronounced the Italian way, with no hard “g” sound as she informed the crowd) showed off towels and mugs stamped “Smarter Than A Law Clerk.” Panelist James Archibald of Venable LLP in Baltimore provided the prizes.

Lunch was provided by panelist Paul Mark Sandler, name partner of the Baltimore firm Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler. Hilariously grouchy comments provided by the third panelist, retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Fader II, who said every time he attends the MSBA conference he sees people who don’t need to be there and then returns to the courtroom and sees all of the attorneys who should have gone.

The session often felt like comedy hour, with audience members yelling out to Battaglia, “What would the Court of Appeals say?” She demurred, saying, “You know I never give out advisory opinions.”

Sandler playfully tangled with Battaglia over her decision in Griffin v. State this year that left the tech-loving Sandler disappointed.

He also got into it with Fader over a British murder case from the 1800s that led to attorneys being allowed to hear confessions from their clients and then turn around and cross-examine other suspects on the stand to lead jurors to believe that the other suspect was the murderer. Fader said he didn’t like that ruling and that it shouldn’t be the law.

“Everybody’s wrong,” Fader said, “except for the people who believe the way I do.”

Whose money is it?

Maryland State Bar Association Thomas D. Murphy urged a House panel this week to reject legislation that would require any unspent annual revenue of the Attorney Grievance Commission to go to the state’s general fund rather than remain with the disciplinary body.

The AGC receives its funding from an annual court-ordered assessment on attorneys that is earmarked for oversight of the legal profession, Murphy told the House Judiciary Committee. The funds are not intended for the general use of the state and thus should not go to the general fund, he added.

“We Maryland lawyers paid our money to that [AGC] fund,” said Murphy, of Murphy & Mood PC in Rockville. The money “should be spent for the purpose we wrote our checks,” he added.

Murphy testified against House Bill 765, which would require AGC’s $7.85 million surplus as of last June 30 to go to the state treasury, as well as any future annual surpluses. The commission anticipates a $9 million surplus as of next June 30.

Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr., the bill’s chief sponsor, told the committee that Maryland must find ways to “beef’ up its revenue. Transferring AGC’s unspent money to the general fund would generate “$9 million worth of the beef,” said Conaway, D-Baltimore City.

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MSBA’s predicament: Principle or past president?

Well, this could get awkward.

Alison Asti, who filed Monday to run for a seat on the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, is a past president of the Maryland State Bar Association. So, do you think she can count on the MSBA’s endorsement?

Not likely.

The MSBA’s longstanding policy is to endorse the sitting judges, and a vote for Asti would be a vote to unseat Judge Ronald H. Jarashow (who joined the court on March 1) or Judge Laura S. Kiessling (Feb. 19).

Bet that next Board of Governors’ meeting will be fun, won’t it?

I should mention that Asti also chairs The Daily Record’s independent Editorial Advisory Board, but this paper has a foolproof way of dealing with endorsements. We don’t make them.

MSBA crowd learns when to bargain with the devil

Greetings from Ocean City, where the sun is shining, a slight breeze is blowing, and hundreds of diehard lawyers spent the morning boning up on things like Maryland’s new homestead exemption, stormwater management regulations and the progress of the judiciary’s Case Management System Replacement Project.

The hottest ticket by far was for “Bargaining with the Devil,” the lunchtime talk by Harvard Law professor Robert Mnookin. Co-sponsored by the Alternative Dispute Resolution, the Business Law and the Litigation sections, the talk drew an overflow audience of well over 100 — so many, in fact, that the quick-thinking MSBA folks took the lunch off the tables lining the back of the room to create more standing room for the SRO crowd.

Mnookin’s talk tracked his recently published book of the same title. He shared his personal heroes: Winston Churchill, who refused to bargain with the devil of his day, and Nelson Mandela, who chose to bargain in secret from his prison cell. So — when should you, in fact, bargain with the devil?

Mnookin’s answer: More often than you might think.

Of course, it wasn’t all philosophy and financial elder abuse (another one of Friday’s sessions). The day started with the 20th Annual Young Lawyers’ Sun Run, sponsored by The Daily Record — for more on that, see Monday’s Maryland Lawyer. And the exhibitors who crowded the Clarion’s Grand Ballroom were in a generous mood, handing out candy, popcorn and other goodies.

Here’s my “Awww” moment: That’s Connor Crossan spinning the wheel at The Daily Record’s booth, where he won a perfect-for-the-beach tote bag — as did his big sister. And then, his big brother. What are the odds? (Their dad, James Edward Crossan, is a lawyer in Baltimore.)

It was a nice family moment in a family resort, and I decided to check out the also-crowded and always-clever Family and Juvenile Law Section Council’s session. They were offering doorprizes there, too — including a gift certificate for pole-dancing lessons — between skits that were well into PG-13 territory, if not quite R.

Well, what’s a day at the beach without a little salt?

A rejection of the highest order

Click to enlarge.

Paul Carlin, the Maryland State Bar Association’s executive director, showed me Thursday the newest piece of memorabilia that will be hanging at the organization’s Baltimore headquarters: a letter from then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger declining an invitation to the 1984 annual meeting in Ocean City.

The letter will join other famous notes addressed to the bar association from two of Burger’s predecessors, William Howard Taft and Roger B. Taney (although Carlin said Taney’s note was written when he was a lawyer).

Burger’s letter is addressed to incoming Bar Counsel Glenn Grossman as “chairman” of the MSBA. Grossman told me he found the note recently while doing some office cleaning.  He was organizing a program for the 1984 meeting about correctional reform that touched on “factories behind fences’” an idea Burger supported.

Alas, the chief justice had to decline the speaking invitation because June is “an extremely busy month at the Court” with the “pressure of opinion writing” as the court’s term ends.

“Please extend my best wishes to all those participating in the meeting,” Burger concluded.

Towson court entrance closed to public

The plaza-side entrance to the Baltimore County Circuit Court building in Towson is currently closed to the general public because the security screening machines are not working. Only courthouse employees, jurors and lawyers with Maryland State Bar Association ID badges are being allowed through that entrance.

All other courthouse visitors must enter through the doors on Bosley Avenue.

The art of a SCOTUS appeal

goldstein.jpgThomas C. Goldstein had a busy day yesterday at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City.

Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauser & Feld LLP in Washington D.C. and founder of the popular SCOTUSblog, spoke at two educational sessions. One was about the U.S. Supreme Court under President Barack Obama; the other, which I attended and wrote about, was on effective appellate representation.

Goldstein has argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court and offered advice on how to get a petition for writ of certiorari granted and, if you’re lucky, how to argue your case before the high court.

I say “lucky” because Goldstein estimated the court grants approximately 1 percent of the 7,500 cert petitions it receives.

“They’re looking to deny cert,” he said.

Goldstein said the cert petitions granted answer four questions:

  • Why this question?  (And it must be a clear question of law);
  • Why this court: Can the issue be resolved by Congress or a regulatory agency instead?
  • Why this case: What makes this case the perfect vehicle to resolve this question? And,
  • Why now: Is there a sense of urgency to decide this case?

When it comes to arguing a case before the high court, Goldstein prepares through moot courts, practicing as many as a half-dozen times before the real deal.

He has two strategies: the principle of relative advantage (what can I bring to the conversation?) and the art of the possible (realizing you will not convince all of the judges to change their minds). Sometimes Goldstein will focus on one judge and discuss only one issue.

“Think modestly about what you can accomplish at oral arguments,” he said.