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Legally Speaking


Issue: December, 2008
Author: Rick Lavery

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From the President . . .

The holiday season is in full swing! Don’t you just love the holidays? That short, frenetic and crazy time that starts with Thanksgiving, reaches full crescendo on Christmas, Eid or during Hanukkah, and ends on New Year’s Day. Unfortunately for many Americans, this ends up being the most stressful time of year.

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. Sometime after Thanksgiving, the Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward toy catalogs would arrive and the fun would begin. The hunt was on for that toy that only Santa could bring. Turning the pages day after day, fighting with my siblings for catalog supremacy--enjoying the anticipation of gifts to be received and given almost as much as the actual gifts themselves. Who would have thought the holidays were stressful? My parents never let on. My teachers never let on. They did their level best to make the holidays a smashing success. I was lucky; I can’t remember any bad Christmases. There were five kids in my family and I’m sure my parents were stretched thin by the many demands of the season, both physically and financially. My teachers dealt with classrooms of kids that could barely sit still with such anticipation, and I’m sure they were plenty stressed too. I think about the holiday traditions of my childhood, and I hope that I have been able to give the similar happy memories to my kids. I hope that they didn’t see the blood, sweat and tears behind the production. Their time will come.

The work of judges, lawyers and court personnel during the holidays is exacerbated by the stress that permeates our holiday culture. Unrealistic expectations followed by almost inevitable disappointments means an increase in divorces and family violence, more juvenile problems, more involuntary hospitalizations and more crime. For the transactional lawyer, there are all those last-minute, year-end, tax and business planning projects. It is a time of year when legal emergencies are a daily occurrence.

Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to get beyond the holiday stress is to sit back and take stock. Consider the blessings–all the good things that make us thankful. So instead of getting in line to see Santa, here are a few things that I’m particularly thankful for this holiday season.

In my first article I introduced you to one of my experiences in parochial school–Our Lady of Pain, Suffering, Consequential Damages and Sorrow Everlasting Amen, in Rock Springs. As I watched the election of our forty-fourth president, I was reminded how far our nation has come and how long it sometimes takes to make real progress. I thought about my fourth grade year and Sister Sarah (I know, hard to believe she had just one name). She was trying to heighten our awareness of black people and the tremendous suffering they endured every day. Today her efforts would be called “diversity training.” She set about her mission by recruiting a school bus full of young black children to come to our school. They held hands with our second grade students (my brother was one of them) and marched around the school singing the old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome,” as she accompanied them on her acoustic guitar – picture a less professional version of the singing nun.

At the time I remember thinking, “I hope these kids are not as embarrassed as I’m feeling for them.” We all remember what it was like to have to hold hands with ANYBODY at that age, let alone sing and march! It was fascinating in a way. I hadn’t seen many black people, and I certainly didn’t understand how or why some perceived them any differently than they perceived me. I was too young and understanding that we were in Rock Springs, I didn’t have any firsthand experience of the horrible racism that she described to us--not that it didn’t happen in Rock Springs too. Over the intervening years, history and the passage of time introduced us all to the language and culture of racism; lynchings, burned churches, separate facilities, segregated eating establishments, the segregated schools, integration, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Watts riots, Detroit riots, Black Fourteen, O.J., Rodney King, KKK, skinheads, apartheid, and on and on. I always liked to think that things were getting better and that people were more accepting, but just when I thought that, something senseless would happen and make me think that we would never get beyond irrational judgments based on skin color.

On November 4th, all of that changed. An African American man is our president-elect. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, but I couldn’t have been more proud as I watched him accept the concession of John McCain and listened to his good words to our country. A generation of Americans will grow up during a time when a black man and his family occupy the president’s house. It will serve to tell every citizen of the world that in America, anything is possible. I don’t think we can underestimate the symbolic impact of this man and his family. Here’s to hope! Hope that this president and his family are an example to each of us that we can get beyond our differences. Also, here’s to all of us for showing once again that we can change our government without violence or calamity and with a spirit of cooperation.

The first two months of my year as Bar president have been as busy as advertised by my predecessors. I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend and represent the Wyoming State Bar at Judge Tyler’s robing ceremony. Judge Tyler is the first District Court Judge in Sublette County and the citizens of Sublette County are fortunate indeed to have such a fine man serve their community. In addition, Fifth Judicial District Commissioner Scott McCulloch represented the Wyoming State Bar at the robing ceremony of another fine judge as Judge Robert Skar moves from the Circuit Court of the Fifth Judicial District to the District Court. Tom Harrington will enjoy his robing ceremony at the end of January as he replaces Judge Skar on the Fifth Judicial District Circuit Court bench. The members of the Judicial Nominating Commission and Governor Freudenthal deserve our applause and thanks for their tireless efforts.

One of the first orders of business for a new president is the appointment of new committee members and recommendations to the Supreme Court for members of the Court-appointed boards. Thank to everyone who has volunteered their time and graciously served on these numerous boards and committees. I also express my gratitude to those who will start a new term. As I visited with some of the current board and committee members, I was struck by the level of commitment of this Bar’s lawyer volunteers. I’m thankful for our volunteer spirit.

The Officers and Commissioners had a board meeting in Casper in October. The agenda was full. As we worked through the agenda, I was thankful for the staff’s preparation and the contributions of all of the board members. I also attended the retreat for the bar’s Editorial Committee – the committee that oversees the production of this magazine. Sharon Wilkinson, Editor, had prepared an agenda that made it possible for the committee to plan next year’s issues and give a critical look at all of the magazines characteristics. Thanks to Sharon and all of the committee members for the time and effort in making this publication one of the best in the country. Thanks also for making “Access to Justice” the theme for the February 2009 issue.

By now the loss of funding for Wyoming Legal Services is old news; however, the critical need for legal services is still front and center. It has been particularly gratifying to see people step up to fill the void – not that we couldn’t use even more people to step up! The Access to Justice Task Force has been meeting via teleconference since the bar convention and met in Laramie in October to start a discussion about the short and long term solutions that can work for Wyoming. The task force met again in Cheyenne on Veterans’ Day. I’m thankful for the judges, lawyers and other legal professionals that understand the need and share a vision for a better way.

If you are thinking that there is a lot going on at the Wyoming State Bar, you would be absolutely right. Did I mention that we also moved into our new building at the beginning of October? Stop by if you are in Cheyenne. The Wyoming State Bar should be proud of its many accomplishments, and we couldn’t do any of it without our staff. Officers and Commissioners come and go, but a good staff is truly the tie that binds. Thanks to Sleeter, Sharon, Marie, Becky, Trish, Cathy, Nancy and Melissa.

During these holidays, I hope each of you takes stock and more importantly takes time to be with and enjoy friends and family. I’m particularly grateful for my own family. My wife Ann is the Clerk of District Court here in Uinta County. The same stresses that impact lawyers and judges impact her office as well. Regardless, our family Christmases have always been filled with great joy. Like many of you, we put up way too many lights—I hold the ladder while Ann climbs to the peak of our roof. And those Christmas goodies--Ann makes a Lebanese version of Baklava that is to die for! And what is Christmas without our kids? We are fortunate to have four wonderful children whose greatest Christmas joy is to make jokes at my expense. Now that I think about it, they do that year-round. Being a part of all the good things being done and feeling good are not mutually exclusive conditions. Like the James Brown song says, “I feel good, I knew that I would!” Happy Holidays to all.

Copyright © 2008 – Wyoming State Bar