Hon. Phylis J. Speedlin
2010-2011 President
San Antonio Bar Association


August 2010 - Thank You for Your Service

Life sometimes etches indelible memories in our hearts.  I was a young second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corp when I first met David.  Even today, I remember that very first moment when I approached his bedside.  David’s eyes were glazed with pain, his body slight from recent weight loss, and a myriad of casts, slings and pulleys surrounded every inch of his body.  A jumble of thoughts and emotions overwhelmed me.  He was too young ... barely 19 years of age.  He was too broken ... his body had been severely traumatized by a bomb blast in Vietnam.  And, I couldn’t make it better ... no matter what my nursing skills, David would forever carry the physical and emotional wounds from war.

In the next months treating David, I learned he was especially grateful for an encouraging word, a kind touch and a listening ear.  As he convalesced, David wondered whether his fractures would fully heal and if he would walk again. Like any young man, he feared that his debilitating physical injuries would impact future relationships.  But mostly, David worried about how civilians would treat him once he returned to his hometown. Sadly, this was a time in our nation’s history when some individuals confused the war with the soldiers who served in it.  No one thanked returning Vietnam veterans for their service. Instead, it was not uncommon for returning soldiers to be vilified, spat upon or simply ignored — as if by ignoring the veteran, one could pretend this unpopular war had never happened. 

I do not know what happened to David or how he transitioned back into civilian life after he was discharged from Brooke Army Medical Center. I have often thought about him and the other wounded Vietnam veterans whom I nursed. I doubt their reentry into civilian life was easy. But, I do know from my own personal experiences that the initial rudeness and thoughtlessness towards our Vietnam veterans has changed.  On September 11, 2001, in one heartbeat, our nation witnessed on-duty firemen and police officers lose their lives when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed.  Because of that experience, a grateful nation has since embraced firemen, policemen, rescue workers and soldiers as today’s heroes — the men and women who willingly sacrifice their own  safety to serve and protect others.  Today’s soldiers, whatever the war or conflict, are appreciated for their sacrifice and service. 

The San Antonio Bar Association has now joined the efforts to thank our nation’s veterans in a meaningful way.  On May 21, 2010, 29 volunteer attorneys traveled to Audie L. Murphy Veteran Hospital here in San Antonio and participated in our first pro bono Veteran’s legal clinic.  Our great volunteers provided advice to more than 45 indigent veterans suffering from service-related disabilities. Legal advice ranged from wills, probate, family law, consumer law, criminal law, property law and veteran benefits counseling. The demand for our services was so great that over 20 qualified veterans who sought our services that day had to be rescheduled for a future clinic.  Clearly, the need is great. Did you know that Texas has 1.7 million veterans, of which 1.29 million are classified as wartime veterans, and that Bexar County has the second largest veteran population in Texas? Volunteer lawyers can make a tremendous impact for veterans who cannot find or afford the legal assistance that they need and deserve. Please consider volunteering for a future Veteran’s clinic. Our next clinic will be on Friday August 20, 2010. To volunteer, please contact Amanda Buckert at amandab@sabar.org or 210.227.8822 x24.

Finally, the San Antonio Bar Association plans a special tribute to honor our own veterans. Arrangements are now underway to recognize and thank each member of SABA who is serving or has served the United States in any branch of the armed services. A commemorative slide show is being produced that will be unveiled during the 2010 Esquire Ball on August 28, 2010.  For many of our veterans, especially those who served during the Vietnam War, this thank you is long overdue.  Therefore, please help in this effort to recognize our many veteran members.  If you are a current soldier or veteran or know a SABA member who is now serving or has served in the military, please email that information to Kim Palmer at kimp@sabar.org.

President Abraham Lincoln ended his Second Inaugural address with a plea that, among other things, reminded the nation of its duty “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” Please join me and the SABA in thanking all soldiers who have sacrificed greatly to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Now it is our turn to salute them.


September 2010 - Lawyers are Talented People

Many of you would not be surprised to know that I used to be a cheerleader.  So now that I am a lawyer, it should not be surprising that I am ready, able and willing to make it known that I am passionately proud of my profession.  Lawyers have been made the subject of thousands of critical jokes, but rarely is our profession recognized for the contributions lawyers make daily to our society.  Lawyers are talented people attacking serious problems. Lawyers protect property rights and the sanctity of contracts; they minister to children by reminding their parents that they may be divorced as husband and wife, but they will  never be divorced as parents; they enforce our laws in order to protect our safety, while still guarding the rights guaranteed to each of us under our Constitution. In San Antonio, lawyers contribute their talents to our community in innumerable ways by providing free or discounted legal services to civil litigants and criminal defendants, serving as board members for nonprofit agencies, becoming a big brother or sister to a child in need, or simply by serving meals at the nearest homeless shelter.

Lee Cusenbary is one such talented lawyer with a servant’s heart. Who is Lee?  He is the mastermind behind Ethics Follies.  Each year Lee almost single-handedly gathers together over 100 diverse individuals from our community—lawyers from across all disciplines of practice, Federal and State judges, national and local celebrities, elected community officials, professional actors and actresses, doctors, and business leaders.  He then gives each of them a microphone, a stage, and a valuable message to convey on the subject of ethics. Through his unique ability to inspire the creativity of those who participate, Lee has brought to life characters such as Groucho Marx (a/k/a Judge Phil Kazen), Elvis (a/k/a Rene Diaz), Techno-geek (a/k/a Jeff Gifford), Judges in a Box (a/k/a Federal Judges Edward Prado and Xavier Rodriguez), Heloise (herself), Rick the Wrangler (a/k/a Rick Cavender) and of course Judge Judy (me!).  This fresh approach to teaching ethics was the brainstorm of one unselfish, talented lawyer with vision, drive, and tons of energy.

For many years, Lee has written, directed and produced the Ethics Follies. To create a new and relevant Ethics Follies script each year, Lee invests hundreds of hours researching and writing about current ethical issues including problems from all areas of corporate, legal and judicial practice.  When asked how many hours Lee spends on this project, both his wife Teri and daughter Erin (who also have performed in Ethics Follies) immediately responded, “Every waking minute.” That is because not only does Lee research and decide what ethical dilemmas will be discussed, but he also creates the overall framework for the production and writes each scene and every word of every song. He then casts volunteer lawyers, judges, business leaders, celebrities and others to bring his characters to life. Finally, he directs and produces the entire musical parody; and, of course he sings, acts, and dances on-stage during the production!

 If educating and entertaining were not enough, Lee also uses the Ethics Follies to recognize and commend one law firm and one in-house legal department for their own exceptional ethical practices by presenting each recipient with the Ethical Life Award.  Finally, Lee and The South/Central Texas Chapter of The Association of Corporate Counsel funnel all profits obtained from the Ethics Follies to the Community Justice Program to benefit indigent residents in need of legal services.  And Lee does this all while working full time as the general counsel of Mission Pharmacal Company here in San Antonio. No wonder I am so proud of our profession.

This year’s Ethics Follies is a funny collection of parodied television shows called, “Remote Control.”  There will be short references to and full scenes from such TV shows as Carol Burnett, Welcome Back Kotter, Wonder Woman, I Dream of Jeannie, Glee, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, Boston Legal, and Star Trek. There will be two performances — Wednesday, September 29 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, September 30 at 7 p.m. at the Empire Theater.  I encourage you to buy a ticket and join in the fun!


October 2010 - An Evening to be Remembered

In lieu of my usual President’s column, I have asked Brigadier General M. Scott Magers, one of our SABA members, who was honored at the Esquire Gala held on August 28, 2010, to reflect on what the evening meant to him.  Scott is retired from the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps after nearly 30 years of active service.

The solemn steps of the Air Force Color Guard moving through the group of San   Antonio lawyers and guests on the path to posting the colors prior to the start of last month’s Esquire Ball gave proof that this would be no ordinary evening.  The Esquire Ball is an annual event for the San Antonio Bar Association and San Antonio Bar Foundation celebrating the long standing tradition of  “Passing the Gavel” to the new officers and board members of these organizations.

Justice Phylis J. Speedlin, the newly elected President of the San Antonio Bar Association, in the August Subpoena had reminded our members that there would be a special tribute to honor the military veterans of the association. She had encouraged veterans not only to attend the Esquire Ball, but also to submit photographs of their time in uniform and provide information about their service.

As an Army retiree of nearly 30 years service, I was proud to wear my uniform again and join with my fellow veterans in honoring the contributions of all those who served.  When the slide show began, it quickly became apparent that this bar association provided a large number of military personnel in our nation’s conflicts dating back to World War II.  As each photograph was displayed, there was a cheer and applause for the fellow bar member whose service was likely unknown until that moment.  Because I was in uniform and easily recognized as a veteran, other veterans approached me and spoke of their fond memories while on active duty.  Justice Speedlin, who served as an Army nurse during the time of the Vietnam War caring for the wounded at Brooke Army Medical Center, reminded each of us that during those years our veterans were often not shown the appreciation and respect they well deserved.  The spontaneous applause at the end of the slide show exhibited the admiration of our members for those who served so honorably.

At The Esquire Ball I was greatly moved by the effort our bar association made to amend for the past treatment of our veterans and make clear to all veterans of this association that their service is appreciated and honored.  It was a special evening that all who attended will long remember.

- Brigadier General M. Scott Magers


November 2010 - A Thanksgiving Blessing

November heralds cooler temperatures and visions of plentiful Thanksgiving tables. At this time of the year, one can’t help but reflect on America’s very first Thanksgiving celebration. Oh, you remember the story learned in grade school.  Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians gathered together in 1621 to eat and celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. Rugged immigrants from England joined with Native Americans to share a feast of food and give thanks for their bountiful crops. What impresses me the most about that first Thanksgiving story is how both cultural groups remained open to learning and blending their diverse traditions thereby creating a better celebration for all.

As I prepare for my own Thanksgiving celebration in 2010, I count as one of my blessings the fact that I practice law in San Antonio.  Ours is a culturally diverse legal community with generally an open attitude toward different opinions, practices, races, religions and nationalities. Because of that, our legal community has a well deserved reputation throughout Texas for its congeniality, civility and fairness.  In other words, it is a great place to practice our profession.  Lawyer Rosa M. Cabezas-Gil, who was born in the Canary Islands, agrees.

I have been in the USA almost 37 years, in San Antonio over 29 years and practicing law 23, and in a nutshell I have to say I feel “I belong” in our legal community. I may not look foreign at first glance, tall, blonde and fair, but with a Spanish name and such a heavy foreign accent, I know that anywhere else, even in the rest of Texas, I may not have felt so at ease as I do, practicing law in Bexar County. My colleagues, for the most part, are friendly, easy going and their word seals a deal, even if we may be defending our clients in opposite extremes. We agree to disagree with respect and professionalism...

My minority clients (Hispanic, blacks and others) are also treated with respect by all the judges at the courthouse. Even if some of the people I represent may not speak English, and even if the judge may not rule in my client’s favor, I know we got our day in court, because I know the ruling was based on the facts and the evidence presented, not by the color of the skin, not by the ethnicity of the people before the court, nor because of my accent. It worried me when I first started practicing law. Not anymore!

This city and the legal community have embraced me so well, that I do not see myself practicing law anywhere else. Here I can be me, Rosa M. Cabezas-Gil, the tall lawyer with the heavy accent!

At a time in our history when headlines too frequently shout “racism” it is great to know our legal community can be commended for embracing our differences.  Attorney Rashin Mazaheri has been inspired and impressed by how colleagues and Judges have responded to her Iranian heritage.

I was born in Isfahan, Iran and moved to SA in December of 1989. I have lived here since except for a one-year period in Houston (1995). As you know, I have been practicing law for just under four years and I LOVE it. I attribute my positive experience to the fact that our legal community is open and tolerant of diversity; be it cultural diversity, religious diversity or other types. I find it heartwarming when a colleague discusses an aspect of my heritage and tells me that he has been reading about it. Or when another learns about my religious holidays and greets me not in English, but the customary greetings of that particular holiday. Last summer, during the height of the Iranian uprising over the presidential elections, it was overwhelming and inspiring that so many colleagues and Judges and Courthouse staff would ask if my friends and family back home are safe. There were discussions about what was happening and what would happen in Iran, but only after sincere inquiry regarding my loved ones. This is a great community to be a part of as I am made to feel a part of this community, despite my diversity.

Danielle L. Hargrove, past president of the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association, agrees that San Antonio is a special place to practice law.

My experience with the legal community in San Antonio has been wonderful.  From the first day I started private practice after leaving active duty sixteen years ago, I have been embraced on every committee, section, and association I have participated in.  I am extremely thankful that my professional colleagues and friends are as diverse as the people of San Antonio.

So, as you prepare to celebrate your own Thanksgiving this year, consider counting among your blessings that you are part of an inclusive legal community that, like the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians, celebrates our cultural diversities.


December 2010 - Christmas Magic

December was always my favorite time of the year as a child because it meant that all the wonders and joys of the Christmas season were finally here.  In fact, one of my most vivid memories is lying in bed awake at night counting down the days till Christmas morning.  Back then, our family had very little money but my wonderful mother somehow worked her magic so that Christmas morning included an array of toys and goodies.  I could hardly wait.  December remains a special time for me because I love the kindness, compassion and goodwill associated with this time of year.  Lawyers can be especially generous. Just look around and you will see lawyers spearheading a project or otherwise contributing in a meaningful way. 

Adopt a Soldier

Attorney David Stephenson and his lovely wife Mary organize three dozen volunteers to send care packages to a military unit, the 2-17 Cavalry Regiment of the 101st Airborne, currently stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  This particular unit’s primary purpose is to fly rescue missions in a two-man Kiowa helicopter, probably one of the most dangerous assignments of the war.  As described in the September 2010 issue of Men’s Journal, “Our job is to put ourselves between the infantry and the enemy,” explains Chief Warrant Officer and Kiowa pilot Krystian McKeown. “If we aren’t getting shot at, we’re not doing our job.”

Because of their mission, Mary and David Stephenson wanted to recruit a pen pal for each and every soldier in the unit.  Therefore, they kept asking people to join their project until they had 36 volunteers from throughout the community. The group sends care packages every two months. Most items sent are directly for the soldiers; however, the solders have also requested items that they can use as gifts for the Afghan children.  Small soccer balls and lined journals with colored markers are especially popular.  “Our next ship date is November 21st so we’ll send home-baked goodies and hot chocolate and strings of Christmas lights, things that will hopefully be welcome reminders of the approaching holidays,” says Mary. “We also send letters or cards each time we ship.  Most of the troops don’t send a reply, but that’s not what’s important.  I think they need to know that someone is thinking about them, and that we’re so grateful for the sacrifices they make every day to keep the rest of us safe. This has been our very small attempt to make life a little easier for the brave men and women who risk so much.”

Toy Drive for the Children’s Court

The San Antonio Bar Association hosts an annual toy drive for the Bexar County Children’s Court.  Donations of toys or cash are accepted at the bar offices and during the December monthly luncheon. Toys are then donated to Judge Richard Garcia and Judge Charles Montemayor and their staff to distribute to children involved in child protective service cases.  The goal is to provide a book or toy as a gift to each child involved in a courthouse hearing.

Urban Connection

The Mexican American Bar Association continues their four year tradition of networking with Urban Connection, an organization that seeks to provide strong, supportive community for the residents of the San Antonio Housing Authority properties.  MABA matches families living on the city’s Westside with MABA members volunteering to provide Christmas gifts and other necessities such as coats and shoes.

Food Drives

The San Antonio Young Lawyers will host their 4th Annual Christmas Party and Canned Food Drive to benefit the San Antonio Food Bank in mid-December.  In the past, this event has collected hundreds of canned food items and money for donation to the San Antonio Food Bank.  For every dollar donated several meals can be purchased by the food bank.

Purses, Pearls, Pumps and Portfolios

The Bexar County Women’s Bar Association plans to collect the 4 “P”s for Dress for Success (purses, pearls, pumps and portfolios) for donation to Dress for Success, an organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women. The BCWBA also collects toiletries for the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center.   President Christine Reinhard says, “We’ve been gathering some sort of item to donate to a deserving charity each year at our Holiday Luncheon for as long as I can remember, and this year will be no exception to that tradition.”

These are just a few examples of how our legal community gives its time, talent and money. Other generous souls among us wrap gifts for Elf Louise, donate to the Battered Women’s Shelter, provide “Angel Food,” sponsor the Mission Road Ministries’ fundraiser (serving developmentally challenged children and adults), staff the Bexar County Detention Ministries’ holiday party (for children with a parent in custody), donate to the St. Vincent de Paul Bistro at Haven for Hope (serving over 700 meals daily to the homeless of San Antonio), or host a lonely soldier for Christmas dinner.  I applaud each lawyer who works their own Christmas magic in our community by focusing on children, family, generosity and good will. Heaven knows there is no shortage of need.


January 2011 - Happy New Year

After the incredible rush of the holiday season, the New Year dawns like a deep, calming breathe. I always think of a new canvas — ready for the artist’s first stroke. Clean and open with unlimited potential and possibilities. Many of us embrace that potential and make resolutions for new diets, new exercise plans, new budgets and spending habits. Some of us declare we will be better lawyers, spouses, parents and friends.  Such declarations often fail despite our best intentions. Regardless, I believe this goal-setting exercise profits us.  It inspires us to honestly assess past triumphs and missteps, and to focus on our future expectations and opportunities.  President Abraham Lincoln once wrote, as he maneuvered his beloved country through the Civil War, “We must think anew, and act anew.”  I encourage you to take advantage of these precious first moments in a brand new year. Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, think potential. If you have a hope, reach for it; if you have a dream, run toward it. I truly believe all things are possible.

As you begin the New Year, here are ten inspirational quotes to consider:

  • We can do no great things, only small things with great love.  -Mother Teresa

  • How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.  -Anne Frank

  • When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.  I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.  When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.  I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family.  My family and I could have made an impact on our town.  Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.  -Author Unknown

  • It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. -Theodore Roosevelt

  • Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. -Robert F. Kennedy

  • I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.  -William Penn

  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.  -Winston Churchill

  • Of the things we think, say or do … Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? -Rotary Four Way Test

  • Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.  -Author Unknown

  • Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.  -Muhammed Ali

Finally, I wish you a happy and healthy 2011.  I hope you laugh daily, love deeply and live life the way it is meant to be lived — with purpose, energy and a smile on your face.  Happy New Year.


February 2011 - It’s Not Too Early to Register

Christmas decorations are stored and New Year’s resolutions made (or broken). Now thoughts turn to planning this year’s activities.  The San Antonio Bar Association and its affiliated organizations and sections offer a myriad of cost effective and excellent continuing education opportunities throughout the year.  Here is a brief preview of several seminars that have been tremendously popular in past years. Consider registering early and often!

Extreme Family Law Makeover - “My Ex Is Always On My Mind”
March 4 at the Pearl Stable

The SABA Family Law Section will host the 9th Annual Extreme Family Law Makeover. This year’s topics include witness preparation (Fidel Rodriguez, Jr.), handling temporary orders (Ray Vale, Jr. and Jeff Bernstein), effective assistance from a commanding officer in military divorces (Maurleen Cobb and SMSgt. Gregory Weymouth), contempt actions (David Emory), calculating child support (Karen Marvel), handling C.P.S. cases (Hon. Richard Garcia and Hon. Charles Montemayor), jurisdictional issues in divorces (Hon. Larry Noll), relocation (Hon. Renee McElhaney), tax matters in divorce (Janet Stigent-Burns), appeals (Kimberly Keller), incapacitated clients (Barbara Scharf Zeldes), attorney personal integrity (Ernest Karam), and reflections from a retired District Court Judge, the honorable Michael Peden.  Where else can you get 7.75 hours of CLE for an amazing price of $150 (member early registration) or $250 after February 21?  Attendees get either the course notebook or a USB drive containing the notebook, or both for an additional $20.  A party will be held at La Gloria immediately following the seminar.

48th Annual A. A. Semaan Criminal Law Institute
March 25-26 at the DoubleTree Hotel

San Antonio can be proud of the fact that we host the oldest criminal law seminar in Texas. Even before there was mandatory CLE for attorneys, there was a Semaan Criminal Law Institute in San Antonio! This year’s institute will once again include great speakers who will discuss current aspects of criminal practice from both the prosecution and defense perspective. Gerald H. Goldstein, Mark Stevens, Stephanie Stevens, and Henry Bemporad (Deputy Federal Public Defender, Western District of Texas) are a few of the outstanding speakers.

SABA/SABF Law Day Luncheon
May 5 at the AT&T Community Center

This year’s national Law Day theme is “The Legacy of John Adams, From Boston to Guantanamo.” John Adams became our nation’s first lawyer-president in 1797, and is well known as a resistance leader, patriot, political activist and diplomat. What is less known is that John Adams also represented the British officer and soldiers who were charged with firing into a crowd of protestors and killing five civilians in the “Boston Massacre.” His role in the Boston Massacre trials has come to be seen as an example of a lawyer’s adherence to the rule of law and defense of the rights of the accused, even in cases involving unpopular clients and public controversy. 

In keeping with this year’s theme, Kenneth Feinberg who was recently described in the ABA Journal as “the Master of Disasters” will be our keynote speaker this year. Feinberg was appointed Special Master of the U.S. Government’s September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and currently serves as the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation, popularly called the “pay czar.” Additionally, Feinberg currently serves as the government-appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund.

Bench Motions & Trials, Bexar County Style III
May 20 at the Bright Shawl

SABA and our Civil District Judge are busy finalizing plans for this year’s continuing legal education program, “Before the Bench,” which will focus on non-jury bench motions and trials in Bexar County. Topics will likely include “Clash of the Titans - Probate Court versus District Court,” ESI (electronically stored information), Appellate Triage for trial lawyers, A Legislative Update, Foreclosing Foreclosures, A Snippet from Ethics Follies and others still on the drawing board.  The program will be affordable and provide and at least 7.5 hours of CLE credit including 1.0 hour of ethic’s credit.
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting
June 23 and June 24 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

If you haven’t attended a State Bar Annual Meeting, you are in for a treat because this year’s annual meeting will be held in San Antonio.  Over 270 events are scheduled including a year’s worth of continuing legal education credit.  Featured speakers include H.W. Brands, a bestselling historian and biographer, who has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Mike Thornton, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for his service as a Navy Seal in Vietnam.   Plan now to attend.

ACC Ethics Follies: “Cloud 9”
Fall 2011 at the Empire Theater

Ethics Follies 2011 is a continuation of the popular Decent’s Decent and Misbehavin’ at the Menger storylines now enjoyed by over 20,000 attorneys in the U.S. over the past three years.  The third installation of the trilogy is called Cloud 9, and features the return of the reformed villain B. Trey Hastily from prison.  The head IT Geek leaves Decent Food & Drugs to open his own cloud computing operation inspired by San Antonio’s own Rackspace and by Facebook.com.  He gets lots of musical parody ethics advice from popular characters at Decent F&D.   Don’t miss the cat-suit wearing villainess who attempts to steal confidential information from the hard drives in a multi-media TRON like-chase through the Empire Theatre.


March 2011 - A letter from the Boards of the San Antonio Bar Association & San Antonio Bar Foundation

Over the last two years, the Officers and Directors of the San Antonio Bar Association have made a concerted effort to seek feedback from our membership to determine what the SABA can do to make membership more valuable.  Among the things we learned during this exploration is that many local attorneys do not understand the relationship between the San Antonio Bar Association (SABA) and the San Antonio Bar Foundation (SABF). Simply stated, SABA is your professional association, a voluntary association of lawyers and judges.  It is designed to provide benefits, programs and services which promote professional growth and quality of life for all local attorneys. Your SABA dues provide low-cost continuing legal education programs and consistent communication among the sections and with the judiciary. They fund the Subpoena newsletter, an up-to-date website and The San Antonio Lawyer magazine (receiving top publication honors in 2010) to help us stay in touch with our fellow attorneys in Bexar County. 

By contrast, the SABF, a nonprofit corporation, was created years ago by a group of attorneys to be the giving arm of SABA. Donations to the SABF fund attorney-led community service projects, such as the very successful peer mediation program that has greatly reduced gang violence in over 180 public schools in Bexar County, and the Community Justice Program that provides a venue for pro bono legal services.  Membership in both SABA and SABF is open to all local attorneys. Some differentiate SABA and SABF by saying “SABA helps us learn and earn, while the SABF helps us live and give.”

Currently, the SABA officers and board members are elected by members of SABA, while the SABF board members are appointed by existing SABF board members. Both boards meet monthly at different times with different agendas; and thus, although SABA and SABF were intended to work very closely together and, in fact, do work very well together, oftentimes communication between the two organizations is lacking, resulting in overlapping and duplicate efforts. The SABA and SABF boards have discussed this issue at length and have agreed to move forward with a plan that will reduce duplication of efforts, better define their often-overlapping roles, and increase communication between the two organizations. It is our hope that by implementing this plan, both SABA and SABF can better serve their members, the legal community and the community at large.

To further this plan, the current SABF board, after much contemplation, has asked the elected SABA board to also take on the responsibility of serving as SABF trustees effective August 1, 2011. The two boards would remain separate since the SABF is a nonprofit entity and the SABA is not. Thus, each time the SABA board meets, it will consider and act on SABA business, but then reconvene a second meeting to consider and act on SABF business. Much of the SABF business will consist of recommendations for fund raising and the giving of charitable funds pursuant to recommendations from a newly-established Advisory Council. The new Advisory Council would consist of the current SABF board and the immediate past president of SABA. The creation of the Advisory Council would allow SABA and SABF to take advantage of the institutional knowledge of the current SABF board and would also ensure the current SABF commitments remain in place. Going forward, the SABA board would appoint SABA members to serve on the Advisory Council.

The SABA and SABF boards agree that it is in the best of interest of both organizations to have the elected SABA board also serve as the SABF board in the manner described above. It not only will eliminate duplication of efforts, but will also keep the work and goals of each organization distinct and within their respective organization missions. This model is utilized by countless other bar associations around the country and has worked very well.

Both the SABA and SABF boards are excited about what we perceive as a positive change. This natural progression of growth, however, would not have been possible if it were not for the SABA membership’s valuable input and guidance.


April 2011 - A Legacy to Remember

What do you do when a prospective client comes to you for legal representation on a controversial matter?  Do you refuse because of the negative publicity such representation might cause you? Or do you embrace the challenge of taking on an unpopular cause despite the adverse consequences you will invariably face?  This is the dilemma many of us, as practicing attorneys, must face.  And perhaps that is why the American Bar Association chose as this year’s Law Day theme to focus on the legacy of our nation’s first lawyer-president, President John Adams — a man who was committed to zealous representation of his clients even in the face of hostile opposition.
Law Day, first established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is an annual event designed to celebrate the rule of law and its contributions to the freedoms all Americans enjoy.  This year’s national Law Day theme is “The Legacy of John Adams, From Boston to Guantanamo.”  John Adams became our nation’s first lawyer-president in 1797, and is well known as a resistance leader, patriot, political activist and diplomat.  What is less known is that John Adams also represented the British officer and soldiers charged with firing into a crowd of protestors and killing five civilians in the infamous “Boston Massacre.”  As Stephen Zack, President of the ABA, wrote this month in a Law Day planning guide,

“Adams ably defended those soldiers, despite risks to his safety and his livelihood, and regardless of the fact that many saw them as agents of an oppressive and unrepresentative British rule.  He did so because of his faith in due process of law, in what he would later famously phrase as “a government of laws, not of men.”

John Adams’s role in the Boston Massacre case stands as an excellent example of one lawyer’s zealous representation of his clients’ rights to a fair trial — one of the most basic tenets of our system of justice — even in the midst of a hailstorm of public and political criticism.

This year’s Law Day keynote speaker similarly exemplifies commitment to the rule of law, and is certainly no stranger to challenging legal matters that generate public scrutiny and controversy.  In fact, one could easily say he has participated in every thorny issue of our day—from mass torts such as Agent Orange and the Dalkon Shield to the mass tragedies of 9/11 and Virginia Tech, from serving as “pay czar” during the financial bailout to administering the BP oil spill settlement fund.  The San Antonio Bar Association is proud and honored to welcome attorney Ken Feinberg as this year’s keynote speaker for Law Day.

Although he describes himself as a full-time arbitrator and mediator for complex litigation, Mr. Feinberg has certainly impacted the lives of many individuals in crisis.  After September 11, 2001, then attorney general John Ashcroft asked Mr. Feinberg to set up and head the congressionally mandated victims’ compensation fund.  For over 33 months, Mr. Feinberg and his law firm worked pro bono to investigate the individuals’ claims and determine their benefits.  He personally conducted most of the 1,500 hearings with survivors and victims’ families, determining the amount of compensation victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would receive from the federal government.  At the end of the process, $7 billion was awarded to 97 percent of the families.  Feinberg later published a book describing the experience entitled, What is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11.  In July 2007, Mr. Feinberg again agreed to take on a heart rending task.  He volunteered to once again work pro bono as the chief administrator for an $8 million private victim compensation fund set up by the Virginia Tech Foundation to compensate the families of the 32 people killed and the 17 people injured by a young gunman on campus.  Most recently, in June 2010, Mr. Feinberg was appointed by the White House and BP to administer the $20 billion fund set up by BP to pay claims resulting from the Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Like John Adams, all of his hard work has not made Mr. Feinberg immune from criticism.  Early in the process of administering the September 11 victim compensation fund, Mr. Feinberg was described in the media as “aloof and arrogant.”  Feinberg freely admits, “I didn’t fully appreciate how soon this program had been established after 9/11, so there was a certain degree of unanticipated anger directed at me that I should have been more attuned to.”  Currently, he faces challenges from all sides as he navigates the BP oil spill settlement process.

Please join us at the 2011 Law Day luncheon on May 5, 2011 at the AT&T Community Center, 231 W. Commerce St., and discover more about Mr. Feinberg — what he has learned from his high profile work and how he has handled the controversies generated by his unique practice.


May 2011 - Top Ten Things to Remember

At the risk of revealing too much, I must confess that growing up I loved to read the daily advice column “Dear Ann Landers.” It was with a voyeur’s fascination that I would flip through our local newspaper until I found that particular popular and entertaining part of the paper.  Recently, during the Extreme Family Law Makeover Seminar, I had the good fortune to hear Retired District Judge Michael Peden dispense his own unique wisdom to the attorneys in attendance.  A trial judge from 1983 until his retirement in December 2010, Judge Peden brings something Ann Landers didn’t have during all those years she dispensed advice — an expertise gained from 27 years of first-hand courtroom experience. 

With Judge Peden’s permission, I am reproducing his top ten rules below:

10. Know that just as attorneys talk about judges, judges talk about attorneys.  Be honest with the Court. Your word is your honor. Protect it. An attorney’s reputation can be made or broken by how you conduct yourself. The last thing you want is to lose the confidence of the judges you appear before.  And just like you talk about us, we talk at Judge’s meetings about attorneys, especially those who have misrepresented something to the Court.

9. Belong to the San Antonio Bar Association. I believe in this strongly. There is strength in numbers and we can accomplish a lot in this world as lawyers but we accomplish it as part of our Bar Association.  I always tell every new lawyer to join your Bar Association and then get involved.  You can and should make a difference.

8. Bring case law with copies for everyone, not just the judge. It amazes me when a lawyer comes into the courtroom with only one copy of a case.  Always bring enough copies of whatever case you are relying on for opposing counsel and the Court.

7. Remind yourself on a regular basis why you went to law school. There is a reason we went to law school. Every one of us at one point in our life probably dreamed of being in a courtroom and achieving justice for our client. You dreamed of that moment, and that is why you chose to go to law school.  Pursue that dream every day.  

6. Mentor a young attorney. Just like I tell our older judges to mentor the new judges, I tell all attorneys to mentor a young lawyer. Mentor a young attorney and it will make them a better lawyer.  In turn, we all benefit.  

5. Our jobs are important — But make sure it is not the most important thing in your life. If you believe being a lawyer is the most important thing in your life, you have missed the point.  I am not going to get into heaven because I was an attorney. I certainly hope not!  I hope there are other reasons I get into heaven. There are certainly more important things in life. Make sure you take advantage of them.  

4. Always be on time, not just for court. Be on time always and not just for court.

3. Be professional at all times, espec-ially when dealing with a difficult attorney. The most respect I have for a lawyer is when opposing counsel is being completely disagreeable and the first attorney politely and simply responds, “Your honor, I respectfully disagree with Attorney X and I have the case law to prove that.”  Do what is right in every case and do not demean yourself by name-calling or finger-pointing. Be professional.

2. Be involved with the community — make it a better place. Be involved with your community and make it a better place.  That is our responsibility as a human being and even more so as an attorney because you have more power as an attorney. You know things, you know people, and you know how to get things done.  Leave it a better place than when you came.

1. Know you are empowered to touch lives, and know what a blessing that is. There are two professions that I absolutely believe are golden—one is a lawyer and one is a teacher.  Think about how many lives are going to be touched by attorneys and teachers! You have the power as an attorney to touch people’s lives every day.  Every one of you can go home at night and, if you’re honest with yourself, turn to your spouse or friend and say, “Mary was glad I was with her today. I was her lawyer and here is what I did for her.  I touched her life.”  I can’t think of a higher compliment you can give anyone than to hear those words—“Judge Peden, you have touched lives in your life.”  Know you have the power to do that and go do it.

No truer words have been spoken. Judge Peden, in your 27 years serving the citizens of Bexar County as a trial court judge, you have touched many lives. Thank you for your service and for sharing your top ten rules with the San Antonio Bar.


June 2011 - The Unsung Heroes Among Us

I am passionately proud of my profession and of the men and women who dedicate their lives to practicing law. Space does not allow me to personally thank each attorney who has positively impacted a life, a worthy cause, or our system of justice.  What I can do, however, is to tell you about two ordinary attorneys doing extraordinary things. Of course, my two examples are not comprehensive. There are many more among us equally worthy of mention and I would welcome your suggestions for future columns in the Subpoena.  But, for now, let me introduce you to two attorneys who inspire me.

Charles D. Butts, a licensed lawyer since 1949, turns 90 years young this month. Although many attorneys his age might retire, Mr. Butts instead chooses to promote legal excellence and professionalism by actively mentoring new attorneys and by writing articles for the San Antonio Lawyer.  Robin Teague, Chairman of SABA’s mentoring committee, describes Mr. Butts, “I can tell from my experience with him that Charlie is interested in young lawyers.  First, he wants to ensure new attorneys improve their legal skills to the highest level they can achieve. There are no shortcuts to doing that.  Second, he wants young lawyers to adhere to the highest of ethical standards.  He will accept nothing less, and has jumped on me a least once to make sure I don’t stray from the standards he has set.”  Because of his strength of character and values, Mr. Butts enriches the lives of new and old attorneys. As one attorney told me, “Charlie inspires me to believe that I can make a difference, and that age will not necessarily limit me.  Charlie also has inspired me to keep speaking up (or speaking out, depending on the cause involved) to promote justice, to prevent injustice and to encourage professional integrity.”

Another attorney I want to mention is a leader in the fields of public, environmental and water law. Her name is Mary Kelly and she does her work well and honorably, and has made a good living.  But it is her tireless generosity that most deserves notice and accolades.  From merit badge counselor for her beloved sons’ Boy Scout Troops to the Texas Turnpike Authority, from CLE author and speaker on Texas Water Law to the San Antonio Library Foundation, from helping her home owner’s association to the Mayor’s Task Force on Kelly Privatization, Mary has freely devoted her time, knowledge and expertise to serve others.  With her calm demeanor, professional manner, and wide smile, Mary donates innumerable hours to improve our community and our State.  As her legal assistant, Frances McClintock told me, “Mary’s interest and concern for air, water, environmental, and endangered species issues has led to countless hours of research, drafting of numerous papers, speeches, and articles, leading or participating in events to introduce and educate others, and helping to create legislation relating to those meaningful issues which impact us all.” In addition, this human dynamo has made substantive contributions to our community through dedicated service on the Board of Directors for the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital Foundation, San Antonio Mobility Coalition, and the Leadership Council of United Way.  This ultimate professional has also held leadership positions with both local and state Bar Associations, the San Antonio Water System, the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation Program, and the International Women’s Forum. Finally and only because I have run out of space, Mary, despite her many activities, remains a devoted mother and grandmother who lights up with joy when she talks of her children’s and grandchildren’s activities and accomplishments. 

I want to personally thank both Charlie Butts and Mary Kelly for all that they have done, and have yet to do, to make this a better world. You are both remarkable people and excellent examples of what is very right with our profession.


July 2011 - Thanks for the Memories

How lucky I am to have experienced something so special that saying goodbye is difficult!  Please know it has been my privilege and honor to write this column each month and to serve as your president.

I begin this, my final column, with several thoughts in mind.  First, thank each of you for allowing me to represent such an outstanding bar association.  San Antonio is a very special place to practice law.  Our legal community — bench and bar — is envied by attorneys throughout the State for its well deserved reputation of treating each other and the law with civility and respect. You should be very proud of that fact. This year has been no exception.  Together, both individually and through the Bar Association, we have mentored new attorneys, produced quality and affordable continuing legal education seminars in a myriad of different practice areas, helped the financially disadvantaged, cared for our members in crisis, remembered our soldiers, and worked to improve the public perception and confidence in our judicial system.  If my presidency has stood for anything, it has been to remind lawyers to be passionately proud of our noble profession.  Each of you has the ability to positively impact the lives of many.  I hope you continue to use those skills wisely to make a difference in this world.

Second, I wish to commend my officers, board of directors, section leaders, committee chairs, and the superb staff of the San Antonio Bar Association, especially Jimmy Allison.  Hundreds of hours of time and effort have gone into every event, email, publication, CJP clinic and CLE seminar to support our membership and, in turn, our profession. On a very personal note, thank you for joining me in saluting the veterans among us at this year’s Esquire Ball, and for volunteering your time at our monthly Veteran’s Clinics at Audie L. Murphy Veterans Hospital.  Both of these were new initiatives this year and both serve as a concrete way to thank the many men and woman who have served or are currently serving and sacrificing to protect our freedoms.

Finally, the best is yet to come.  I watch with awe “younger” attorneys, full of energy and passion, as they introduce new and innovative ideas to serve our legal and local community, especially in the areas of technology and communication. Who would have thought a few years ago that the San Antonio Bar Association and Foundation would have Wi-Fi, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account?  The Bar is in great shape and I leave it in very capable hands.

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