Ethics & Image (Spring 2005)
By Brad Hendricks, Previous ATLA President
* Originally published in the ATLA Docket, Spring 2005
The cliché “time flies” has seldom seemed more self-evident. Since this is my last contribution to The Docket as ATLA’s president, it’s worthwhile to reflect on where we have been, what we have done, and perhaps offer some observations on where we need to go from here.
It is important to note that a president of this organization is part of a continuum. He or she is only as effective as the prior leadership and existing composition of the executive committee and board will allow. In that regard, I’ve been blessed.
During my term as President-Elect, I had the good fortune to serve under President Q. Byrum Hurst. Few people outside the executive committee, the staff and the board fully appreciate the extraordinary job that he did as president. When it appeared that the ATLA ship was sinking, Byrum rolled up his sleeves and went to work, and motivated others to do likewise. When Byrum handed the baton to me last April, the shoes to be filled were very big indeed.
Because of the hard work of the executive committee and the board working in conjunction with Carol Utley and her staff, it is now safe to say that ATLA has been transformed from an organization struggling to rediscover its identity, into a highly effective and disciplined machine. Just in case there is any remaining doubt on that subject, let’s review what has happened since the nightmarish legislative session of 2003.
ATLA has had a seemingly unattainable goal for many years of reaching a membership level of 1,000. We now have over 1,060 members, and our ranks are continuing to swell.
We have contributed unprecedented funds to political candidates who are committed to protecting our system of justice. Of the seventeen legislative races which ATLA targeted, fifteen candidates supported by ATLA emerged victorious.
Our lobbying team has grown from two people to five, and their effectiveness has been nothing short of extraordinary.
We have implemented the Golden Gavel program, which ensures that funds reach our chosen political candidates quickly when those candidates are in critical need of campaign funds.
Thanks to the devotion and hard work of Chip Welch and others, we mounted a broad constitutional challenge to Act 649 of 2003. While that broad challenge was not successful, we have the necessary briefs prepared for each ATLA member who has the opportunity’ to challenge any aspect of that ridiculous excuse for a law.
We have implemented “Action Alerts” so that our membership can assist with communicating with legislators on short notice.
Our website has been transformed into a useful tool for our membership, and provides important information to the public to help combat tort deform. It also provides important weekly bulletins on events at the Capitol which are of interest to our membership.
We have established law student membership programs at both law schools, and student participation has grown from only ten student members two years ago to over one hundred today.
We learned that many law students aspire to be plaintiff’s lawyers, and were frustrated by the fact that only defense firms recruited at the law schools. In response, we established the law student employment program. This provides a benefit to our ATLA membership as well as to the law students.
We have doubled the size of our ATLA staff, and the results have been spectacular. In addition to Carol Utley and Gwen Hathcock, we added Randall Freeman as Membership Director, Karen Smith as Associate Director, and Mathew Hass as Director of Politics and Governmental Relations. Each has made important contributions to making ATLA a more effective organization.
In addition to our expanded lobbying team of Henry Hodges, Carol Utley, Allen Gordon, Becky Lynn and Mathew Hass, we have established open lines of communication and cooperation with private lobbyists, most notably Bob Edwards and Bill Fitch. We are indebted to Wilkes and McHugh and Hare-Wynn for their strong contributions and cooperation. We have a number of ATLA members who make the necessary sacrifices to make a difference in our political battles. That list has thankfully grown too long for this column, but Joey McCutchen exemplifies this new breed of ATLA activists.
We have increased the security of our communications across the listserv, and changed the criteria for membership in ATLA by updating our constitution and by-laws. We implemented the IMPACT listserv so that our politically active members could communicate with one another more effectively. Board member Chris Heil has done a great job with the unenviable task of policing the listserv through the new listserv committee.
We have revamped our public relations committee. Under the leadership of Eric Wewers, this committee has developed a system for getting our message out to the public when the legislature is not in session, and for communicating quickly and efficiently with legislators during a session.
Contributions to IMPACT, our political arm, have increased by 66%. This has allowed ATLA contributions to political candidates to be more meaningful and helpful, and has allowed us to do more to reward our friends and punish our enemies.
Our membership drive and committee participation is up by 50%. Our members are getting involved in record numbers, and consequently much more is getting done at every level.
We have implemented one-hour telephone conferences for CLE credit so that our busy members can obtain CLE credit without leaving their offices.
Our “key contact” program has been expanded to increase the level of communication between our members and their elected representatives. We are also extending the program to establish personal relationships with members of the media so that we have a mechanism through which to distribute hard data to expose the lies of our opponents.
Our young lawyers division is more active than at any time in the past. Tre’ Kitchens and others have devoted whatever time was necessary to increase the participation and involvement of our younger members. These are our leaders of the future, and they will improve upon the progress which has been made.
Through the leadership of David Williams, our fundraising efforts and results have been unprecedented. Through David’s continuing leadership of the legislation committee, we are pursuing the most ambitious legislative agenda in ATLA’s history.
We have planned an annual convention like no other. As always it will be in Eureka Springs in late April. In addition to an outstanding CLE program our keynote speaker is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. If you haven’t yet made plans to attend, I urge you to do so. This is the time when we analyze the previous session and begin our plans for the next session in a relaxed environment. If you haven’t heard Bobby Kennedy give a speech, you are in for a real treat. In the opinions of those who would know, he is the one member of that fabled family who most embodies the qualities of his father and uncle. Moreover, he’s a really nice guy and just plain fun to be around. I hope you will join us.
Our most important accomplishment has yet to be realized, but as this is written, it appears to be within our grasp. As everyone knows by now, the tort deformers are never satisfied, and will never be satisfied. The grave danger as we entered the session of 2005 was that we would face a “snowball effect” from the last session which would result in legislation to regulate your contingency fee contracts, and to “cap” compensatory damages. The session has only just started as I write this article, but it appears that if and when such legislation is introduced, it will be defeated. There is no single accomplishment more important than this. The critical task at hand as we prepared for this session was to stem the tide of tort deform. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong and will have to eat these words, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we will succeed. If we do succeed, each and every contribution of time and money by each and every member will be the reason for that success.
So, where do we need to go from here? As I leave this office, I’m reminded that this fight is far from over. I urge you to be skeptical, perhaps even distrustful. I urge you to be prepared for the worst. BEWARE! Our enemies will not disappear. Many of the friends we have in the legislature now will be gone in 2007. The brass-knuckled nursing home murderers will be a distant memory. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the tort deformers will be targeting the session of 2007 for their next nefarious assault on our clients and on our system of justice. The phenomenal electoral success we had at the state level simply MUST continue unabated. Only by electing brave and thoughtful legislators can we defeat the powerful special interests which fuel tort deform.
You asked for change in ATLA, and the leadership which you elected to effectuate that change has done their level best to provide it. John Belew will do a great job as your president in the coming year, laying the foundation for Clark Mason’s leadership during the session of 2007. Unlike in the past, preparing for a session is now a two year endeavor. Whether John and Clark will be successful is up to us. They can’t do it alone. If we are successful in the session of 2005, we cannot spend one minute patting ourselves on the back. There is much work yet to be done.
In my judgment, we need to be prepared to fight fire with fire. In Florida, the tort deformers used ballot initiatives for what they couldn’t accomplish at the legislature. We must be prepared to get tough against this type of assault. If the medical profession wants to pursue a ballot initiative to regulate our right to enter into valid, arms-length contracts, we need to have an initiative ready which will limit what doctors can charge for their services, and to abolish the peer review privilege. If insurance companies want a ballot initiative to “cap” compensatory damages, we need an initiative of our own for stringent, consumer oriented regulation of the insurance industry. In short, if our opponents wish to live and let live, that’s fine. But if they want to get rough, we need to show them the true meaning of the word.
To each and every member of this organization, I wish to express my most sincere and heartfelt appreciation for giving me the opportunity to lead this organization at such a critical time. It’s humbling in the extreme, and I hope I’ve served you well. I love this organization and what it represents, and will be forever proud to have been a part of it.