Let there be light. And truth. And justice. Justice pursued with courage, molded by civility, tempered with compassion, applied with mercy and achieving hope, faith and fairness for all concerned.
A religious revival?
No, an epiphany at the Kentucky Bar Association’s annual convention: Our judicial system actuates the values of God, without a scintilla of reference to the Great Spirit. The opposite of showy politicians; the law at its best is all walk, no talk.
Just as a secular nation that separates church from state should be.
I love the KBA. It inspires, it educates and it reconnects lawyers with one another and, more profoundly, with the ideals that led us to the law in the first place. For many of us that inspiration can be summed up in two words: Atticus Finch.
Finch is one of literature’s most enduring, selfless heroes. The wise and temperate father who stood tall for justice and righteousness in the face of blistering public contempt. He always did the right thing, no matter the personal cost.
“What would Atticus do?” serves as a daily guide for many lawyers as we ply our trade.
So it was fitting that Texas lawyer Talmage Boston opened the event with a session on the hero of Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Turns out her classic was more fact than fiction. Finch was in reality her own father, lawyer Amasa Lee, who actually did represent two wrongly convicted black men in front of an all-white jury in the 1930s.
The paragon of virtue, courage and civility we know as Finch exists only because of Amasa Lee. This is great news for us mere mortals, for with thought and intention we too can be like him.
In fact, Kentucky’s Code of Professional Conduct mirrors the Finch Way — God’s way, sans religion or pious professions of faith.
There were sessions confirming the law’s holy mission. We reviewed how the legal profession must address the needs of society’s most vulnerable populations: disadvantaged youth, the aged and the infirm.
The message was clear: We must stand tall and strong to protect these citizens, marshal resources on their behalf and ensure the judicial system works as well for the pauper as it does for the prince.
And there was the annual banquet. To my left sat legendary civil rights lawyer and former director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund John Rosenberg, whose story is nothing short of amazing.
He escaped Nazi Germany with his parents in the 1930s, immigrated to New York, rejected a business career and joined the vanguard of the 1960s civil rights movement. He’s been fighting for the poor and powerless ever since.
To my right sat Ed Monahan, head of Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, and Dan Goyette, the head of Louisville’s public defender office. I was surrounded by Atticus Finches.
The awards ceremony reminded us that if the law has its saints, it certainly has its sinners too.
If a profession can fall because of one man like Eric Conn, it can rise through another — in this case, a multitude. On behalf of all who have volunteered to help right Conn’s wrongs, Prestonsburg lawyer Ned Pillersdorf accepted the Donated Legal Services award.
As I listened to the stories of the other honorees, it was apparent that Finch truly does beat in the breast of Kentucky’s bar.
Incoming KBA President Bill Garmer reminded us of the challenges ahead, including chronic underfunding of the judicial system and the need to cultivate an atmosphere of respect for the law and for the judiciary.
He observed that we became lawyers because we want to serve people and that providing such service is the essence of being a lawyer.
Richard Dawahare is a Lexington lawyer.