ABA President-elect Judy Perry Martinez called on the association to face its challenges with “smart, resourceful and agile thinking” in a speech to the ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday.
Martinez began her year as president-elect of the association at the close of the annual meeting in Chicago. She will succeed President Robert M. Carlson in August 2019.
“As to those challenges facing our association, you have already, in this House, undertaken actions during this meeting that will drive greater stability,” said Martinez, referencing the new membership model approved by the Board of Governors and the House on Monday. “As to what lies ahead, it will be sacrifice. There must be focus. I will share my commitment to doing what is necessary so that there will emerge an even stronger association that will have the capability to not only assist our members as they embrace the changes that lie ahead in the legal sector, but an association that will help shape those changes.”
Martinez thanked outgoing president Hilarie Bass, reminiscing about the friendship they’d shared “since the days when our toddlers played together at YLD meetings.”
“What I can tell you is that her ability to drive change will continue to make a difference in our work for years to come,” Martinez said.
She also praised Carlson, saying “Bob’s steady hand and focused approach to assuring that we will complete this year stronger than when his term commenced is the sign of a selfless and dedicated servant.”
Martinez has held several leadership roles within the association; She was chair of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services and is a special adviser to the ABA Center for Innovation. She is currently of counsel at Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans, the firm where she began her career. She rejoined Simon Peragine after retiring from Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company, where she’d served as vice president and chief compliance officer.
She shared a story from her early years with Simon Peragine.
“In 1988, my firm was asked to take on post-conviction capital habeus representation of one of 89 inmates on death row in Louisiana who did not have counsel,” Martinez said. “Back at that time in Louisiana, there was no statutory right to counsel in post-conviction capital cases. For the next nine years, I had the privilege of representing John Ashley Brown Jr., until I watched him walk to his execution on April 24, 1997.”
Martinez recalled being struck by the differences between her middle-class upbringing and the struggles Brown had been through during his childhood. They grew up in the same parish, “yet in so many ways, worlds apart.” She remembered sitting with Brown in the prison visiting room during their meetings, with his hands and feet shackled.
“There were mere inches between us, and yet I knew that throughout our respective lives there had been a vast difference in opportunities, expectations, second chances, support, and hope that separated us,” she said.
“Despite an extraordinary effort led by our legal team made up of attorneys and paralegals and secretaries from my firm, and the most highly-regarded and experienced capital habeas counsel in our state, who served as our co-counsel, we were not able to save John’s life. It is something I live with every day. The privilege of representing John changed me as a lawyer, as a citizen and as a human being.”
Martinez said: “John’s last words to me were ones that will stay with me forever. He said simply, ‘Thank you. Thank everyone. I know you did your best.’ “
She told the delegates that she had faith in the association’s and legal profession’s ability to meet the challenges ahead.
“Let’s give it our best, each of us,” she said. “We owe them our best.”
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