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Bar News - January 4, 2008

Notes from a Messy Desk

ABA Journal Goofs on Lawyer of the Year

A torrent of criticism inundated the ABA and the ABA Journal following the magazine’s announcement that had named former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as the 2007 Lawyer of the Year. A later statement by the Journal editor clarified that the magazine feature was intended to identify newsworthiness-not merit. That did little to stem negative comments. The posting of the article-which also named Gonzales’s replacement, Michael Mukasey, as the 2008 Lawyer of the Year in advance-on the ABA Web site (at drew more than 70 online comments, almost all denouncing the choice as detrimental to the image of lawyers and a reward for incompetence.

The runners-up would not have mollified critics-they included Michael Nifong, the disbarred prosecutor of the Duke Lacrosse players; Howard K. Stern, attorney and husband of the late Anna Nicole Smith, one of the losers in the paternity battle over Smith’s daughter; and Monica Goodling, the young Department of Justice staffer who acknowledged a key role in the allegedly politically motivated firings of eight US Attorneys.

‘Hearing’ is Key

Dahlia Lithwick, the legal correspondent for the online "magazine", recently wrote a sobering and touching column on two divorce-related murders.

"Two murders-on opposite sides of the country-have transfixed the media in recent weeks, as only the most gruesome family tragedies do. In each case, a parent was murdered while dropping off a child for a court-ordered custody switch; and in each case, the surviving parent quickly became a suspect and almost immediately lost custody," Lithwick wrote. "Both families had been tumbling around for years in the family courts. And both murders followed immediately upon custody proceedings in which the surviving parent felt they’d gone completely unheard by a family court judge."

But the article is not the typical court- or lawyer-bashing screed. Lithwick said that while family court judges preside over inherently "no-win" situations, it is important that they not underestimate the importance of giving each party their "day in court."

"There is much that needs fixing in the family law system. But, at least from the perspective of these two aggrieved parents, the quickest fix seems to be a family court judge who schedules one more conference, and presides over one more hearing, and truly listens, even when she thinks she’s heard it all before," Lithwick concluded.

Quote to Remember:

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - Albert Einstein

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