Scott Karson knew that his year as NYSBA president would be different from his predecessors, but he was even more sure that NYSBA was resilient and well-prepared for the challenges.
“We demonstrated once again how vital the work is that the association does to support our most sacred ideals, the rule of law and Democracy itself,” said Karson, NYSBA’s first all-virtual president in its 144-year history, in his address to the House of Delegates today.
“It is incredibly positive to see how engaged our membership remains despite the isolation that easily can be felt during these uncertain times,” Karson said.
He noted that there was record-setting attendance for virtual House of Delegates meetings, and more than 4,500 lawyers participated in the two-week all virtual Annual Meeting including many first-time attendees. Programming ranged from a thoughtful discussion on the legal and constitutional issues surrounding the COVID-19 crisis at the Presidential Summit, an Annual Meeting highlight, to the more light-hearted virtual Piano Bar.
Karson said he has been heartened by the positive reaction to the association’s message in the public sphere. As president, he has maintained the association’s focus on its bedrock principle, adherence to the rule of law, particularly in statements to the media, which have covered a broad range of subjects including criticism of unlawful conduct on the part of governments, assailing recurring incidents of gun violence, and criticizing unwarranted attacks on the members of the legal profession for simply doing their jobs.
Karson appointed three new task forces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Task Force on Attorney Well-Being, whose work became even more important after the pandemic hit given the impact it has had on our mental and physical health, is conducting an in-depth survey that will provide the most comprehensive data on lawyer well-being ever gathered in New York, Karson said.
Another task force is investigating why a disproportionate number of residents died from COVID-19 in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state. The task force will recommend regulatory and statutory changes to prevent such loss of life from ever happening again. And a third task force is examining issues of tort and contractual liability, as well as immunity from such liability and related business concerns.
Created in the aftermath of the horrific killing of George Floyd while in police custody, the Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform remains hard at work to understand the issues that contribute to police misconduct and to provide recommendations to policymakers, law enforcement and the judiciary to end harmful policing practices that disproportionately impact persons of color. The trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, which began at the end of March, reminds us of the significance of the task force’s work, Karson said.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work of all these task forces and am looking forward to the coming weeks and months when they release their comprehensive reports,” Karson said.
Karson discussed NYSBA’s legislative victories including passage of the law the association advanced to simplify the power of attorney form in New York.
On March 11, the House of Representatives passed two gun-control bills. NYSBA’s House of Delegates approved gun control measures as part of the recommendations of the Task Force on Mass Shootings and Assault Weapons, and gun control is one of NYSBA’s legislative priorities. These two bills now move to the Senate where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to bring them to the floor for a vote; President Biden has said he is committed to addressing gun violence.
President Biden’s infrastructure plan, which calls for investing $100 million to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach everyone in the United States, would advance priorities of the association that the House adopted last April in response to the report of the Task Force on Rural Justice and last June in a resolution calling for expanded broadband across New York State.
Karson said he is “immensely proud of our members’ commitment to diversity and inclusion.” The Committee on Diversity and Inclusion’s’ 28-day racial equity challenge during February – Black History Month – had over 400 participants He also reported that sections of the association have either submitted or are finalizing their own diversity plans.