Special Committee on Bench-Bar Relations

Michael W. Robinson, chair

The purpose of the Bench-Bar Relations Committee is to support and improve the administration of justice, enhance service to the community, and increase professionalism within the legal system by exploring issues of emerging concern or interest that affect the bench or bar. Those issues include judicial independence, judicial selection and retention, technology, and public participation in and comment on the judicial system, by promoting the exchange of information and ideas between the judiciary and practicing lawyers of the commonwealth.  The committee comprises eighteen members — including five judges — and meets quarterly in Richmond.

The committee continued or initiated the following during the 2008-09 year:

Mission statement and plan: The Bench-Bar Relations Committee undertook an extensive review of its activities and revised its mission statement in light of that review.  The revised statement addresses the committee's goal to address emerging concerns as new issues develop.  The committee also developed a long-range plan, emphasizing coordination with other bar committees and sections to meet objectives.

Judicial independence and merit selection and retention of judges: The committee believes that issues regarding judicial independence and the selection and reappointment of judges continue to merit the attention and advocacy of members of the bench and bar.  As part of its long-range plan, the committee is focusing on three initiatives related to these issues:

  • Committee members will prepare one or more opinion editorials for publication in major Virginia newspapers to increase public awareness of this issue.
  • The committee has offered to provide speakers for regional judicial conferences and conferences of statewide bar associations in the upcoming year to encourage continued appreciation for and dialogue  on these issues.
  • The committee is exploring potential continuing legal education programs to address these issues.

Bench-bar communications: The committee provided speakers for regional judicial conferences and the Bar Leaders Institute to discuss formal and informal methods of facilitating communication between the bench and bar at the local level.  The committee is proposing to have speakers available to discuss with local bar leaders the Virginia State Bar policy "Responding to Unjust Criticism of Judges in the Judicial System."

CLE:  The Bench-Bar Relations Committee joined the Litigation Section and the Senior Lawyers Conference in sponsoring a CLE seminar, "Stop Talking Like a Lawyer: The Lost Art of Communication in Mediation, Negotiation, and Litigation."  The program was presented at the VSB Annual Meeting in June 2009 and was well-attended and received.

The committee anticipates that it will jointly sponsor with other bar sections a CLE at the June 2010 Annual Meeting, and it hopes to present a program on judicial independence at the VSB annual meeting in 2010 or 2011.

Leadership: In 2009-10, Michael W. Robinson will continue as chair and Brian L. Buniva will continue as vice chair. New members are Buta Bigeraj and Judges Colleen K. Killilea, Cleo E. Powell, and Michael F. Urbanski.

Updated: Sep 01, 2009