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Interview mit ABA-Präsidentin Patricia Lee Refo

Bei der (aufgrund der Umstände erstmals virtuell abgehaltenen) 49. Europäischen Präsidentenkonferenz durfte der ÖRAK mit Patricia Lee Refo einen hochkarätigen Gast als Referentin begrüßen. Sie ist die Präsidentin der American Bar Association (ABA), der etwa die Hälfte aller in den USA zugelassenen Rechtsanwälte angehört. Bei dieser Gelegenheit haben wir die Präsidentin gebeten, uns ein paar Fragen für das Anwaltsblatt zu beantworten. Hier lesen Sie die englische Originalfassung des Interviews, die deutsche Übersetzung finden Sie im Anwaltsblatt, Heft 5/2021 auf S 260 ff.

A new president has recently been sworn into office in the United States. Do you already feel a new wind of change regarding rule of law and democracy?

The United States inaugurated a new president last month, which will obviously change certain policy priorities. President Biden was elected by a clear majority of the electorate in our country, and the American Bar Association looks forward to working with his administration to advance fairness and justice in our nation.

The change in the White House has also been preceded by repeated false allegations that ultimately culminated in the assault on the US Capitol. What consequences have to be drawn from this?

The American Bar Association condemns in the strongest terms the assault on the U.S. Capitol during the process to certify the Electoral College victory of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president elect Kamala Harris.  Storming the Capitol and disrupting the procedure of certification was not a peaceful protest.  It is criminal conduct. The 2020 election was fairly conducted, and the results are accurate.  The system worked. Claims of impropriety were thoroughly and openly investigated. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the election results were carefully considered by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. No evidence of any significant fraud was found.

Our election system was tested and delivered a free and fair election for the American people. States investigated claims of irregularities, conducted audits and recounts, and certified results. The Electoral College met and voted in accordance with the will of the American people. And Congress, as set forth in the U.S. Constitution and federal statute, cast an overwhelming and bipartisan vote to certify the Electoral College vote.

The peaceful transition of power from one elected president to the next is a revered American tradition going back more than two centuries and serves as a model to the rest of the world. Despite the attack on the Capitol, the system worked, and President Biden has taken over.

The COVID-19-pandemic has hit the US very hard. What restrictions had to be enforced in public life and especially in the everyday life in the justice system?

The effects of COVID-19 in America have been unprecedented and devastating. First and most importantly, the death toll of more than 460,000 Americans is tragic. Schools and businesses have been closed, entire industries have been decimated, families have been separated, and everyone in the country has had their lives upended.

The justice system in both our federal and state courts also has been deeply affected. A lot of procedures require face-to-face contact which has not been possible during the height of the infection.

Courts in the United States operate under the rules of the jurisdiction in which they are located.  The pandemic has affected certain parts of the country more severely and at different times. There is no “one-size fits all” answer for courts, and each court system has tried to adapt to the circumstances while providing justice fairly and swiftly but keeping all parties safe. In New York City, state and federal courts were only able to complete only nine criminal jury trials between March and December. In 2019, by contrast, there were about 800 criminal trials in the city during those months. A state courthouse in Orange County, Calif., completed 114 criminal trials between May and December, while the federal courthouse across the street determined it was unsafe to hold any trials at all.

Prisons, given the conditions, have experienced an outsized incidence of infections. This has resulted in some prisons releasing non-violent offenders early. It also has made it difficult for attorneys to meet with clients safely.

How can the ABA help American lawyers to navigate through the pandemic?

The ABA will continue to lead lawyers and our profession through the changes that have come about due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ABA has formed two groups to address the immediate crisis and to examine the road ahead for the legal profession:
The ABA Task Force on Legal Needs Arising out of the 2020 Pandemic was formed to address the massive increase in civil (non-criminal) legal needs that the pandemic has caused in our underserved communities.  The Task Force is coordinating our response as a profession to address these needs.  It has launched a website to provide up-to-date information about resources, changes in benefits and emerging legal issues on the road ahead. It includes resources on technology for remote service delivery, court closings and procedural changes, legal needs, emerging legal issues, public benefits programs and pro bono mobilization.  It serves as a clearinghouse for valuable information, such as practice tools for remote work, updates on government benefits, protections against evictions and other actions due to job losses, and court closings.

The ABA also launched its Practice Forward initiative, designed to help lawyers with the tools they need to practice during the pandemic, and beyond. The group provides thought leadership on the emerging challenges and opportunities confronting the legal profession and the justice system arising from the COVID-19 pandemic's impact.   Practice Forward is leveraging the knowledge and power of the entire ABA to look beyond the pandemic for innovations and new ways of providing legal services and delivering justice. It also is coordinating the dissemination of ABA resources — seminars, publications, best practices and other resources — to ABA members and the profession.

At the moment most meetings are held virtually. Do you see major changes coming to the legal profession even beyond the pandemic?

The pandemic has changed the way we do business as lawyers, and there is no going back to the old ways we did things. COVID-19 has required us to move up the timetable for technological advances. What might have taken five years, happened almost overnight. Studies have found that 83% of legal professionals have been meeting with clients virtually during the pandemic. We have been forced to conduct a grand experiment to see what works and what does not work for lawyers and for courts. Many things we are doing now will translate well into a post-COVID world. Lawyers may be able to work more efficiently, offices can have smaller footprints, and expenses can be trimmed without affecting client services. Technology also may allow us to provide legal services to more people at a lower cost, which could help close the access to justice gap.

Violence against people of color is still a serious problem in the US. Last year, the death of George Floyd led to the Black Lives Matter protests. How does the ABA try to contribute to ending injustice against people of color and the systemic racism?

The ABA has long fought for civil rights, human rights, and equal justice for all. We recognize that the American justice system is facing a moment of crisis. Lawyers have special duties to address injustices committed by those charged with defending the rule of law, and to promote public trust in the justice system. The ABA and the lawyers of America stand firmly for the notion that racial equity and the end of systemic racism have yet not been achieved in our country but must be our goal. We have a great deal of more work to do. The ABA is leading the legal profession in the efforts to achieve racial equity in America.

The ABA has only four goals, one of which is to eliminate bias and enhance diversity.  2. Our racial equity efforts are coordinated by the ABA Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which has a permanent staff of four, a volunteer chairperson and seven appointed volunteer leaders along with an advisory council made up of more than 50 members. They, in turn, are joined by countless volunteer lawyers working to increase the number of diverse students who choose to attend law school, support and sustain diverse students in law schools, and improve the diversity of the legal profession in every respect.  In addition, many other entities within the ABA also have programs, projects, and training on racial equity issues.

Much of our work can be found on the Racial Equity in the Justice System webpage launched in June 2020 (americanbar.org/advocacy/justice-system). The site is a central clearinghouse of resources for attorneys, the legal profession, and the public on a wealth of issues addressing bias, racism, and prejudice in the justice system and society at-large. It also provides a gateway to ABA initiatives focused on changes to the system.

In addition, in October 2020, the American Bar Association, in collaboration with 52 U.S. law schools, formed the Legal Education Police Practices Consortium to contribute to the national effort to examine and address legal issues in policing and public safety, including conduct, oversight and the evolving nature of police work.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world and has members from all 50 states. We can imagine that it can be difficult to form a political will in such a large organisation and to then act on it.

The ABA is a diverse organization with many political viewpoints and opinions. We welcome and embrace that diversity. The ABA’s policy-making, 600-member House of Delegates has representative across practice areas and ideology. But within that diversity is a consistent belief in the rule of law, justice, and improving the legal profession. The core values and mission of the ABA is focused on these pursuits.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. For further information: americanbar.org