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Opening Remarks From BCBA President Joseph A. Maurice at the Bergen County Bar Association on June 18, 2020

Opening Remarks Present BCBA Joseph A. Maurice on June 18, 2020 at the Bergen County Bar Association Virtual Town Hall Meeting

“Hello and good evening.  Welcome everyone to the Bergen County Bar Association’s Town Hall.  Your Association is happy to present this event to our members free of charge.  I do encourage each of you to donate to the Bergen Benefactors at Bergenbar.org.  Your donation will help maintain Association activities during this COVID crisis despite the lack of fundraising events that you have supported over the years.  For those that have donated, thank you very much for your generosity and continued support.

Let us now observe a moment for silent prayer or reflection to be mindful of the events that have given rise to an outcry for social justice across our great nation. Our black community is hurting, we are hurting, our country is hurting.  We must be one voice in declaring that black lives do matter.  Anything less is not justice for all.   I am confident, that as a profession that has sworn an oath to uphold our constitution and the rule of law, that we share a unified resolve to be better, do better and expect better from those around us.  It is our issue and this Association will continue to address it.

We have many esteemed panelists this evening and we appreciate their attendance so I’d like to get started but first I want to share with you a few words on the state of your bar association.

The COVID crisis has negatively impacted our profession and the courts.  Your bar association is not immune.  Upon being sworn in as your president on March 18th, I immediately began work toward setting up open lines of communications between our Association, Judge Mizdol, Sheriff Curetan, and County Executive Tedesco.  Additionally, we reached out to our NJ Senate as well as Congressman Gottheimer.  I am happy to report everyone contacted was responsive, supportive, and helpful.

Through Bar Association efforts a PPP seminar was given, free of charge, to assist our members in obtaining much needed financial relief.  Our Association participated in a conference held by Congressman Gottheimer to discuss the applicability of the PPP as the rules were being developed.   We worked with Assignment Judge Mizdol and Civil Presiding Judge Polifroni to develop the procedure for virtual arbitrations.  Our Bergen County Judges heard us and I’m proud to say the procedure is user friendly and has been very successful.  Thank you to our arbitrators for your continued support of this program as well.

We lobbied the NJ legislature for virtual notarization.  I understand that ability may extend to family court matters and perhaps virtual witnessing and we will continue to follow up on this important ability.

Some of our members have been asked to sit on committees with our judiciary regarding the procedure for the resumption of criminal and civil jury trials.  I have been appointed to a New Jersey State Bar Pandemic Task Force regarding court logistics and operations.  All members on these committees will be reporting back to our Association.

We have retooled our website to make it more user friendly for you.  Our Association amassed a great deal of information that is available to you via our website, monthly mailing email-blasts, and social media.  We have taken that information and organized it and posted it so that it can be easily accessed.

We are in the process of updating our software and computer systems to make membership and event registration easier than ever before.

Your Association is well known throughout the state as providing a forum for discussion among our substantive chairs, officers, trustees, and our Assignment Judge.  Judge Mizdol has extended herself and doubled up on these meetings so that we can voice our concerns and suggestions to her more frequently during the COVID crisis.  We now provide you with summaries of our bench bar meetings on the Association website.

The support of Judge Mizdol and all of our Bergen County judges is a vital part of our ability to give you value and we thank Judge Mizdol and each of our Judges for all they do.

Despite the crisis, our Association has continued to provide our members with continuing virtual legal education seminars.  Please visit us to take advantage of these offerings.

I am happy to report our Association now has the most diverse group of committee chairs and we are hoping to attract and welcome members from many of the specialty bars.  An open and diverse Association is a better Association.

In furtherance of our commitment to social justice, inclusion, and equality, our Association gives an award acknowledging efforts to promote diversity.  The award dinner is postponed until we can all gather safely.  However, rather than cancel the event altogether, we reimagined that program and we will now host a panel discussion regarding the importance of diversity among our membership and how our firms and our association can better promote diversity in our profession.  This event is pending approval for 1.5 ethics CLE credits and I hope you can all join us for this important event on June 24th.  I am also announcing that our Association will be closed tomorrow, June 19th, in observance of Juneteenth also known as Freedom Day.

We have been working on all these issues and events for the benefit of our members, and put together this townhall to provide answers to your questions from the source.  Before I introduce our panelists – let me explain the format of the program.

The presentation will be a bifurcated event with our Judges being available for the first portion of the program and our elected officials during the second half.  We have done this so that our Judges may participate.  Please know that our Bergen County Judges immediately agreed to participate in this event however in order not to go astray of any ethical concerns that may arise due to discussions with our elected officials, the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities has approved the event subject to the bifurcation.  The bifurcation nicely divides the issues of procedural COVID concerns and court operations along with social issues that will be addressed later on in the program.  Please understand that our Judges will not be able to answer, discuss, or participate in any way with issues and questions that potentially may be presented to them in their official capacity.  In no way should we interpret this in any other way than wholly appropriate.

Let me take this moment to thank all the panelists, some of whom will join us in progress, for their time and willingness to participate in our first-ever bar association town-hall.

Thank you to our officers, trustees and committees chairs that helped put this program together many of whom you will see on-screen  and a special thank you to our BCBA executive director, Frank O’Marra- normally if this were a live event – I would pause for the thunderous applause that the mention of Frank always brings- but that applause would also be appropriate for Lucy Vargues and Tyler Glover- who round out our BCBA staff and have been working tirelessly despite deep but necessary cuts we had to make to our overhead to ensure continued activity during this crisis.”