It has been one year since the pandemic lockdowns began and since my term as the 122nd president of the Bergen County Bar Association commenced. We have all endured difficulties and losses over the year, both personally and professionally. Our year as an Association was markedly different from years past: there was no beefsteak, no annual dinner, no in-person meetings or CLEs. It has been a full year since we have shaken hands with each other. My swearing-in was a quiet private event conducted by Judge Mizdol and attended by my wife Demetra, Frank, and Tyler. Neither my children nor my father could attend due to the newly imposed restrictions. Every one of our officer and trustee meetings was conducted via Zoom. The honorary gavel, which has passed down to each bar president, has remained silent in its velvet pouch. The COVID restrictions not only challenged our members but put the Association in a precarious financial position. From day one, we had to rethink and reimagine how to conduct Bar business and bring value to our members amidst this great challenge. As my term comes to a close, I am pleased to state that we met every challenge and prevailed as an Association. This was not an individual accomplishment but one shared by the Association’s employees, officers, trustees, and members. We did it with the support of our Bergen County Judiciary and our local elected officials. We did it with the support of the officers and trustees of the Bergen County Bar Foundation. We did it with the financial sacrifice of our employees. We did it as an Association. Thank you.
As I reflect on my year as your Bergen County Bar Association President, I am proud of what we accomplished. I am also mindful that there is more to do, and I know that your officers and trustees will be there to meet the Association’s needs.
We have accomplished much in the last twelve months despite the adversity. With your generous support, we were able to maintain our operations, and we were able to do it without borrowing against future dues. As a result, we are on a firm financial footing as we begin 2021, and our next president will be able to focus on our programs and outreach. While we must continue to monitor our financial position, we are in a far better position to do so, having updated our bookkeeping methods, our membership software, and installed a new accounting firm. We have also upgraded our office equipment to be more responsive to our members and the public.
We never lost sight of our core mission to provide value and service to our members. We increased our social media footprint and opened lines of communication with our county officials and judiciary. We now provide e-blasts of all the up-to-date information our members need to keep current on court notices and other important information for our practices. We have maintained our continuing legal education programs. These programs began with a March 2020 seminar on utilizing Zoom for Court proceedings. Soon after, we held our first virtual Town Hall, which our judiciary, public officials, and local and national politicians attended to address pandemic and social justice issues. We offered two seminars on the Paycheck Protection Program. We provided a Bench-Bar report given by our Assignment Judge and her Presiding Judges. We offered many of these most critical programs, complete with credits, free to our members. Membership has value.
We took steps to recognize the importance of diversity in our profession. We installed the most diverse group of co-chairs our Association has ever had. We invited specialty bar groups to our meetings in hopes of enriching our Association with the benefit of fresh ideas. We reimagined our Diversity Event into a round table discussion on what we can do and do better. This event is now evolving into a series of discussions so that we, as an association, can engage in a continuing conversation about the importance of promoting diversity. We reestablished the pledge of allegiance in advance of our meetings to remain mindful that justice is for all.
We communicated with our legislature regarding virtual notary laws to better serve our clients and the importance of legislation removing our judges’ and prosecutors’ personal information from public records.
We also said goodbye to Frank O’Mara and ended an era. Goodbye may not be the right word, as our board voted unanimously to make Frank our Executive Director Emeritus. I know all the past presidents join with me in extending our thanks and appreciation to Frank. He has not only made our Association better, but he also made all of our presidencies better. He is truly a legend.
We welcomed our new Executive Director, Jacqueline Guenego. The selection process vetted all candidates through a committee of our past presidents, our executive board, and our full board of trustees. The process left us with well-qualified candidates, but the choice was not difficult. Jackie comes to us as a lawyer in her own right and has a great deal of experience with non-profits and fundraising. She has only been with us a short time, but it is clear that we made the right choice. She will no doubt be an asset to our Association and invaluable to our future presidents.
I thank each of our members, our trustees, our officers, our employees, and our Executive Directors. I thank our judiciary, our county officials, and politicians. We have come out of a challenging year strong as a result of a genuine team effort. I know you all share in my hope and wishes of continued success for our Association. Thank you for allowing me to guide the Bergen Bar through this year and thank you for your support of Our Association. I wish everyone good health and prosperity.
Joseph A. Maurice
Bergen County Bar Association