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|New Pennsylvania Bar Association chief focuses on youth|
|Monday, 14 May 2012 09:43|
By Amaris Elliot-Engel for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette
As Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr. takes the helm of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, he will focus much of his leadership agenda on a constituency that is too young to be in law school, much less to be a member of the statewide bar association.
Mr. Wilkinson has worked on issues involving youth and the law as co-chairman of the PBA's Task Force on the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice Report. Both groups were formed in the wake of the Luzerne County judicial corruption scandal.
Many of the commission's recommendations have been accomplished, Mr. Wilkinson said, but he said the bar association will continue to push for the Pennsylvania bench to be required to get continuing legal education credit, as well as for training requirements for prosecutors and public defenders involved in juvenile cases.
The PBA also will work to pursue civics education, Mr. Wilkinson said. Many schools do not include in their curriculums how government works and the availability of courts to resolve disputes instead of taking disputes into one's own hands, he said.
The final prong of the focus on youth will be promoting youth courts to help address the number of kids who get into the juvenile justice system, he said. Youth courts are programs in which youths sentence their peers for minor delinquent and status offenses and other problem behaviors, according to the National Association of Youth Courts.
Such courts tend "to reduce bullying and get buy-in from students in resolving disputes in a nonviolent way," he said. The courts can be done on a fairly low-cost basis, he said.
"There was this trend that we're hopefully getting away from which was zero tolerance for misconduct in schools," he said. "We're hoping we can get buy-in from school districts on youth court initiatives."
Another major issue that Mr. Wilkinson will advocate for this year will be supporting an American Bar Association initiative to provide adequate, sustained funding for the nation's courts.
Mr. Wilkinson said he is aware that legislators, when unhappy regarding the outcomes of cases important to them, sometimes want to reduce funding for the judiciary. The PBA will lobby on behalf of appropriate funding for the Pennsylvania judiciary as well as funding within each of the judicial districts.
Another major project will be highlighting lawyers who are doing "extraordinary" pro bono work. Mr. Wilkinson's most high-profile pro bono work was as part of the team of Cozen O'Connor attorneys who represented litigants challenging Hazleton's illegal-immigration measures. The firm thought the matter would involve 60 days and a preliminary injunction, but the case ended up taking four years and involving 3,000 pro bono hours.
It was Mr. Wilkinson's idea to develop the Pennsylvania Ethics Handbook, a review of the rules of conduct governing lawyers.
The hot issues in legal ethics are being driven by the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, which is looking at issues of cloud computing and lawyers who practice in multiple jurisdictions. Another issue in Pennsylvania is how to handle conflicts between lawyers who are making lateral transfers from one firm to another.
Right now, it's a matter of practice for lawyers to disclose some information about the matters they have been working on, but "it's not permitted in the black letter language in the rules," Mr. Wilkinson said. There is a proposal to allow an exception in the state ethical rules to allow attorneys to disclose some confidential client information to hiring law firms so firms can assess if there are conflicts and establish compensation for lateral lawyers.