Friday, September 5, 2014

Flap de jour: Dick Cheney at the Wyoming State Bar Convention

Well, in a week featuring such flaps, plus new concerns over an Apple product associated with them, we have a meatier, or at least better attired, flap.

Dick Cheney at the Wyoming State Bar Convention.

 Former Vice President Dick Cheney, smiling in this portrait, but will he be smiling after the State Bar Convention?

Dick Cheney, formerly the Vice President of the United States, has been invited by the Wyoming State Bar Association to speak at its 2014 Annual Convention in Cheyenne.

Yawn. . . big deal, right?  Well, its turning out to be a minor local controversy.  How could that be true.

First a word about the State Bar.  I don't know how it works in every state, but as Wyoming has a "self governing" bar, every Wyoming lawyer is a member of the State Bar Association.  We're all assessed annual fees to the bar, and the bar performs a variety of services that make it a quasi governmental entity, one of two such entities of which I'm aware of in Wyoming's history, but the only surviving one (the Wyoming Stock Growers Association was also, at one time, a quasi governmental agency as it regulated the round ups and employed the stock detectives, who were law enforcement officers.  Like every state bar everywhere, it holds an annual convention.  And like every bar convention everywhere, it has an annual banquet as part of it, which features a keynote speaker. This year's in Cheney.

Now, I should note that I don't attend the bar convention, unless it happens to be in town. The reason for that is that this is September, and if I was going to take a week off of work, I'd go hunting, not to the state bar convention.  Indeed, as I recently noted here, I have to think the choice of September as the annual meeting month, which it has been forever, demonstrates that who ever came up with that choice was leading an incredibly dull life.  July when its too hot to do anything, or January when its too cold, would have been the sane choices.

 What lawyers with time off in September should be doing.

At any rate, however, its in September, and this September the choice is Cheney as speaker.

I'll confess that when I received my flyer for the convention, as all members of the bar do, I was a bit surprised.  For one thing, I was surprised just by the choice of Cheney. For another, I was a bit surprised it was somebody so interesting as a public figure.  Then I put my flyer in the round file, recalling that the convention was in September, and moved on.

Well it turns out that some lawyers are upset, some by the choice of Cheney and some by the biography that he supplied and which was published in the flyer.  

This just hit the newspaper today, but I've known about it for awhile, as a subscriber to the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association list serve was telling me about the heated exchange on that list, much of which seemed to be centered on Cheney as a choice himself. That's the more interesting part of the reaction.

Cheney is a large public figure with an association with Wyoming (he is not, contrary to the widely circulated error, our "native son", he was born and partially grew up in Nebraska, coming here in his teens).  As a figure who represented Wyoming in Congress, served in the Ford Administration, then served in the George Bush I administration, and who went on to serve as Vice President, he's a hero to some in the state and is widely admired in this heavily Republican state.  Locally there are at least two structures named for him, one being the Federal building and the other being the NCHS stadium (or perhaps its the field, I can't recall exactly which).  So his choice is really fairly logical, as long as we don't assume that the speaker at a bar convention must absolutely be a lawyer, which I don't assume, and which is a misplaced assumption.

Indeed on that, law belongs to the people and lawyers should be cognizant of that.  Therefore, interesting public figures, lawmakers and former lawmakers should make good choices, irrespective of whether they are controversial or not, and in some cases particularly if they are controversial.  For a profession that prides itself on independent thinking if we don't want a controversial speaker, we're making ourselves into hypocrites.

And, like him or not, Cheney is a very good speaker.  I saw him speak at the NCHS graduation some years ago, and he was frankly excellent. And I say that as a person who isn't really a Cheney fan otherwise.  

This is how I think the bar should view it.  You don't have to love him to listen to him, and he is intelligent and does speak very well.

Of course, some don't want him as they politically disagree with him, which is also a dangerous reason to silence somebody.  And its a huge mistake for lawyers to do that.

This state is very Republican and very conservative.  The average man suspects, in the back of his mind, that all lawyers are Democrats and members of the extreme left.  In truth, the lawyer demographic is much more left leaning than the general public, here and pretty much everywhere.  We're not really a popular profession, and if we appear to be wanting to shut up Dick Cheney as we disagree with him politically, it doesn't speak well of us in terms of our dedication to our stated principals.

It also confirms, in an era when we've opened up the floodgates of admission to the bar to out of staters, that the legal community is way out of touch with locals. It really isn't.  Lawyers are in fact in touch with their communities and their members, but for a despised class to appear to be shutting somebody up for political reasons sends a message that we probably don't really want to be broadcasting right now.

As to the second part of the reason that people are upset, however, there's a point, although a minor point, there.  Cheney's self published biography was included whole in the flyer, and it included a statement about how President Obama's policies are making  the things more dangerous for the United States.  That's a blatantly political statement, and one that's consistent with Cheney's views, but it is an opinion, not an established fact, and the Wyoming State Bar appeared to be endorsing that view.  Cheney shouldn't have included that in a submitted biography, but the State Bar should have read it and taken that statement out.  The State Bar has now, however, apologized for that, and that's good enough.

Again, as I have things to do, and if I had the time available, I'd invest it in more pleasurable and personally meaningful pursuits, I'm not going to go to the State Bar and I've only gone to the banquet one single time.  But for those who are going anyway, they ought to go and listen.  They may not like what they're hearing, but frankly if they don't, they'll be experiencing what litigants, courts and jurors frequently do. And we expect all of them to keep an open mind and listen.

1 comment:

Pat and Marcus said...

Mr. Cheney's address was last night, and it appears that he stuck pretty much to the political topic that made some in the WTLA mad, his thesis that the Obama Administration has done a poor job with external threats.

Well, like him or hate him, he has the courage of his convictions anyway, and didn't stray from them just because some folks were upset. His speech, based upon what I read of it in the Casper Star Tribune, had nothing really to do with legal topics, which would have at least given some credence to those who criticized inviting him, but no doubt it was at least interesting, which wouldn't have hurt in a meeting that's so out of place in the real context of the state that its held in September (seriously, don't these people have any early hunting or late fishing to do?).