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February 1, 2012

ABA House of Delegates to Debate Variety of Legal Issues at 2012 Midyear Meeting

The _ will address legal policy issues ranging from law enforcement access to third-party records, to the regulation by courts or legislative bodies of state and local bar associations, to trial procedure when the association’s 560-member House of Delegates meets Feb. 6 in the Sheraton New Orleans, in the Grand Ballroom, 5th floor.  The association’s policy-making body will meet during its Midyear Meeting, taking place in New Orleans Feb. 1-6.

It is a difficult balancing act between the need for law enforcement to have access to records by institutional third parties, and the privacy interests and implications on social participation.  There is currently no structure through which legislatures, courts acting in their supervisory capacity and agencies to make the difficult decisions as to what records should be protected and the scope of such protection.  Resolution 101A calls for the adoption of the black letter ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Law Enforcement Access to Third Party Records, which provides such a framework through which to do so.

Recent attempts by legislatures have sought to regulate the ability of state and local bar associations to function independently and freely represent the views of their members.  In Puerto Rico, for example, a political faction that opposed the bar association’s ideological positions on certain issues, prevailed upon the Puerto Rico legislature to enact statutes that dissolved the integrated nature of the organized bar.  Recommendation 10A, brought to the House by the Bar Association of Puerto Rico, urges the highest courts or legislative bodies of states and territories charged with the administration of justice, to respect the organized bar’s ability and right to function independently.

For two decades, rehabilitative sentencing alternatives, such as drug and domestic violence courts, have made positive inroads in reducing recidivism and costs associated with incarceration.  Noncitizens, however, cannot avail themselves of the benefits of therapeutic courts, which results in an inequity with a high personal cost to the individual, his or her family and community, and society as a whole.  Recommendation 101F would lend the ABA’s support for legislation, policies and practices that allow equal and uniform access to therapeutic courts and problem-solving sentencing alternatives, such as drug treatment and anger management counseling, regardless of the custody or detention status of the individual.

A 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences raised a host of issues regarding the presentation of expert testimony at trial.  According to the study, changes that need to be implemented are ones taking place not only in the laboratory, but also in the presentation and assessment of such evidence by attorneys and judges.  Resolution 101C urges judges to consider a number of factors in weighing the use of evidence, such as whether the expert testimony of uniqueness is based on valid scientific research, whether experts present testimony that is accurate and fairly conveys the significance of their conclusions, and whether to include jury instructions with specific information so that the panel can fairly assess the reliability and weight of such testimony.

A groundbreaking framework, adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, has emerged to address the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights.  The outline rests on three pillars: the state’s duty to protect the human rights of its people; the corporate responsibility to protect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies.  Recommendation 109 calls for ABA endorsement of the framework, and urges governments and the legal community to integrate into their respective operations and practices the United Nations Framework and Guiding Principles; as well as the “human rights” provisions of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

View results as they happen from the House of Delegates session on Feb. 6 on ABANow.org.