June 15, 2020
Statement of President Rob Erney, on behalf of the Columbus Bar Association, regarding racial justice
It is another day in Columbus, Ohio - and throughout our nation - where culturally embedded racism and systemic racial bias eat at the fabric of our society. If we truly want that to change, we must act.
The leadership and lawyers of the Columbus Bar Association treasure and celebrate the values of fairness, justice, and equality, but if we are to genuinely adhere to those values, we must do much more than treasure and celebrate them. We hold central to our identities the application of the “rule of law” and its essential corollary of “equal justice under the law”. But those high-minded principles ring hollow when we fail to take the steps necessary to assure equal justice, so we must act.
As part of attacking societal systemic bias, it is incumbent upon all of us to speak clearly, publicly, and unabashedly when those values are undermined, especially when they are disregarded by others. But speaking unhesitatingly about injustice is not enough, and we must act.
Before issuing a statement joining the many voices expressing abhorrence at the death of George Floyd – and recognizing the raw expressions regarding unabated injustice which it has spawned - the CBA is determined to assemble a “starting point” list of ways in which we will do more than speak.
A past president of the Austin, Texas Bar Association, Rev. Joseph C. Parker Jr., has remarked that “The reason there are visible and vocal protests is that we still have hope. We are protesting because we believe that something can be done.” The CBA shares Rev. Parker’s belief that “something can be done”.
While this list is still in development - and will be refined and expanded - the CBA will act in the following ways, joining with others in this essential duty:
Convene, Teach & Learn:
Effectively attacking a problem requires the fullest possible understanding of it. The CBA will host and facilitate a project aimed at broadly engaging lawyers in the steps they can take within their own practices and law firms to undermine apparent and subtle racial inequities in their workplaces. In addition, the CBA will assist its members in providing their clients’ strategies to do the same.
The CBA will dedicate communications resources to keeping the urgency of confronting racial injustice in the forefront of public dialogue. It will seek the participation of its members in providing written and oral presentations that can be published and distributed in print, broadcast, and online settings. In addition, the CBA will bring too-often diminished voices and perspectives to its work, to undercut the repetition of mistakes of the past.
Advocacy is the essence of what CBA members do on behalf of their clients. We will develop more and better avenues for our members to deploy advocacy skills in pursuit of racial justice. And then we will advocate. We will not sit back, hoping someone else will do so – we will pick our battles wisely and resolutely commit to successful outcomes. And we will support and assist those who are engaged in racial justice advocacy within and beyond the legal system. In particular, we will zealously work with those seeking to protect the right to vote and to assure fair elections.
The CBA will redouble its efforts to identify and work with its allies in the fight for “equal justice under the law”. We will redouble our commitment to the notion that we are stronger when we engage, together, to advance common goals. We will seek out those who we can join, or who will join with us, in collective efforts to discernibly move the ball in our battle against racial injustice.
The CBA will relentlessly seek new approaches to confront institutionalized racism. We will establish a clear, open channel for our members and the pubic to suggest ways in which the CBA might act and will work with urgency to identify improved and new ways that we can contribute to the eradication of racial injustice within our profession and in our community.
Systemic change cannot come without the commitment of resources to that change. On behalf of the Columbus Bar Association Board of Governors, I can attest to our commitment to the urgent task of making our community and our society a more just and equitable one. The CBA will speak about injustice when injustice is evident, but we will do more than speak – the CBA and its members will act, with determination, to undermine the societal disease of racial injustice.
Robert D. Erney
President, Columbus Bar Association