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Bar President's Message

Richard D'Addario, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Looking Back

Richard P. D'Addario, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

 "For the younger lawyers reading this message, let me say that we have a great Bar Association, doing important work, not only for Bar members but for the public as well, and your involvement will enhance your own career and assist your colleagues at the same time."

Since I did not have an opportunity to address my colleagues at the Annual Meeting, as is the usual custom, I want to take a moment to tell you about myself and what being President of the Rhode Island Bar Association means to me. First, let me say that I am honored to take on this role and thankful that the Bar leadership had enough faith in me to give me the privilege and opportunity of leading our great Bar in the coming year.

I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me why I would take on this responsibility so late in my career when I should be slowing down as I enter my fiftieth year of practice. The simple answer is that I have always thought it was important to be involved in Bar activities for my own personal benefit and for the betterment of our profession. At the same time it is for me an honor to serve in this role.

I came to Rhode Island in 1971 from New York University School of Law as a VISTA volunteer and staff attorney for Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS). Those were exciting times as many of the cases we brought set precedents, ultimately benefitting a good number of people in need. I still remember how exciting it was to work alongside my colleagues at RILS in the early days and to be able to share ideas and get advice. For me, it was my first exposure to the many wonderful mentors that shaped my style of practice over the years. At the same time, representing the poor was a life lesson, teaching me that things are more complex than some make it out to be and that life is not so simple and easy for many in our society.

While I started out in the Newport office working alongside Peter Thoms, I also spent a couple of years in the Providence office. I fondly remember being able to bounce ideas and have questions answered by the likes of John Roney, Cary Coen, Gary Yesser, Dick Jessup and Joe Dugan, to name a few, as we struggled to provide meaningful representation to the less fortunate members of our society. When I went back to Newport to manage that office, and when the fire was starting to dwindle, I was boosted by a new lawyer, Bob Sabel, who, as some of you know, is still dedicated to the goal of access to justice.

In those days I cut my teeth in all the courts, appearing for the first time in Family Court before the late Judge William Goldberg, a frightening, but educational experience. Over the years I came to appreciate and admire Judge Goldberg and I have many memories of spirited exchanges with him. In the first months of private practice in 1976, I tried my first jury trial with Judge John Borcier presiding, and I still remember how much he helped me with his judicial wisdom.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my fellow members of the Newport County Bar, including my ex-partners, Joseph Hall and Ronald Machtley. I have always known that there were and are some very talented and effective attorneys from Newport, and I have always benefited from the professionalism and civility associated with the practice in my county. As I developed a private practice that brought me to Family Court on occasion, I was fortunate to work closely with Joseph Houlihan, albeit on most occasions as an opponent. Joe was a big boost to me when things were not going that well for me, and he always encouraged me to hang in there, truthfully forecasting that things would get better. He was a great mentor to me and many others. Finally, I should mention that I have learned so much from the past presidents that I have served with on the Executive Committee and from Helen McDonald, our exemplary Executive Director.

I have always tried to be involved in our Bar Association – either as a committee member and later as a member of the House of Delegates and the Executive Committee. For the younger lawyers reading this message, let me say that we have a great Bar Association, doing important work, not only for Bar members but for the public as well, and your involvement will enhance your own career and assist your colleagues at the same time.

This year is an exciting year for our profession, since it marks the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment as well as the admission of the first woman attorney in Rhode Island. In 1920, the all-male fraternity that was our Bar Association was permanently altered when Ada Sawyer took the bar exam, passed, and was admitted that year. It seems hard to believe that at one time, and not too long ago, our profession consisted solely of men, and that women were not even permitted to vote until 1920.

When I entered NYU School of Law in 1968 it was announced that approximately one-third of our entering class were women, the highest percentage in the nation and an unusual number for that time. Those percentages have climbed steadily upward since then, and as I write this today, we all agree how richer we are as a profession and how much better the delivery of legal services and our justice system is with both sexes involved as attorneys and judges.

With that backdrop, in the coming year we will look back and commemorate and celebrate the 19th Amendment as well as the admission of our first female attorney in Rhode Island, and the resulting success of women at the Bar in our State.

Years ago, there was a cigarette company that sponsored the Virginia Slims tennis tournament in Newport; their slogan was “You’ve come a long way, baby.” While this undoubtedly was directed at women, I also believe it is meant for both sexes, and I like to think that we are all more enlightened and that we have all “come a long way” since 1920.