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Bar President's Message


David N. Bazar, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Lessons I Have Learned

David N. Bazar, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

     "While we are taught to zealously advocate for our clients, we also have a duty to advise them."

 
My last message was inspired by the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Teach Your Children Well.” That message reminded me of all of the lessons that I have learned. We all learn every day if we are willing to stay open to new ideas and actually listen to what others have to say. There are many people who have taught all of us along the way. As I thought about this, it took me back to the judges I appeared before early in my career. It is also interesting how our paths in the practice of law unfold.

As I was finishing my first year of law school, I began to search for an opportunity to work as a summer intern at a law firm. I contacted several before I was offered an interview at Slepkow, Slepkow & Rappoport. I met with Martin Slepkow and we talked about the law and the practice. He told me that they had never hired a summer intern before. I responded, “that’s perfect because I have never been a summer intern before.” We agreed I would start the next day.

I went back the next summer and soon after was offered a job upon graduation from law school. The firm had a practice that included family law, however, none of the attorneys in the office wanted to handle that work. So as soon as I passed the bar exam, I was sent to Family Court.

The first nominal divorce hearing I handled was in Westerly before then Associate Justice William R. Goldberg (later Chief Justice). To get to the courtroom, you entered a side door of the Westerly Town Hall and walked up the back stairway to the second floor. Judge Goldberg was a commanding presence and the people in the courtroom snapped to attention when he took the bench. I had the fourth case called ready nominal on the calendar. The first case was called and the lawyer began asking questions. Judge Goldberg quickly interrupted and yelled at him that he was not asking the right questions. The second lawyer received the same treatment. When the case before mine was called, the lawyer continued his case and, in my imagination, ran down the fire escape.

My case was ready, and I called my client as my first witness. I began asking questions. The Judge stopped me and asked me why I was phrasing the questions the way that I was. I told him that I was asking the questions in that manner because he had yelled at the first two lawyers to ask those questions. He retorted, “Well that is a good way to ask the questions.” I learned to pay attention and listen to what the Judge was saying. Every judge has a way they want you to handle cases. I also learned not to be afraid.

My first trial in Family Court was before Associate Justice Edward V. Healey. As the trial began, opposing counsel was asking questions that clearly were outside the bounds of the Rules of Evidence. Judge Healey peered down at me as the questions continued. As I slowly got up, he sustained my objection before I could even make it. If you could try a case before Judge Healey, you could try a case in any courtroom.

Judge Healey loved the law. The legislature amended the equitable distribution statute to include the appreciation of value from the date of the marriage of property that was owned by one party prior to the marriage which increased in value as the result of the efforts of either spouse during the marriage. I raised the issue in a conference with the Judge and he spent the next thirty minutes asking me what I thought the legislature meant by the efforts of either spouse. Judge Healey taught me to be prepared for trial and to apply the law to each case.

I also appeared before Chief Justice Edward P. Gallogly early in my career. He reminded me of my grandfather. The case I was handling was conferenced in the judge’s chambers at a conference room table. He sat at the front of the table and the two lawyers sat on either side of him. As we each explained our positions to Judge Gallogly, he sat quietly balancing a pencil on its eraser. As I watched, I became convinced he would decide in favor of the lawyer the pencil pointed to when it fell. After we each presented our positions on visitation to the Judge, he smiled and said that the mother and father should meet at McDonalds with the child and learn to get along.
What Judge Gallogly really taught me was that we are not only attorneys-at-law but we are also counselors-at-law. While we are taught to zealously advocate for our clients, we also have a duty to advise them. In that first case, the other lawyer and I went back to our clients and encouraged them to put the interests of their child first. It is our paramount duty to counsel our clients.

We have the opportunity to learn every day. If I have met you, smile to yourself because I learned something from you. While our early paths may be chosen for us, we can continue to learn and grow. There are so many different areas we can pursue as lawyers to help and counsel our clients. Whatever path you choose, enjoy your journey.