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Mary Bonauto: “When You Seek Respect for Your Own Common Humanity, That Means Respecting the Humanity of Others”

Mary Bonauto: "When You Seek Respect for Your Own Common Humanity, That Means Respecting the Humanity of Others"

Mary Bonauto Esq.Mary L. Bonauto is the Civil Rights Project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).  Since 1990, she has litigated in the state and federal courts of New England on discrimination issues, parental rights, free speech and religious liberty, and relationship recognition. She and two Vermont co-counsel won a 1999 ruling that same-sex couples are entitled to all marital benefits and protections in Baker v. State of Vermont, which led to the nation’s first civil union law. She was lead counsel in Goodridge v. Dep’t of Public Health, the first high court ruling striking a marriage prohibition for same-sex couples; co-counsel in Kerrigan v. Dep’t of Public Health, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court also ruled for marriage; advocated in state legislatures for marriage; and served on the Executive Committee of the 2009 and 2012 Maine ballot campaigns.  Mary led GLAD’s federal court challenges to DOMA in Gill and Pedersen, leading to the first District Court and Court of Appeals victories against DOMA, and then coordinated amici briefs for the Windsor case at the Supreme Court.

1.      As a leader, how do you help to push and encourage others to join the types of groundbreaking decisions that would lead to victories like Goodridge – especially among concerns about the feasibility of such an undertaking?

GLAD’s work is premised on clear constitutional values, belief in the worth and dignity of all people, and optimism in change over time. Our cases tend to focus on what is “fair,” which includes both pro-equality components that level the playing field for all as well as anti-subjugation components that acknowledge the persistence and depth of prejudice. We have confidence that with the right case (or bill) at the right time, people will stand up for our shared constitutional values around equal citizenship, avoiding double standards, and concern for the welfare of all people. Of course, optimism without work won’t get you far. We look at every angle, including every argument that can be leveled against us, and think about how to respond and, where possible, how to find common ground, even before we move forward. Arguments without soul won’t get very far either, which is why the plaintiffs in our cases and real people in legislative initiatives are so central. It is them and their stories that convince others that there is a legal (often moral) dilemma that must be resolved – despite their individual discomfort – by resort to our national values of equal treatment and justice for all.

 2.      How can a leader most effectively deal with his or her opponents, both professionally and personally?

Institutionally, GLAD strives to stay on the high road, and that culture has been helpful for all of us. Even though there have plenty of times when our opponents demonized and maligned us, we consciously avoided doing the same self-defeating thing to them. After all, when you seek respect for your own common humanity, that means respecting the humanity of others. I suppose that is a version of the golden rule. Keeping focused on the LGBT people we serve, and our collective hopes for a brighter and freer future, helps with perspective too.

Overall, we have all tried to keep our eyes on the prize, tell the truth, work with integrity, eviscerate the arguments against us, and treat people with respect, because it is the best we can do. That is not to say that I have never been boiling mad or very hurt or terribly saddened, because of course I have.

3.    What was your experience working with the Boston Bar Association in the fight for marriage equality?

The BBA was a key partner both before and after the Goodridge ruling. First, the BBA worked through its committees, ultimately forging a consensus to urge the Council to support marriage. After full throttled debate, the Council agreed and the BBA then submitted a terrific amicus brief to the SJC addressing the protections and responsibilities conferred by marriage, drafted by Bingham McCutchen. Perhaps it was with the BBA’s brief in mind that Chief Justice Marshall commented, “The benefits accessible only by way of a marriage license are enormous, touching nearly every aspect of life and death.”

After the Goodridge ruling, the BBA was there to remind the public that the ruling was grounded in principles of liberty and equality dear to all of us. There were several lawsuits to thwart the ruling and constitutional amendment proceedings to undo it. In December 2003, the State Senate crafted a civil union bill which “preserved” marriage by barring access for same-sex couples and allowed state-level protections. It then asked the SJC for an advisory opinion as to whether such a bill met the mandate of Goodridge. BBA President Renee Landers spoke inspiringly at a press conference and, standing with the plaintiffs in Goodridge, joined an amicus brief arguing that “creating a separate status for a group of people when there is no legitimate reason for doing so is inherently unequal, and therefore unconstitutional.” Four of the Justices opined that “maintaining a second-class citizen status for same-sex couples by excluding them from the institution of civil marriage is the constitutional infirmity at issue.” Bonnie Sashin at the BBA was always in touch about how the BBA could help, and the BBA spoke out at critical junctures to urge defeat of constitutional amendment proposals to undo Goodridge or substitute civil unions for marriage. Many individual BBA leaders and members were great advocates with their own legislators and with other attorneys. Quite deservedly, the BBA was there to celebrate the outpouring of joy that accompanied the first marriages on May 17, 2004.

The BBA’s commitment has not slackened. It has joined amici briefs in several cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, including at the U.S. Supreme Court, and the portion requiring discrimination against gay people’s marriages has now been declared unconstitutional. The BBA has also stepped up for justice in other marriage equality cases around the nation.

4.     From where the nation and legal system is at this point, what are the next steps, and what leadership is necessary to continue on in the fight for marriage equality?

To succeed, any justice struggle must engage all three branches of government and the court of public opinion. Ten years after Goodridge, we are at a point when each is fully engaged. We have now won marriage in the courts (starting with Massachusetts), in state legislatures (whether Massachusetts legislators rebuffing a constitutional amendment to reverse Goodridge in 2005 and 2007 or Vermont’s dramatic override of a Governor’s veto in 2009), and at the ballot (starting with Maine voters changing their minds and voting for marriage in 2012 after having voted against it in 2009, along with Maryland and Washington).

Chief executives can be tremendous leaders, and Governor Patrick led the way among Governors. His leadership made a tremendous difference in defeating the final attempt to amend the constitution here in 2007, along with the leadership of then Senate President Terese Murray and then House Speaker Sal DiMasi. It is only since then that marriage has been secure in the Commonwealth. Nationally, 14% of Americans have changed their minds to support marriage equality from 2003 to 2013. President Obama’s description of his journey from opposing marriage to supporting it is exactly the kind of transformation happening for many Americans, both about marriage and about LGBT people more generally.

None of these accomplishments would have been possible in a vacuum. No minority can succeed without the support of allies, and allies have been crucial at every stage in the struggle here. There were early movers like the Boston Bar Association and Massachusetts Bar Association, a spectrum of civil rights groups, and children’s advocates, who joined briefs in support of the Goodridge plaintiffs. Now our allies in this struggle include many major faith groups who support the dignity and equality of gay people and same sex couples, as well as labor and business (the three largest labor organizations and 278 employers filed separate briefs in the Supreme Court DOMA litigation), and many other important voices.

Since the Supreme Court’s rulings in Windsor (striking down DOMA Section 3) and Hollingsworth (finding there was no jurisdiction to review a 9th Circuit ruling striking down California’s Prop 8), there has been tremendous activity. State legislatures in Illinois and Hawaii approved of marriage within days of each other in November, just as there was a burst of activity in the spring with Delaware, Rhode Island, and Minnesota passing marriage laws. New Jersey’s Supreme Court cleared the way for marriage by refusing to stay a lower court’s ruling that the “civil union” nomenclature thwarted access to federal marital protections now available post-Windsor, demonstrating that marriage was necessary to provide equality. There are nearly 40 lawsuits pending around the nation, most in federal court, in purple and red states, and people are engaged on the issues. My hope is that over the next few years, the Supreme Court will ultimately settle the issue as the final arbiter in our federal system. 

Julia Huston: Leaders Motivate People to Work for Something Larger than Themselves

Julia Huston: Leaders Motivate People to Work for Something Larger than Themselves

Huston, JuliaJulia Huston is a partner at Foley Hoag LLP, where she chairs the firm’s Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition practice group, and co-chairs the Advertising and Marketing practice group. Her practice includes litigation, counseling and strategy in the areas of trademarks, copyrights, patents, Internet commerce, domain name piracy, false advertising, and unfair competition. At the BBA, Julia is President-Elect. She is also a member of the Executive Committee and Co-Chair of the BBA/BBF Joint Partnership Committee. In addition, she has served as Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Chair of the Amicus Committee, Co-Chair of the Delivery of Legal Services Section, Co-Chair of the Litigation Section, and Co-Chair of the Intellectual Property Litigation Committee. A longtime supporter of civil legal services for the poor, Julia previously served as Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, President of Greater Boston Legal Services, and President of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts. Julia is a BBF Trustee and a member of the BBF Community Projects Committee.

1.     As someone who has been the president of two organizations (WBA & GBLS), what leadership lessons did you learn that can be applied to the BBA?

There are two important lessons I’ve learned that I can apply to the BBA. The first, and most crucial, is the importance of building coalitions and identifying strong leaders to lead those coalitions. It is much more effective to approach a problem or situation as a group, rather than attempt to effect meaningful change as an individual. Building coalitions is an incredibly effective way to motivate passionate people to work for something larger than their own interests. Bar associations provide the unique opportunity to build coalitions among attorneys and others parties, like judges and legal services representatives, who come from different backgrounds and can lend different perspectives.

The second is how to lead an organization so that it can react quickly in times of crisis or change. When I became president of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), IOLTA funding had just started its precipitous decline. GBLS was plunged into a crisis that lasted the entire term of my presidency, and still continues because that funding has not been restored. We decided to undertake aggressive fundraising measures while making the necessary cuts to the program in a thoughtful and strategic manner in close collaboration with the GBLS legal aid attorneys – a group of highly talented people who are the lifeblood of the organization. While it was challenging, I was inspired by BBA member Lisa Wood, who was chairing the IOLTA Committee during this time. When someone lamented that it was a terrible time to be on the IOLTA Committee, Lisa responded by stating that it was actually the best time to be on the Committee because that is when people could help the most. An important part of leadership is being able to mobilize in times of crisis or change.

These lessons fit in well with what makes the BBA unique and allows it to continue to grow. A lot of the success of the BBA has to do with the relationships people build here. The BBA is able to identify priorities and the people who will get projects done, as well as provide the resources that they need to succeed, and the results are obvious. The BBA pays attention to changes in the legal community as they are happening and develops programs in response – for example, to support new lawyers and to provide the kinds of training and mentorship experiences that have become scarce in today’s economy. This kind of attention to systemic changes and the willingness to adapt its priorities and goals is what makes the BBA able to respond to the rapidly changing legal profession. I very much hope to continue in that tradition.

2.     How can a leader ensure that their team stays on track and engaged with the project or task at hand?

Every project or task, no matter how large or small, ties into an organization’s larger vision.  The leader’s job is twofold:  forming an effective group and helping the group see the connection between the task and the vision. As is the case with coalition building, it is important to choose people who are experienced with an issue and who also bring different perspectives to bear. This is something at which the BBA excels. For example, on Task Forces you will always see people on both sides of the issue represented. The most common example would be government prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, but there are countless others. The combination of people from different walks of life who are willing to put aside their own self-interest in pursuit of a larger goal enhances the BBA Task Forces’ authority and legitimacy.

I have been fortunate to be able to work with extremely effective people. In the process, I have learned how to lead at the vision level, and I look forward to doing that at the BBA.

3.     What is one skill or facet that you think almost every leader can improve upon?

Leaders tend to focus on their strengths, as they should, but I think it is also important to know your own weaknesses. In other words, being a better leader doesn’t mean you become an expert at everything, it means learning to be an expert at identifying what you need help with. Organizations are made up of lots of people, not just the leader. In an organization like the BBA, where we have a very strong team and everyone in the BBA leadership has an important role to play, I think leadership is more like the coalition building I mentioned earlier: choosing the right people with the right experience, and effectively focusing the group on the organization’s goals.

Michael Ricciuti: “Reputation Is About Personal Credibility”

Michael Ricciuti: "Reputation Is About Personal Credibility"

Ricciuti, MichaelMichael Ricciuti is a partner at K&L Gates LLP and co-coordinator of the firm’s Government Enforcement Practice Group. Along with being the Secretary of the BBA Council, he leads the BBA’s Drug Laboratory Task Force, is a member and past Co-Chair of the Criminal Law Section, and is a past Council member. Mike served on a number of BBA task forces and committees and as the BBA’s representative on the Governor’s Anti-Crime Council. For a decade prior to joining K&L Gates, Mike was a federal prosecutor in Boston, where he served as Chief of the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit, Coordinator of the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, and Deputy Chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. He was also a Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington DC. He teaches Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure at Suffolk University Law School and is a member of the board of First Literacy, a Boston-based literacy organization.

 1.           How does a lawyer maintain a great reputation?

I think a lawyer’s reputation is the most important aspect of one’s professional life, and lawyers should be thinking about their reputation in everything they do. It’s about personal credibility and whether judges, opponents, and clients can trust your word. Lawyers rely on other lawyers for facts, particularly if you practice in criminal law. I was a prosecutor for a long time, and in that role, you’re responsible to the defense for providing accurate information and making sure a defendant receives the discovery to which he or she is entitled to defend the case. Lawyers, judges, and others rely on us to do our job with integrity. Lawyers should be extremely sensitive to protecting their reputations.

2.           What is your advice on representing the profession and providing leadership in the public eye? 

Lawyers represent the profession to the public whenever they encounter someone outside of the profession, be it a client or otherwise.  If you are active in the community, you want people to know you as both a person and a lawyer and to see lawyers contributing to the community, as we often do.  For those of us fortunate to be active in the BBA, the public will see us as BBA representatives and know that we are intensely interested in critical community issues like access to justice and diversity and inclusion. When I first got involved in the BBA, I was amazed by how many opportunities could be found just by paying attention to what the BBA does  – there so many ways to give back through the BBA in areas the BBA addresses very well. The amount of good work that gets done by BBA members on behalf of others in our community shows that our contributions have a meaningful impact in the real world. The idea that, despite the tough budgetary times, the BBA is working to ensure better access to justice and is speaking up for those without a voice is exactly the kind of thinking that happens here.

The more we as lawyers do to give back, the better we portray our profession. For example, lawyers have the unique opportunity to perform pro bono work or to serve on behalf of organizations like the BBA that maintain a focus on justice issues. Such efforts help to show that we as lawyers are a critical part of the justice system and that we care about larger issues – that we think about how the justice system works today, how it may work years from now, and how we can shape it for the better. This is our profession and we have a choice: we can participate in making the justice system better or not – and for those who choose to make it better, even playing a small role makes a difference. And when we make that effort, we are representing the profession well.

3.           In the face of a crisis or distressed constituents, what are some tips for remaining calm under pressure?

Clients are looking to you for calm, level-headed advice, so that’s what you need to deliver in times of crisis. When things get stressed, we need to resist any temptation to give in to the moment and remember that our clients need thoughtful guidance – we don’t have the luxury to give in to stress. And we must bear in mind that we and our clients will have to live with the advice we give long after the crisis passes. When you are in this position, ask yourself, “Will I regret giving this advice next week? Next year? In the next 10 years?” When clients look back, it is important that they remember not only that our advice was sound but that we delivered it in a controlled, steady manner.

 4.           How can a lawyer seeking leadership hone their expertise to devise and implement new initiatives?

We all have responsibilities in our private and professional; lives. Those are constants, and we need to balance them well – lawyers with a positive work-life balance seem to be happier people. But there is more than just day-to-day work to add to the balance. It is critically important that lawyers look outside their personal priorities and pressures to the larger issues. If you want to learn how to best do that, and how to lead and develop new leadership skills, find those issues about which you are passionate. And if you are passionate about how the profession relates to the larger society, getting involved in the BBA is a terrific start.

Whether through the BBA or otherwise, look for like-minded people who have done something you’re interested in – and if no one’s done it, don’t be afraid to do it yourself. There is a lot to be said for making up new rules: the fact that something has not been done before is not a barrier, it’s an opportunity. Find mentors who can help you along. At the end of the day, jump in and find a way to help out where you can.

When you think back on what you’ve done in your career, you won’t think of the day-to-day responsibilities you had.  You’ll look back on the other things you did to make the community better.  Sometimes the issues the community needs addressed aren’t easy, but if we don’t engage in that dialogue, who will?

5.           What else would you like to add that hasn’t already been covered?

To lawyers who aren’t yet involved in BBA: this is your chance! Get involved and spread your wings. Spend time with lawyers who don’t do exactly what you do.  Volunteer, whether it’s to help somebody in need or the whole organization. You’ll understand our world a bit better. For young lawyers looking to build a career, this is a great opportunity to get involved.