Friday, March 19, 2010

Interview with HSBA President, Hugh Jones

This blog has never conducted interviews before. Of course, we would like to see more of them (especially from judges). This is the first. Hugh Jones, the President of the Hawai'i State Bar Association agreed to an interview for Hawai'i Legal News.

Hi, Mr. Jones. Tell us about yourself. I've practiced law in Hawai'i since 1988. I joined the Attorney General's office in 1989 with the Office of Information Practices. I wrote opinions and advised government agencies about the public's right to know. I then went over to the AG's Tax division in 1996 and was working in the bankruptcy area for a period of time until I was recruited by Marjorie Bronster to work on the Bishop Estate investigation and subsequent litigation.

The AG's Bishop Estate Civil Team recovered $20 million from the trust for breach of trust claims. After that in 2000, I started building a charities regulations program at the AG's Office and participating in the implementation of reforms at the Bishop Estate. A big part of beefing up our charities regulation included significant statutory changes. I am now supervising the tax division as well as the charities oversight.

You were born, raised, and educated in Wisconsin. How did you end up here? I unexpectedly moved to Honolulu with my then-girlfriend (now wife) who got an interview with an established Honolulu firm. She got the job and I suddenly found myself in Hawai'i. I never knew I'd end up here, but I'm glad I did. Hawai'i is now my home.

You have your own twitter account. How can the HSBA use twitter and other social online media? I am pushing heavily on the bar association to start using twitter as a communications vehicle. The Judiciary has launched its own twitter account. I think it's a good communications tool, but certainly not the only one. For example, twitter messages about legislation or proposed rules that could affect attorneys' legal practice could be an effective use of this tool. I think the Bar Association will start providing small bursts of information via Twitter like that before my term is up.

Do you think Hawai'i law blogs should be part of the HSBA website? I think that's worthy of examination. There are some sticky issues under the US Supreme Court decision, Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), which forbids the use of bar dues in connection with lobbying. For example, providing a link to a blog that would advocate certain policies would be problematic. But our job is not to be the gatekeeper and I would definitely consider a blogroll that simply provides links to all blogs without advocating them.

You are the first government lawyer elected to be president of the HSBA, a non-profit organization. How is that significant? I was looking at our mission statement and goals. The HSBA's first goal is to develop and maintain an effective democratic organizational structure that serves the needs of its members. So I think a the election of a practicing government lawyer is the first step toward being a more democratically run organization.

Government lawyers are a very large segment of our bar. Approximately 900 are considered government lawyers and that's almost 20 percent of our Bar. I think it's important that we have had women, solo practioners, neighbor islanders, and others serve in the position of President. I'm proud to be the first government lawyer serve as the bar president. It confirms that we are a meeting that goal of a democratically-run organization.

Do you think government lawyers are well represented in HSBA committees? I am looking toward a government lawyers division in the bar. The only thing that unites government lawyers is our status as government lawyers. I support the formation of a government lawyers division.

The objectives of the government lawyers division would be to provide continuing legal education, put on programs for government lawyers. There is certainly a social element as well. And advocate at the legislature on issues of common interest to our public sector bar.

When you say advocate at the legislature, would it be something similar to the lobbyist wing of the HGEA or UPW? Something like a lawyers' union? That's certainly a possibility. There is a whole range of issues that affect government lawyers ranging from furloughs to employment issues.

Do you have any inspirational appellate justices or trial judges? I always found inspiration from the late Judge John Lim. One of the most inspirational moments in my legal career was arguing in the First Circuit before Judge Lim. I was going up against the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers seeking to quash the disclosure of public records about police discipline to the public. The courtroom was packed with uniformed police officers. I couldn't even get into the courtroom to argue the motion because there were so many police officers. I had to get a deputy sheriff to bring me in.

We argued their motion before Judge Lim for about two hours and then he ruled extemporaneously from the bench for 30 minutes. He was so eloquent. He referred to the Founding Fathers and the importance of the public's right to know. It was kind of a chicken skin moment for me. He denied their motion and the Hawai'i Supreme Court upheld that decision.

What about the lawyers? I'm married to one. I love lawyers.

We are a mandatory bar association. That means that in order to practice law in Hawai'i, you have to be a member of the HSBA. Is that a good thing? I think it's the reality that we live in. It's neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It just is. We are not a truly integrated bar like other states. Other entities like the ODC and the Hawai'i Supreme Court handle attorney admissions and disciplinary matters. So unlike other states, we are not completely integrated. Our bar association has aged and we generally provide a broad spectrum of benefits and services.

What are some of the new services? We are about to unroll a new website that will be more accessible and friendly for users. We offer a free legal research tool (Casemaker). As for our services, we will be doing more video conferencing of our CLE courses. I would like to see podcasting as well. With a podcast, you can be on a treadmill at the gym while getting your CLE credits.

Tell us about the Senior Counsel Division. We have over 7,000 members of the Hawai'i Bar. And we are a maturing bar. The demographics show that the biggest component of the bar are over 50 years old. A senior counsel is defined by his or her age just like young lawyers. Anyone over 50 is a senior counsel so that means as of next Monday (3/22), I'll be one too. The division intended for senior counsel to provide some kind of mentorship over young lawyers while at the same time keeping our senior lawyers sharp on their skills both professionally and socially.

Anything you want to add? As the Board of Directors and the governance of the bar, we are most anxious to hear from the members about what would help them in their law practice. The ways the practice of law can be made easier. If you know a director or even if you don't, please share your ideas. From the grassroots come the best ideas.


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