Martingayle has been elected president-elect of the Virginia State Bar.
I was approached by members of the Virginia State Bar executive committee and state bar leadership about running for the position of president. I told them I would discuss it with my wife and I finally agreed to do it. I started the process of circulating the petition that is required to get my name on the ballot. I found that another member of the State Bar Council, a larger governing body of the state bar, was in the process too. It was unexpected because he wasn’t on the executive committee and there hasn’t been a contested election in a decade. He was preparing to retire from the practice of law and he wanted to devote himself to the business of the state bar full-time.
There wasn’t a blueprint to follow on how to conduct a campaign. Both of us went about our own ways of collecting support from members of the state bar. There were over 6,000 ballots cast and I won by 117, which is less than 2 percent. I made a point of soliciting from attorneys from all areas of the state and I asked them to contact their friends and colleagues. It became a word-of-mouth and email campaign.
I have historically been involved in a variety of bar activities including the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and Virginia Beach Bar Association and others. I’ve long been interested in the educational and networking aspects. Then I got involved in the state bar when there was an opening to get on the bar council, which is the governing body of the state bar. I found the work to be rewarding.
One of the things I like is the common goal of trying to improve our profession without any particular political agenda or ideology, whereas other bar groups may have a political slant one way or another. With us, you don’t have to argue politics with colleagues and you can talk about what truly protects the party, makes access to justice easier and assists with trying cases in court and other legal matters. What we do is try to make the engine of justice run better and more smoothly.
On dealing with crisis
Over the years I’ve gotten increasingly involved in those efforts to help the bar run more effectively. One thing that made me get more deeply involved in how things run is when the legislature decided to leave a number of judicial vacancies unfilled because of the funding crisis. That created a real crisis here.
For example, the Virginia Beach and Eastern Shore judicial circuits were hit significantly. When one of the judges on the Eastern Shore retired, the General Assembly had no plans to fill his post. At the time Virginia Beach was already down one judge. We also had a retirement in Virginia Beach that didn’t get filled. So the Beach judges found themselves rotating a judge over to the Eastern Shore. That left Virginia Beach Circuit Court with two judges. In my view this was a tremendous burden and it didn’t make sense at all.
The Eastern Shore was deprived of having a regular judge over there and the residents of Virginia Beach found themselves with an overloaded docket because of the shortage of judges. You had jurisdictions scrambling to take care of their docket and find retired judges to step in on a part-time basis.
The state bar became an important voice in this discussion. By law we are an agency of the Virginia Supreme Court. In other ways we represent the judicial branch of the government. Unfortunately we rely upon the other two branches of the government to provide the judges and funding for the judges. When the General Assembly decided in a time of budget crisis to leave one branch of the government underfunded and understaffed, many members of the state bar led by the bar council, took up the fight. This is when I realized how important the state bar is.
On my agenda
Basically my job is to keep the train on the track. I don’t have anything on the agenda that will be a radical change from the way things are working right now. I think the state bar does a great job.
We have a terrific administrative staff and a talented executive director, Karen Gould. She is supremely bright, talented and motivated. I look forward to working with her in the future. Having a top-notch executive director makes the life of the president a lot easier.
One thing I will be doing is watching for problems such as judicial vacancies and budget issues. I do plan to push a few of my own initiatives. I’m not sure if we have done a good job historically of incorporating circuit court clerks into the daily discussions of the state bar. They are constitutional officers. The clerks have an interesting situation. They have to pay close attention to what the community wants and they have to work hand-in-glove with the judicial branch of government to make sure things are operating smoothly. They have always been a little bit on the outside looking in when it comes to state bar business and decisions. I think they are critical to the operation of the judicial branch of government.
The other thing I would like to try and figure out is how to prevent certain attorney disciplinary problems before they occur in the first place. I don’t know if most law school graduates are prepared to open a law office and begin to practice law. We don’t have a residency program like doctors. We need to think about ways to help new lawyers so they don’t make mistakes coming right out of the gate. nib
Interview by Lakeshia Artis