Montgomery County Bar Association Annual Meeting
May 14, 2010
It is good to be home, and it’s great to be with all of you. I thank you so much for your very kind welcome and for allowing me to be a part of this tremendously strong gathering here in Montgomery County, land of my bread and buttering. County Executive Leggett it’s great to join you here.
I want to thank everyone with the Bar Association and the Foundation. Mr. Weaver, I’m sure you’re very, very proud of your daughter and her message here today of being the change that all of us hope to see in this world. And I congratulate you and your whole family,… and President Patricia Weaver, congratulations to you on your ascendance.
Your county sends some really top-notch people to the General Assembly and I especially want to thank Delegate Kathleen Dumais, Delegate Brian Feldman and Senator Robert Garagiola. Next week, I’ll be signing a bill sponsored by Delegate Dumais to support the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (Applause) which is so critically important for balancing the scales of justice, especially in civil cases, where we often come up short of that sense of justice I think we all aspire to as a people – including justice in foreclosure cases, where we continue to battle to save every home possible; putting families on a more equal footing with the big faceless mortgage company giants (which I’ll come back to in a moment).
Again, it is a true honor to join with you and see so many friendly faces and familiar faces. As President Weaver mentioned, I grew up in a small log cabin not far from here (laughter). My mother still lives in this county. It’s always special for me to be able to have the opportunity to come back. And I recall very vividly speaking to this group four years ago. It was very shortly after my father had passed away and the kindness that so many of you came up and expressed to me, I will never, ever forget. He really enjoyed practicing with all of you. Many of you who knew him kindly came by his wake. Many of you who had been in court on opposite sides of him came to make sure he was dead. (Laughter). But my dad, we talked about him as Atticus Finch. Just to show you the sort of impression that he made on his subjects – of the six of us, four of us became lawyers, because we wanted to be like our dad. We wanted to be able to go into the arena and stand up for people that maybe didn’t have any other fighting chance except their hope that their lawyer would take their case as if it was the most important one he had ever handled.
Leading off from President Weaver’s remarks about being the change that we desire in this world, I wanted to talk to you about the connections of what all of us are doing in our strong State, going through tough times with the rest of the nation -- indeed, the rest of the world.
I think that these thoughts of mine, as I share them with you, are not so much in order of priority as they are in order of proximity.
The sort of future that we prefer for our children and the justice to which we aspire, are very, very connected. The connection between public schools and jobs. The connection between improving public safety and improving our economy. The connection between making college education more affordable and, therefore, making Maryland more attractive to the high growth, innovative, creative sorts of employers than Montgomery County has been producing in such nation-leading numbers.
Forward with Montgomery County
Your County Executive is one of the most effective county executives I do believe in the entire United States of America. And he understands what an important job he has in leading this important county forward. (Applause.) Montgomery County takes its leadership responsibilities very seriously. And so does Ike Leggett. The way he has raised the bar in terms of life sciences, bio-tech, clean and green tech, information technology, cyber security is making a difference for this county and our State.
The immensity of the challenges which intimidate so many other people are the very things that the people of Montgomery County – with one of the highest levels of education attainment – actually embrace to create new opportunities for all of us.
There was great news about a week ago about how Rockville was named one of the top ten cities in America for new start-up companies. (Applause.)
Montgomery County illustrates why it is that we’re making in the toughest of times record investments in public education, why in the toughest of times we’ve increased school construction dollars coming into Montgomery County by 70 percent. People might say, well, what does that have to do with the economy? It has everything to do with the economy. The quality of the education and the educational attainment of our children will determine the opportunities that their children have. And that’s a fact that you always understood in Montgomery County.
I have some good news for you: our State, in the month of March, created more jobs than any other state in the country. (Applause.) 35,800 jobs -- get this -- is 20 percent of the new jobs created in the country.
And we need to keep creating jobs every month. Because as important as the battle against foreclosures is – because there’s no place more powerful in our State than the family home – there’s nothing more essential for keeping that home than a job.
So we have been very, very focused on doing everything we can to create jobs and save jobs.
We created in this legislative session a new Hiring Tax Credit for any company – large, medium or small – that hires a Marylander off of the unemployment rolls. And in order to start to prime the pumps of business lending on Main Street, now that Wall Street has been somewhat stabilized, we’ve created a Small Business Loan Guaranty fund that will leverage an additional $6 for every dollar of the $10 million that we put into it.
And we’re looking forward to the new legislation President Obama proposed that will allow Federal dollars to come into that account to further get those credit markets circulating.
Patricia, you kindly mentioned our #1 school ranking. The first time our State has ever been named #1 school system in America. And that’s a big, big deal. Two years in a row. (Applause.)
We’re moving forward with a better balance between mass transit and roads, even in these tough times, with the Purple Line moving forward. (Applause.) I’m wearing my purple tie. (Laugher.)
I rattle off these things because our State can’t move forward unless each of the counties is moving forward. And a strong Montgomery County means a stronger Maryland. We’re all in this together.
I know in these last several years together we’ve had to do some very, very tough things. $5.6 billion in cuts. The size of your state government is now smaller than it’s been at any time since 1973. It’s the smallest our state government has been in nearly 40 years. And yet we still retain a AAA Bond Rating, and we’re one of only eight states in the country to do that. We still continue to make progress. And our own Eloise Foster, our budget secretary (her first initial is T, I say that stands for tough choice) – she happens to be from Montgomery County. So the Budget Secretary of the State of Maryland is from Montgomery County. No doubt one of the big parts of the reason why we’ve weathered this storm better that others. And we need to continue to move forward.
Forward for a More Just Future
When we talk about Maryland moving forward – you’re in a vocation that understands that there is no such thing as progress without justice.
In getting to that more just future that I think all of us would choose to leave to our children, we absolutely do need each other. We are all connected to each other. We need to share an active participation of those in government, those in the judiciary, those in law enforcement. But we also need the active participation of every one of those people who hold what Justice Louis Brandeis called the most important office of all – and that is the title and the office of “citizen.”
As One Maryland, we are working across sectors and using technology to connect with one another as no generation of Marylanders has ever had the opportunity to do before. Aligning our efforts, broadly sharing information, using our government – both at the State and local level – as a platform to harness the power of citizenship, the connectedness, the needed connections of all of us who are working for that better world.
A few examples of that I wanted to share with you when it comes to public safety:
It was a sad fact of the matter that just five years ago, your State that had more PHDs than any other state in the union, was also the fourth most violent State in America. And we’re still far too violent, but we have been doing a much better job of fighting back against that unacceptably high level of violence and our unfortunate sad propensity to pretend that it happens to other people and not to people that we love and need.
We have driven violent crime down this year to its lowest level since 1975, thanks primarily to the courageous men and women who put on those uniforms and that badge and that gun and go out there. But many other people in other institutions have had a part in this as well. It did not happen by chance, it happened because of partnerships.
Partnerships like the new Violence Prevention Initiative, where our Parole and Probation agents actually focus their supervision on the most violent repeat offenders who are coming back out onto the streets and zeroing in on them, to put them back in jail the second they violate the terms of their parole or probation.
We’ve closed the backlog, secondly, of 24,000 unanalyzed DNA samples of known offenders, murderers, rapists and others. And last year, we were able to take 103 murders, rapists and other criminals off the street because of those cold case hits that might not have happened, had that new science and technology and initiative to clear out that backlog not taken place.
Thirdly, we put together about 18 or 20 disparate databases that can help lead to the solving of crimes. We put them in a Public Safety Dashboard that now gets 25,000 to 40,000 hits a day from local law enforcement running through persons of interest, known repeat offenders, to see where if someone is, for example, prohibited from owning a firearm, yet they’re popping up on a log saying that they’re buying ammunition at a place down the road. Law enforcement is able to make those connections now.
We’re partnering with our judicial branch and law enforcement to crack down on auto theft. Amazing things are happening just across the border in Prince George’s County: almost a 43 percent reduction in four years in auto thefts. And, of course, we know crime knows no borders.
And through our Regional Gun Task Force we put state and local police together – what a novel idea – and were able to seize 217 guns, and make 77 arrests for illegal trafficking.
All of which comes down to the bottom line of 111 fewer Marylanders died violent deaths last year, compared to four years ago.
Our Diversity is our Greatest Strength
This has been a big week for justice in our country with President Obama’s nomination of Elana Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court – and this comes on the heels of President Obama’s nomination of another strong female legal person in our State, Sarah Bloom Raskin of Takoma Park, who has been our State Banking Commissioner. She was nominated by President Obama to serve on the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors. That’s a big deal, as Joe Biden would say. She’s been an outstanding Commissioner. (Applause.) She’s done an outstanding job for us.
In our State, where our diversity is our greatest strength, we now have three women serving on our Court of Appeals. And it’s been one of my great honors to be able to have appointed two of them.
It’s also been my great honor to appoint a great judge, who also happens to be the first African-American woman ever appointed to Montgomery County Circuit Court, Sharon Burrell, who is doing an outstanding job. (Applause.) And she’s going to running on that terrific ticket with Judge Callahan, Judge Quirk, Judge Salant, Judge Jordan and Judge McCally.
All in all, we have been able to greatly increase the number of women serving on the judiciary and they’re all top quality, top notch people. And that’s true with regard to diversity, particularly where African Americans are concerned.
And that strength that is our diversity is a very important thing for us never, ever to take for granted in our State.
This year, by the way, our State will hit for the very first time our 25 percent goal by minority business inclusion, our MBE law. We’ve had a 25 percent goal forever, but this will be the first year that we’ve ever hit it.
Let me wrap up by just thanking all of you who have taken part in the effort to preserve as many homes as we can in our State from the plague of foreclosure. Your efforts, led by Judge Bell, the 1,025 of you and your colleagues that have given pro bono hours, cannot be underestimated. If you look at the sort of dashboard that shows the progression of foreclosures, the three events -- whether they’re notices of default, lender purchases, and sales – you’ll see that in our State for the last four months, they’ve all been going in the right direction. That is down. We still have a long way to go, but I encourage all of you that have been involved in that to stay involved.
We passed legislation a couple years ago that the Washington Post said was some of the most sweeping foreclosure prevention legislation in the country. But it wasn’t enough. So this year we created a mandatory right of mediation. Our rationale being that if a big mortgage services company can pick up the phone to put a family into a home, they sure as hell can pick up the phone before they can throw one out. And so that gives families the ability to bring these giants to the table in mandatory mediation. (Applause.)
Again, I thank you all so much for giving me the opportunity to join you here.
Along the line of the connection between justice and a better future, I leave you with two quotes that I carry around in my head that I think are particularly relevant right now.
These two gentlemen, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy lived in a turbulent time in our country’s history when a lot of change was afoot and I think there’s a lot of wisdom that resonates and echoes from those days.
Dr. King said that “the arc of [history] bends towards justice.”
And Robert Kennedy said that “the future is not a gift: it’s an achievement.”
It’s one that in our One Maryland we have the ability to pursue, united by our belief in the dignity of every individual. United in our belief in our own responsibilities to be that change, to advance the greater good. United by our understanding that there is a unity to spirit and matter, that what we do in our own lifetimes does matter. And that God wants even our partial victories.
Thank you, Montgomery County Bar for fighting for justice and fighting for the better future we want to give our kids. (Applause.)