Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer
BY JULIA CHEEVER
As many as 9,000 lawyers are expected to descend on San Francisco this coming week for the annual meeting of the American Bar Association.
Topics at the Aug. 9-14 meeting range from how courts should deal with government claims of state secrets to the impact of Internet innovations such as YouTube and MySpace on privacy, copyright and parental control concerns.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who grew up in San Francisco, will speak at the group’s opening assembly at Davies Symphony Hall on Aug. 11.
Other speakers include Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, author Michael Crichton, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.
The headquarters for the meeting is Moscone Center West. The 1,600 sessions and events will take place at local hotels and other sites.
Laurel Bellows, a Chicago lawyer who chairs the ABA’s House of Delegates, said, “The meeting is a coming together of lawyers from all over the country, in every area of practice.”
The purpose is “to share common concerns, address issues of importance to the public, network with each other and to learn,” Bellows said in an interview on Friday.
Part of the meeting is a program of 200 sessions of continuing legal education for lawyers from Aug. 9 to 13.
The YouTube and MySpace discussion will take place in an Aug. 9 session titled “The Whole World is Watching! — Privacy, Copyright and Parental Control in the Age of YouTube, MySpace and Beyond.” Panelists will include Google/YouTube General Counsel Zahavah Levine.
Other panelists including San Francisco attorney James Brosnahan will discuss the practices of pretexting and posting phony caller IDs at an Aug. 10 session on “Invasion of the Personal Information Snatchers.”
A second segment of the convention is the meeting of the ABA’s House of Delegates on Aug. 13 and 14 to consider policy resolutions. The delegates are about 550 attorneys from state and local bar associations around the country.
Some resolutions are policy statements and others are proposals for legislation. If the delegates approve a legislative proposal, ABA lobbyists then take it to Congress and try to work with legislators to get it passed, Bellows said.
“We would like to think the legislators listen to us,” she said.
“The ABA’s input is significant and credible.”
One proposal before the delegates is a set of recommendations on how courts should handle government requests for dismissal of lawsuits that allegedly would jeopardize state secrets if allowed to proceed.
The recommendations urge courts to “make every effort” to avoid dismissing such lawsuits and to review evidence from all parties before making a decision on dismissal.
The state secrets argument is currently at issue in more than three dozen domestic surveillance lawsuits consolidated before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco.
Government lawyers contend the lawsuits against telecommunications companies should be dismissed because national security secrets could be revealed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in San Francisco on Aug. 15 on the government’s appeal of Walker’s refusal to dismiss the lead case in the group.
Another proposal before the delegates would call for federal, state and local government limits on public access to information about closed criminal cases or cases in which a convicted person has completed his sentence.
Supporters of the proposal say it would help people who have served their sentences and who are not dangerous to overcome discrimination and obtain jobs, while some media organizations have expressed concerns about the sealing of public information.
The Chicago-based ABA is a voluntary professional organization with about 413,000 lawyers nationwide as members.
It holds its annual meeting in San Francisco approximately every five years. Bellows said San Francisco is ABA members’ favorite location and is conducive to the meeting’s purposes as well.
“The openness and objectivity and great diversity of people are a good setting for the work we’re about to do,” Bellows said.
Bay City News