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ABA President-Elect: Legal Profession Must Ensure Access for All

August 10, 2018 10:00 AM

With fewer resources in the courts and Americans’ confidence in the justice system eroding, legal practitioners must take on the responsibility to ensure access for all, writes Tulane Law alumna Judy Perry Martinez (L’82), the president-elect of the American Bar Association.

“We have failed to recognize the criticality of access to justice for not just some, but for all, “ Martinez writes in the online ABA Journal, a day after being named president-elect of the nation’s largest professional legal organization. “This is the very essence of the American rule of law, and it is our duty to ensure that it never falters.”

Martinez argues that while lack of funding and other resources have harmed the courts, the blame is also on the “hesitancy of many in the legal profession and the business community to acknowledge and seek correction of the shortcomings of the justice system. Whether those deficiencies are rooted in a lack of cultural and language awareness, racism or sexism, bias, power inequities, or even professional self-interest, they have made justice unobtainable for many in our nation.”

It will require a collective effort by those in the legal profession, she writes, to make our courts stronger and uphold the independence of the judiciary.

“It must be not only for and when our own interests or those of our clients are at stake,” Martinez writes. “Rather, it must be so each time we see injustice, lack of access, attacks on the judiciary, or services rendered by the justice system that fall short of what Americans are guaranteed by our Constitution. We cannot stand silent and turn a blind eye. There are concrete ways that individual lawyers and judges immediately can contribute to rekindling trust and confidence in our American justice system.”

Martinez, who is an attorney with Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans, officially takes the helm of the 400,000-member ABA in August 2019 and will serve a one-year term.

Since graduating with honors from Tulane Law School, Martinez has had a career rooted in public service. She held a succession of key leadership positions within the ABA, including chairing the ABA’s Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services, and was among the young lawyers of the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) who in the early 1980s launched the New Orleans Pro Bono Project.

She joined Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in 1982 as commercial litigator, eventually becoming a partner. In 2003, she joined Northrop Grumman, an international aerospace company, where she worked first as in-house counsel directing much of the company’s litigation and later as vice president and chief compliance officer.

In 2015, she retired from Northrop Gumman and became a fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University, where she spent a year in residence before returning to her New Orleans firm of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn.

Throughout her career, Martinez has been a strong advocate for the legal profession through the ABA, chairing the 170,000-member Young Lawyers Division, serving on the Commission on Women, and chairing the Commission on Domestic Violence.

She has received numerous awards for her work as a litigator and for her public service, too. She twice received the LSBA President’s Award and the Camille Gravel Public Service Award, which recognizes a local attorney who has done substantial pro bono work. Last year, she received the David A. Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award from the LSBA and the President’s Award by the New Orleans Bar Association.

Martinez is a member of Tulane Law’s Dean’s Advisory Board and remains closely involved in supporting students.  Last August, she joined fellow alumni Wayne Lee (L ’74) and Robert Waldrup (L ’16) in a special panel discussion on the importance of diversity in the legal profession and, in November, arranged and hosted a discussion at Tulane Law with current ABA President Hilarie Bass.