MDC: A Storied Past and a Bright Future
Toyja E. Kelley, Esquire
I recently learned one of the very first honors that you experience as MDC President is sending out the invitations to the Past President’s Reception, which my firm will be hosting next month. Reflecting on the list of past presidents, I was reminded of the old Sesame Street song “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Other).” I seriously struggle to see how in only a year’s time I will belong on this list of titans of the Maryland defense bar. Fortunately for me (and MDC), I only have a year in this position and could not possibly mess things up too much in that short time period. This is important because there is so much to be proud of about MDC’s storied history and its bright future.
Over the past 50 plus years, MDC and its members have found themselves on the winning side in many battles such as the nearly annual fight to replace contributory negligence with comparative negligence, efforts to eliminate restrictions on punitive damages, proposals to eliminate damages caps on certain personal injury claims, and reducing requirements for expert testimony, among others. Although we have lost our fair share along the way as well, the efforts of our members against what is often times a better funded and more visible opponent in the Maryland Association for Justice should really be commended.
Recently, MDC came out on the winning side in one of these battles in Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia, a case that many thought might sound the death knell for contributory negligence in Maryland. MDC Past President Gardner Duvall deserves special recognition for his contributions in unprecedented proceedings before the Rules Committee of the Maryland Judiciary and the Court of Appeals with respect to this most recent effort to challenge contributory negligence in our State. In addition to his work before the Rules Committee, Gardner was instrumental in the preparation of MDC’s Amicus Brief and at oral arguments in the Coleman case. On July 9, 2013, the Court of Appeals re-affirmed its decision of thirty years ago that adoption of comparative fault would be a legislative role properly left to the state’s General Assembly. I have heard many say that we dodged a very real bullet.
Looking forward, we should all be pleased with the direction that the organization is heading. MDC’s legislative efforts are particularly noteworthy. During my time on MDC’s Board, much attention has been paid to our legislative efforts in Annapolis. Today, I have no doubt that state legislators seek out MDC for its input on issues that affect the civil justice system in Maryland more than any other time in our organization’s history. Gardner, along with Chris Boucher and MDC lobbyist John Stierhoff, among many others, deserve a great deal of thanks for the state of MDC’s influence in Annapolis.
We should also be proud of our amicus brief program. MDC’s Appellate Practice Committee is headed by Richard Flax, Dwight Stone, and Chris Heagy. They are responsible for receiving, vetting, and making recommendations to the Executive Committee on which cases are noteworthy and appropriate for MDC to support a particular defense position. As a part of its amicus program, MDC looks to make meaningful and original arguments that could result in a contribution to civil jurisprudence in our State. The success of this program can be seen in the increasing number of requests for MDC’s participation. MDC, of course, cannot file briefs in every case from which it receives requests. As demonstrated by the Coleman case, however, our impact is undeniable.
MDC’s role in the judicial selection process also deserves recognition. The Judicial Selections Committee has for some time now been headed by Marisa Trasatti and John Sly. Marisa, John, and their committee interview most of the candidates for each vacancy on Maryland’s courts. The impact of their efforts can now be seen in the number of requests we get from candidates asking that we interview them and the number of judges currently on the bench whom MDC has had an opportunity interview and vet.
One of my goals for the next year is to see more activity from MDC’s Substantive Law Committees. At our first Board Meeting in September, I will be challenging each Committee to come up with a set of goals and objectives for the coming year. There are many opportunities to publish articles and present at Brown Bag lunches or at MDC’s Annual Trial Academy. In three short years, MDC’s Trial Academy has become a real high water mark for the organization. It has been a sell out each year and the reviews from attendees have been very favorable. We must continue that tradition and our Substantive Law Committees will be crucial to that effort.
I want to encourage all MDC members to take responsibility for growing the organization’s membership. As a result of the changes in the profession over the past five or six years, membership in many bar organizations has fallen. While MDC’s numbers remain strong, economic pressures on our member firms will force many of them to take a hard look at organizations like ours. I strongly urge you to encourage your firms not to cut back support for MDC.
I will close by saying that I am truly humbled by the opportunity to serve MDC along with the other Executive Committee members Mike Dailey, Nikki Nesbitt, Marisa Trasatti, Immediate-Past Chair Mary Dimaio, and Executive Director Kathleen Shemer. We all are committed to advancing MDC’s goals and objectives and to making sure its star continues to shine brightly.
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