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Scott R. Melton was recently named the President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association


As I begin my term as president of the GRBA, I want to thank Tracey Brame for her leadership. What started off as just another fiscal year on the calendar, finished in a way that none of us ever imagined and few are likely to forget. The 2020-2021 term of office is at risk of being defined by the resignation of our long-time executive director, the pandemic, the overt manifestation of systemic racism, social upheaval and political division that has rocked our country. However, through the past 12 months, I have been blessed to work along side Tracey, a woman and leader, who has represented the grace and vision of justice, service and perseverance that our organization has and must continue to promote in our profession and community. And, I am thankful that Randy Velzen, our immediate past-president, remained fully engaged and ready to keep our heads up with his heart and sense of humor, focused on our mission and service, while ensuring we didn’t take ourselves too seriously or become lost in the negativity around us. We will all miss Randy’s participation on the Executive Committee but will continue to be blessed by Tracey’s continued role as our new immediate past president.

Despite the resignation of Kim Coleman, our steady captain for the past 20 years, and the impact of our social and physical separation, we need to celebrate the lessons and opportunities that these challenges have provided while we continue to grow and improve individually, professionally and as an association. The pandemic, and being forced to “shelter in place,” have introduced many of us to the positive aspects of technology – the ability to promote efficiencies in our work and access to justice and our courts, opening up and making our courts transparent to the public. Chief Justice Bridget McCormack recently reported that there have been more than 80,000 matters heard and more than 450,000 hours of hearings handled despite the court buildings being physically shut down. Technology has opened up new efficiencies and access to the public and litigants. Proceedings in our courts have been broadcast live, with some proceedings being watched in real-time by as many as 48,000 people or more. These measures have begun to increase the transparency of, familiarity with, and trust in our courts and judicial system.

The same technology has opened up efficiencies and opportunities in our practices and service to our clients, as well as our own Association’s service to our membership and community. Over the past four months, the GRBA has sponsored more than 11 “webinars” or video conferences for our members and community, including several credit hours of CLE under the requirements for the Michigan Indigent Defense Counsel training and qualifications. (I want to express a special thanks to our own Kenny Williams-Buck for his talent in making these programs run smoothly.) It is my hope and expectation that we will continue to take advantage of what we have already learned to increase the benefit of these technologies in rendering service to our members and our community even as we start to “reopen” and are able to return to more traditional means of “doing business.”

Finally, but certainly not least, these last few months have opened our eyes to, or placed a magnifying glass over, the divisions, injustices and inequities in our country. Despite the many strengths and privileges of this country, it is evident that we can and must do better. Under the leadership of Justice McCormack, our state courts are working to restore confidence in our justice system. As a profession and an organization, we need to promote justice and work to restore— or create—a trust in our legal system and an assurance that the rights and opportunities enshrined in our Constitution and laws will be applied and guaranteed to all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or orientation. We are forming a Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to focus on ways that we as an Association can promote diversity, equity and inclusion both within our profession and our community; and also educate ourselves and our community on the beauty and richness that comes from the diversity of our people.

Under the oversight of Brie, our new Executive Director, and the guidance of our committed officers and Board of Directors, I look forward to the upcoming year and the opportunity to serve our membership, our profession and our community.