Published: 1:00 am Mon, May 3, 2004

By admin Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

Pundits who can’t wait for the presidential election may want to tune in to what could shape up to be a heated run for officer positions at the Massachusetts Bar Association.Traditionally staid affairs in which long-standing members are slotted into available positions, the elections this year look as if they will enjoy a touch of honest-to-goodness competition.In addition to the nominated candidates, two would-be contenders for officer positions have been circulating petitions in a bid to throw their hat in the ring. Since the last House of Delegates meeting, Boston lawyers Denise I. Murphy and David W. White-Lief have gathered the signatures necessary to secure their candidacy for the positions of secretary and vice president, respectively, running against the nominated Katherine A. Hesse of Boston and Mark D. Mason of Springfield.Boston attorneys Douglas K. Sheff and Alice B. Burkin are also running petition races for the delegate positions left vacant by Murphy and White-Lief.Ads for Murphy, White-Lief and Hesse, with links to candidate bios, have cropped up in the MBA’s e-Journal.And past MBA presidents are stepping into the fray. Some, including Michael E. Mone and Edward P. Ryan Jr., have endorsed the new slate of possible incomers (Murphy, White-Lief, Sheff and Burkin, who are running on an unofficial “ticket”), signing their name to a Letter to the Editor in the April 26 issue of Lawyers Weekly.A collection of other bar presidents including Carol A. Dimento and Jeffrey L. McCormick have endorsed Hesse (see letter in this issue of Lawyers Weekly).Is a shake-up afoot?The process of working up the ranks of the organization is admittedly long, but this year the MBA’s own nominating committee did not follow the normal progression of officers, which may have signaled an opening to others outside the officer slate.While petition races are not a common occurrence, the challengers may also be taking encouragement from past successful petition runs by MBA notables such as Mone, Charles B. Swartwood III and Elaine M. Epstein.Or maybe the petition races are a reflection of the “young blood’s” energy and commitment.Murphy confirms her decision to run was prompted by her wish to have a “greater level of participation” in the association.Already active as a delegate-at-large and a member of the MBA’s executive management board, Murphy says she was able to observe the organization’s critical positions. “I can make a greater impact as an officer,” she concludes.Asked what she would like to accomplish, Murphy states there should be a greater level of cooperation between the state’s various bar associations.“The MBA is in a really unique position of being a statewide organization that encompasses so many diverse groups,” she explains. “There is a lack of communication or equal representation among these diverse groups.”Murphy points to the “united front” shown with respect to certain issues of importance, such as support of the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling on gay marriage and opposition to the state’s “anniversary” fee. “I think that’s something we can duplicate on almost every issue that arises.”In a similar vein, Hesse promises to promote the unity of the organization. “I really want to represent the legal profession as a whole, not only the interests of trial lawyers,” she says.While she says she has enjoyed getting to know her competitor, Hesse admits she doesn’t understand why she is facing an opponent in the election rather than coasting through like most MBA officers.“I’m just surprised at her decision to run when there isn’t a policy difference and where there is a strong nominating process in place,” she comments.Hesse plans to stand on her record, and declares herself to be “very honored” to have been selected as the official nominee after an in-depth review process by a “highly-credentialed” panel.“It’s not exactly a rubber stamp,” she notes. “It’s a much more involved and rigorous process than I had anticipated — and I was glad to see it.”The ballots have been mailed out, and the race is on.