President's Message

by David Cooney

Welcome to CTLA's inaugural issue of Forum Online.

As my colleagues at RisCassi & Davis know, and as my children are always happy to point out, I am one of the least technologically oriented people you will ever meet.  I resisted getting a “car phone”, as we used to call them, for a very long time and purchased a Blackberry with great reluctance.  After four years of using the Blackberry, I still do not know how to take advantage of most of its features.  Nevertheless, I am very excited to be a part of the first on-line version of the CTLA Forum.  As David Rosen points out in his lead article, this new format will be far more flexible and accessible.  We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions on this new format.

David Rosen and Neil Ferstand have devoted an enormous amount of their time, talent and energy to the online Forum. It is a prodigious undertaking for which we should all be very appreciative.  Also, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our former editors of the Forum, Bill Gallagher and Dale Faulkner, who, year after year, put together an invaluable resource for our members.   Lastly, many thanks to our long-time contributors, Bob Adelman, Kathleen Nastri and Bob Carter, whose writing has consistently educated and enlightened our membership.

I sat down to write this message on the morning of September 11th.  As I was thinking back to September, 2001, I recalled that I was scheduled to start jury selection in Middletown on September 12, 2001.  Jury selection was postponed until the 13th, but I was still faced with the task of having to select a jury and to try a case in the midst of that incomprehensible tragedy.  It was a relatively straightforward fall down case.  My client’s injuries were significant, but not life changing.  As I prepared for jury selection, I was very concerned that the jury would have little or no interest in my client’s case, in light of the events of that week.

As it turned out, that morning was one of the most special moments in my legal career.  We had a large jury pool who sat there apprehensively.  I am sure they did not want to be there.  I know I did not want to be there.  After we were all assembled, Judge Sal Arena, then the Presiding Judge in Middletown, came in to speak to the jurors.  Over the next five or ten minutes, Judge Arena spoke to the jurors about why the jury trial system is such an essential part of our democracy, and why the trial of my client’s seemingly insignificant case, even in the midst of 9/11, was important and had to be justly decided.  Judge Arena told the jury that to do otherwise would be a failure of our legal system and a concession to the 9/11 terrorists.

By the end of Judge Arena’s remarks, I was confident that the jury would faithfully and responsibly decide our case.  We might win or lose, but the jury would fulfill their responsibility and would not be swayed by that week’s tragic and horrible events.  Judge Arena was a good friend and an excellent judge. On that morning, he made everyone in the jury assembly room proud to be a participant in our democracy and reminded me of why the work we do as trial lawyers is such an important part of our nation’s democratic tradition.

As many of you know, Judge Arena died a few years after his retirement from the bench.  Nevertheless, the memory of what he had to say that morning continues to serve as a personal inspiration for the work that I do on behalf of my clients and for our continuing efforts to preserve the civil jury trial.  I tried several cases before Judge Arena and he always made the jurors feel comfortable and stressed how important their role was in the trial.  But on that morning in September, 2001, he reminded all of us, lawyers, litigants and jurors that the right to a trial by jury is a cornerstone of our form of government and must be preserved for future generations.