The Capital District Black Bar Association (“CDBBA”), predecessor to the recently formed and renamed Capital District Black & Hispanic Bar Association (“CDBHBA”), was formed in the early 1980’s by Bernard Bryan and Randy Treece to serve the needs of attorneys of color whose ranks were beginning to swell. As the number of African-American attorneys increased – approximately 90 – it was quite evident that their presence in traditional Bar associations was obscure. For more than two decades, CDBBA’s efforts centered on increasing the number of attorneys of color, promoting their presence in the profession of law, promoting professional and social interaction among its members, and lending a public voice on those challenging issues that confront the Capital District. Thus, from its inception, the CDBBA’s mission focused on providing a meaningful presence for local minority attorneys not only in the legal community but in all communities within the region.
CDBBA tackled the troublesome issue of retention at Albany Law School, which in the early 1980s was experiencing a significant problem in retaining matriculating students of color. CDBBA devised a mentoring program whereby members of this association were assigned to first year students of color to develop a rapport and help, if necessary, to develop solutions to their needs. Positive retention results eventually ensued and Albany Law School embraced our program to such a degree that it created its own mentoring system for students of color.
During the 1980s it was revealed that nationally, law school graduates of color had lower passing rates on the bar exam than other students. Therefore, CDBBA developed personal, hands-on techniques, by both classroom instruction and individual tutoring, to promote success in passing the bar exam. In addition to instruction by its members, CDBBA invited regional experts on this issue to lend guidance to the students and we further obtained grants and funding to help students meet their most pressing financial needs during the bar exam preparation period. Once again, a CDBBA program was recognized and replicated throughout the State.
CDBBA spoke out on many legal and social controversies that have confronted our community. We spoke out and were heard and/or published on such matters as police brutality, civilian review board, merit selection of judges, continuing legal education, diversity in the profession and the judiciary, to name a few. For example, CDBBA participated in a public dialogue on the dearth of people of color on jury venires throughout the Capital District region. Indeed, the absence of people of color on criminal juries contributes to the perception that justice is not color-blind in our community. In 1992 CDBBA embarked upon a study of this delicate and controversial issue.
A CDBBA report, “How Far We Have Come Since The Magna Carta: Jury of One’s Peers: Jury Panels, Minorities, and the Third and Fourth Judicial Districts” – cogently discussed the development of the law impacting upon jury selection, identified systemic problems with the then current process, and made ten suggestions to improve the selection process to increase people of color on our juries. These suggestions were analyzed and accepted by judicial policy analysts and became a significant foundation for legislation in 1995 that fundamentally changed the entire jury process. The New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”) bestowed upon CDBBA and the report’s principal contributor, Randy Treece, its Roots Stimson Award for community service by a bar association.
We also sponsored a “lawyer in the classroom” program where several CDBBA members went into the high schools to talk about what it takes to become a lawyer, the demands and rewards of practicing law , and about the important roles lawyers play in our society, which is of course premised upon the rule of law. CDBBA was also active for a time in the community conducting community legal forums for organizations like the old Urban League and others.
Attorneys of color in private practice are regrettably, virtually invisible in this community notwithstanding that more than 100 attorneys of color have made their homes and stake out their professional life here. In conjunction with the Albany County Bar Association and Albany Law School, CDBBA proposed various plans for recruitment of lawyers of color by private law firms. Over the years, these proposals had barely contributed a “spit or sputter” to diversifying private law firms. After several failed efforts, in 2000, CDBBA, Franklin H. Williams Commission on Minorities in the Judiciary, and the Albany County Bar Association held a roundtable discussion on diversity in the private sector. Attending this discussion were Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals Judith S. Kaye, Associate Justice George Bundy Smith and Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, Justices for the Appellate Division and Supreme Court, Bar leaders, representatives from Albany Law School and the 25 largest law firms. That candid discussion on race, the law and diversity spawned the Diversity Internship Program, now being administered by the Albany County Bar Association, with the mission of exposing law students of color and law firms to each other, hopefully eliminating the perception of exclusion and avoidance and fostering an atmosphere of inclusive employment opportunities for lawyers and potential lawyers of color. The program continues today and is now in its fifth year.
No other issue aroused the passion of the CDBBA as much as the absence of judges of color. Elevating persons of color to serve within the judiciary strikes at a fundamental flaw in our judicial system. For nearly a decade, a gallant effort was pursued to have a judge of color either appointed or elected but with little results. Finally in 2001, CDBBA’s efforts produced two appointments to the judiciary: Randolph F. Treece as United States Magistrate Judge to the Northern District on April 21, 2001 and in the same year, William Carter was appointed then eventually elected as a Judge to Albany City Court. These appointments notwithstanding, efforts to diversify the judiciary must persist with renewed vigor for much more in this area remains to be done.
In the new millennium, the CDBBA, now under the auspices of the larger and recently reorganized Capital District Black & Hispanic Bar Association, having joined forces with Hispanic and other minority attorneys in the Capital District must continue to build on some of the successes and activities of the early CDBBA. Black, Hispanic and other minority attorneys in the Capital District must likewise continue to forge even stronger relationships with other local, state, and national bar associations and support their programs as we seek support for ours, and must continue in the rich tradition of advocating for changes where needed and assisting in the never-ending struggle for equal justice under law and the promotion of real diversity on the bench and in the bar. These are compelling goals for all attorneys and bar associations, minority and non-minority alike.
by Judge Randy Treece
Short bio, Judge Treece: Judge Treece is the first African-American to be appointed to the federal judiciary in the Northern District of New York and the first person of color to be appointed or elected to the judiciary at any level, state or federal, in 104 years in upstate New York.