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Oklahoma Bar Journal

Law Day 2020: A Day of Service and Outreach

By Ed Wunch

In just a few weeks’ time, we will have the opportunity to celebrate Law Day. The OBA is again sponsoring the Ask a Lawyer TV program on OETA. Although some events may be scaled back or cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawyers are still working to serve their communities. Law Day is also a chance for attorneys to help educate their neighbors about the role of the legal system in society.

Law Day began as a celebration of the role of law in society. Why is our legal system important? Since you are reading the bar journal, you probably have many good answers. However, members of the public may not have the same confidence. One study found 44% of nonlawyers find state courts intimidating. Still, courts remain more trusted than other government institutions.1

We are incredibly fortunate in Oklahoma to have a very accessible judiciary that is clearly invested in providing fair outcomes for litigants. Law Day is an opportunity to show the public the benefits of our system of government and to increase confidence in our legal system. The practice of law is demanding, so it can be challenging to find the time to perform outreach. We are privileged to have the opportunity to practice. Even an hour of outreach at local schools and community events is a small way that we can preserve confidence in our profession – and perhaps inspire future generations of lawyers from our communities to join us.

As part of the celebration of Law Day, many lawyers provide pro bono service by giving free legal answers during the statewide day of free legal advice, Ask A Lawyer. Last year, lawyers donated more than 400 hours of their time to assist more than 1,700 individuals. Whether or not they realize it, those lawyers were providing just the sort of public interest legal service encouraged by Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

During Ask a Lawyer, many questions from the public are straightforward. As lawyers, we are expert problem solvers. Some legal advice seems like common sense to us, but of course, that advice is informed by our education and practice. That is why we can assist so many individuals in just an average of about 15 minutes per call or email on Law Day.

Pro bono work like this can be some of the most rewarding work we do as lawyers. We are a service-based profession. Helping those who otherwise would go without assistance can be a great reminder of why we chose this path.

Since the 1950s, Oklahoma lawyers have celebrated Law Day. It is a great opportunity for us to come together to share our passion for the law with the public and to demonstrate the good work we do every day.

ASK A LAWYER TV SHOW

This year’s Ask A Lawyer program will air Thursday, April 1,
at 7 p.m. on OETA, Oklahoma’s public television station across the state. This year’s topics include medical marijuana law, military/veteran issues and a spotlight on the legal clinics at our law schools. OBA member Melissa DeLacerda will host the show.

The medical marijuana segment will feature Cushing attorney Doug Withiam. After the passage of State Question 788, Doug assisted his client with a licensing application to become a medical marijuana grower. He helped his client form her business, including preparing articles of organization. He also is assisting her with tax issues.

The clinic segment will feature Mimi Marton and Roni Amit, both professors at the TU College of Law. Roni will discuss the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic, which opened this semester. Mimi Marton shares about her work with a former client she assisted with immigration issues. Her client, Teresia, a native of Kenya, came to the United States for school. The client was suffering domestic violence at the hands of a U.S. citizen, and Mimi helped Teresia eventually become a U.S. citizen who now is a truck driver enjoying her “paid adventure” as she travels the country with her husband.

The military law segment will feature Legal Aid Services attorney Tiffani Oswald. She will share her experiences helping a son obtain an adult guardianship over his father who is a WWII veteran and another client, a single mother and U.S. Air Force veteran, who needed help with estate planning.

OBA President Susan Shields will share information about the website OklahomaFreeLegalAnswers.com, where income-eligible individuals can get free answers from volunteer attorneys. Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich will share her thoughts on this year’s theme and will recognize the Law Day contest winners.

CONTESTS AND ACTIVITIES

The OBA received entries from more than 1,200 students from across the state focused on this year’s theme, “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.” We received more entries this year than in 2019, with an impressive number of entries from counties outside the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas. A ceremony was held at the Supreme Court Courtroom at the Capitol on March 12 for first-place winners. See the names of all the winners and their winning entries online at www.okbar.org/lawday or in this issue.

FREE LEGAL ADVICE

For the 44th year, we are organizing the Ask A Lawyer community service project, providing free answers to Oklahomans’ legal questions. This year’s project will be Thursday, April 30. Oklahomans will have the option to email askalawyer@okbar.org with their question or to call the toll-free hotline to speak with an attorney.

Participating in Ask A Lawyer is a great way for all Oklahoma lawyers to celebrate Law Day. This annual event gives us the opportunity to provide a much-needed community service while promoting a positive public image of lawyers and the OBA.

Oklahoma and Tulsa County lawyers will work together to staff the statewide toll-free hotline from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Some counties will offer a local phone number for residents of those counties to reach a local attorney. Volunteer lawyers in each participating county staff phones at their local location for a predetermined time period and the numbers are advertised while the Ask A Lawyer TV program is airing.

Anywhere you live or work, your help is needed to make this community service project a success. It takes a total of 28 attorneys for each two-hour shift to fully staff the statewide number. That effort, combined with the local county bars and those answering email questions, creates a huge need for lawyers to step forward.

To volunteer, contact your local county Law Day chairperson, listed in this issue or online at www.okbar.org/lawday. If there is not a county chair listed for your county, please contact me at ed.wunch@laok.org.

DIRECTIVE AND PROCLAMATION

Chief Justice Noma Gurich is continuing the OBA Law Day tradition of issuing a Law Day Directive, encouraging courts to host Law Day events or to visit schools to speak on the role of the judiciary. Many members of our judiciary hold local events at their courthouses and in their communities. Gov. Kevin Stitt has also signed a proclamation designating April 30 as Law Day in Oklahoma.

GET INVOLVED

We urge you to participate by volunteering for the Ask A Lawyer free legal advice project or by contacting your local county bar and participating in the many activities occurring throughout the state. We are always seeking interested lawyers to get involved in the Law Day Committee and will very soon be planning next year’s activities. I am privileged to serve as the 2020 Law Day Committee chairperson, and I am encouraged by the support of members of the bar from across the state. If you have ideas for how to improve Law Day, I want to hear from you, and you would be welcome on the Law Day Committee. You can reach me at ed.wunch@laok.org.

SUFFRAGE IN OKLAHOMA

As we celebrate Law Day this year, the ABA has selected the theme “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100.” While the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote nationally, it had little effect in Oklahoma, since Oklahoma had granted women the right to vote in 1918.

Suffragists began their activism in Oklahoma even before statehood. In 1917, they convinced the Legislature to put the question to the vote of the people. On the secretary of state’s website, you can view documents related to State Question 97, including Senate Resolution 5 (written in longhand) that authorized the vote.2 As shown in a publication by the Oklahoma State Election Board, “[t]he gist of the proposition is that women be allowed universal suffrage.”3 On Nov. 5, 1918, SQ 97 passed with nearly 107,000 votes. With that vote, Oklahoma became the first southern state to grant women the right to vote.

When it came time for Oklahoma to ratify the 19th Amendment, some in the state still resisted the suffrage movement. Gov. Robertson refused to call a special session of the Legislature to consider ratification of the amendment. One notable suffragist, Aloysius Larch-Miller of Shawnee, debated the attorney general at a county convention that was considering calling for the special session. She defied doctor’s orders to attend the convention and as a result of her debate, the convention voted to call the special session. Unfortunately, she died of pneumonia the following day. As a result of the work of Ms. Larch-Miller and others like her, Oklahoma became the 33rd state to ratify the 19th Amendment on Feb. 28, 2020. In 1982, Ms. Larch-Miller was inducted into the first Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame.4

Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. On Aug. 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the Proclamation of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the United
States Constitution, making it law as of that date.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Wunch is a staff attorney with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc. His practice focuses on helping individuals with criminal justice debt navigate the legal system when they are unable to pay their fines and fees. He serves as the 2020 Law Day Committee chair, after serving as vice chair in 2019. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

Endnotes

1. National Center for State Courts, State of the State Courts - Survey Analysis, https://www.ncsc.org/~/media/Files/PDF/Topics/Public%20Trust%20and%20Confidence/SoSC_2019_Survey_Analysis_2019.ashx.

2. www.sos.ok.gov/documents/questions/97.pdf.

3. Oklahoma State Election Board, Directory of the State of Oklahoma, p. 138. 1921.

4. Linda D. Wilson, Oklahoma Historical Society, w.w.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=LA040.

 

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ Vol 91 No 4 (April 2020)