THE HONOURABLE JANET RENO
ADDRESS TO THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA
AUGUST 3, 1998
---Commencing at 2:25 p.m.
HER HONOUR: Thank you very much. I stood
before this Bar Association in New York City during my
first year as Attorney General. I told you then that I was
proud to be a lawyer in this country. After five years in
office, I am prouder than ever before of my colleagues
across this land. And what you do for this nation, for its
people, for its communities and for the rule of law. I
have seen you and your colleagues at work on so many
different occasions. Just hearing of Bill Gossett reminded
me of the influence that he had on me and how he touched my
life. I see so many people in this room who have touched
the lives of so many and made their impact felt on this
nation. You have made such a difference.
But we now have an opportunity to turn what
has been a temporary victory into a lasting contribution
for this nation, a contribution that can last for some
generations to come. Violent crime is down six years in a
row. Juvenile violent crime is down two years in a row.
So many people and so many institutions can claim credit,
and properly so. But that is not the issue. The issue is
how do we make that reduction last? And the greater
challenge is how do we end the culture of violence in this
nation? Despite our successes, we are still one of the
most violent civilized nations in the world. At the door
of the Capitol and in the school rooms of this country, we
have too often seen the searing tragedy of violence. Gun
related violence represents a major threat to the health
and safety of all Americans.
In the five years from 1992 to 1996, the
city in which we're meeting now, Toronto, experienced
exactly a hundred gun homicides. Chicago, an American city
of comparable size had 3,063 gun homicides. Every day in
America 100 people die from gun related injuries. This
rate of mortality is roughly equivalent to that associated
with HIV infection, the disease which has been recognized
as an epidemic. Thus, reducing the number of injuries and
deaths inflicted by others must clearly continue to be a
Now this nation can respond to the six year
reduction in crime as we have done before. We can become
complaisant; we can turn to other issues and we can quickly
watch it go back up. Or we can renew our efforts to make a
lasting difference in this nation. I hope and I believe
with all my heart that lawyers will choose the latter
course and devote their abilities to solve the knotty
problems, to bring people together to advocate for the poor
and to end the culture of violence in America.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an
extraordinary opportunity. We have relative prosperity.
We have some budget surpluses. We have the know-how. We
have a spirit in this country that says we can do it
because we have been doing it. And we have seen lawyers at
the forefront of all these efforts across this country.
Let's not lose this challenge now. We do not have to be
the most violent nation in the world.
Let me give you some examples of how lawyers
have led the way. Twenty years ago as a prosecutor in
Miami, people referred to domestic violence cases as "a
domestic", unimportant. The case would be dismissed.
Nobody was interested in it and it would go away. Today,
because of the work of lawyers across this nation and this
association, a domestic in most jurisdictions is something
very important. It is a way of ending the cycle of
violence. It is way of letting children know that there
will be an answer and that violence is not a way of life.
This association has been heard in so many forums on this
issue. Judges and prosecutors across the country have
developed courts and one stop shopping so that victims of
domestic violence don't have to go from place to place and
fall between the cracks.
I have watched private practitioners serving
in pro bono capacities, serving clients who need support
and assistance. They are serving on boards. They are
directors of shelters. They are making a difference. I
have seen the force of lawyers in state legislatures and in
Congress and I have seen lawyers lobbying for the passage
of the Violence Against Women Act. Lawyers, I can say
unequivocally, have done more than any other profession to
bring the problem of domestic violence to the fore and to
start doing something about it. But we must do more. We
must take the opportunities we have with the monies
available through the Violence Against Women Act and make
sure that courts are established across this country that
focus on domestic violence with the tools they need to do
something about ending the cycle.
We need to develop a system in this country
of full faith and credit for the orders of one court in
another state. This has been a difficult problem. But if
lawyers put their ingenuity to it, if they can their "can
do" hats on, we can develop a system in this country where
a protective order in one court can automatically be given
credence in another court. And a police officer with
modern technology can tap into that order and make it
available and real to that victim who for too long had been
told,"Sorry, you have to go file suit in this court and get
another order because this one isn't valid."
We have got to make sure that we have
statistics that are fair and accurate and enable us to plan
strategy that can end this violence. We need to focus on
children who have observed the violence and make sure that
they have counseling, that let's them know, this isn't
real. This doesn't have to be.
One of my proudest moments has been to see
the President of the American Bar Association standing
shoulder to shoulder with the President of the American
Medical Association as they deal together with the public
health and the criminal justice impact of domestic
violence. But that is not the only place that lawyers have
led the way.
In 1988, I chaired a Task Force On Substance
Abuse. In those days there was no course work in
addictionology in any major medical school in this country.
Who was leading the way? Lawyers were leading the way in
court rooms across this country, as they dealt with the
issues of crack and addiction and drug and alcohol abuse.
And lawyers, both prosecutors and public defenders, were
standing before the courts saying, "Yes, we can treat this.
Somehow or another we're going to figure out a way to do
it and it can work." As a result, most people in America
have seen the benefits of treatment, either through a
family member, a neighbour, a fellow employee or someone
they knew casually.
In 1989, the judiciary established one drug
court in Miami, Florida. Nobody knew what would happen.
Today there are over 300 drug courts in this nation and 150
on the planning board. And the DA in Denver can turn to me
and say, "This has done as much as anything else to reduce
violence in my jurisdiction."
Lawyers have led the way and we can continue
to lead the way to make a difference. In sentencing
offenders to treatment rather than prison, these drug
courts take a problem solving, collaborative approach to
reduce crime and substance abuse. The judges in these
courts have been bold enough to rethink traditional roles
and to work with other law enforcement and social service
professionals in solving the problems of their
communities. These are judges that know when to come down
hard on somebody and when to give them a figurative pat on
the back, when to give them another chance and when to send
them to prison. These programs can work if we rethink and
use our sense of innovation to make the judiciary
responsive to the true problems this nation faces.
But again, the success of this common sense
concept is due to the innovation and the commitment of
lawyers like you. We have got to do more. We have got to
develop a system for providing treatment to people who
demand it and need it. Today there are too many waiting
lists for people who can't get treatment because they can't
afford it. And yet we have a situation where if someone
drove drunk up a highway tonight, north of Washington,
plowed into a car, killed three people and broke his two
arms, his two arms would be set tonight in a public
hospital somewhere in the Washington/Baltimore area. He
would get treatment. But the person pleading for treatment
may not get it.
Let's use the creativity in this room to
develop systems of delivery that can make a difference.
Let us develop comprehensive community justice programs
that provide justice within neighbourhoods and
responsiveness to community problems. Let's develop
prevention programs that work. Together we can end the
culture of violence in this nation. But we will not
achieve that goal until we help America understand that
guns kill and that every day in America, one hundred people
die from gun related injuries. They don't have to.
Toronto is not as violent as Chicago. Canada is not as
violent as America. We don't have to be that violent. Let
us create a new frontier for lawyers to show again what
they can do.
I commend the House of Delegates for taking
up the proposed Resolution 10-E, supporting a comprehensive
end to gun violence in schools. It is absolutely essential
that we implement comprehensive strategies for addressing
violence, one which includes tough prosecution at the
federal and state levels, but which also provide for strong
prevention and intervention programs. The proposed
resolution recognizes that to successfully reduce firearm
injuries and fatalities, we must fit all the pieces of the
Lawyers can lead the way in doing that and I
suggest one basic principle. There can be very few people
in the United States who disagree with the proposition that
no one should possess a gun unless they know how to safely
and lawfully use it and evidence a willingness and a
capacity to do so. Let us implement that precept. Let us
implement that across every state in this nation so we have
some understanding that children who are unsupervised
should not have access to weapons. People with mental
illness in certain circumstances should not have access.
People under a protective order should not have access.
Let us use the law to make sense of this problem that
generates such violence in this nation.
We must implement school based conflict
resolution and peer mediation programs that teach young
country in terms of such dispute resolution efforts was a
program in the San Antonio schools led by the Young Lawyers
Association, again an example of lawyers reaching out into
their communities to make a difference. We need to teach
these young people that guns kill and maim for life. We
need to teach these young people that television and
gratuitous violence is not real, that guns really do kill.
They are not status symbols. They are not glamorous and
they are not the right way to resolve conflicts. But we
have more to do about guns. For its not just in the
I urge you to look beyond the schools and
remember the headlines of your newspaper or the six o'clock
news which has too often in these last ten years talked
about the child gunned down by a drive-by shooting, by
children killed in the streets, by people killed by
violence and guns. We have got to make sure that our
approach to guns is universal. It includes a federal,
state and local effort, a partnership that can truly make a
difference. But again, we see that one of the innovative
and successful programs started in one of the communities
of this nation was a product of lawyers thinking.
One impressive example of this type of
innovation is the Juvenile Gun Court in Birmingham,
Alabama. A family court judge there, Judge Sandra Storm,
collaborated with police, prosecutors, probation officers
and others to create a court program that sends a message
to juvenile offenders that when they are found in
possession of a gun, there will be swift, sure and firm
consequences. We have seen the same collaborative problem
solving approach in Boston, Minneapolis, Baltimore, the East
Bay Public Safety Corridor of California and in other towns
and cities across the nation.
Boston is a classic example of the state DA
and a US attorney working together to make sure that all
cases are appropriately prosecuted, but they are doing
more. They are working with judges to understand how we
can intervene with children who have been the victims or
observers of violence to make a difference in their lives
and to let them know that it doesn't have to be.
The bottom line is that lawyers can change
our country's attitude about guns. We can do so much to
end gun violence. And if we really work hard at it and if
we continue to be committed, we can end the culture of
violence in this nation. But there is one further aspect
that must be explored as we consider this. Lawyers have
done so much to protect the innocent, to protect the rights
of accused, to give people a sense that they can make a
difference in their lives, that they have a voice, that
they have a power and that they simply are not just a
number. But there are too many young people, too many
people who feel disenfranchised, left out, powerless,
unable to chart their course, and to make a difference. We
must make sure that our profession does everything it
possibly can to make sure that everyone in our country is
represented in appropriate occasions and we must do
everything possible to see that the indigent have an
appropriate legal defense.
I have seen the case of the man prosecuted
and convicted and sentenced to death for the poisoning
death of his seven children. I was asked by the Governor
to go to another jurisdiction in the state to reinvestigate
the case. I told the court that he should be set free.
And for as long as I live, I will remember looking over my
shoulder in that old court house and watching that man walk
out free for the first time. We cannot let the law make
mistakes. And if they are made, we must all rally to
correct them. I am so proud to be a lawyer in the United
States and I am so proud to be a member of this association
and to see what you have done in Eastern Europe, on the
streets of America and in our court houses. I salute you
Carol Denman, CSR