December 12-18, 2002
The Philadelphia Bar Association is recognizing diversity. The new chancellor of the Bar Association is Audrey C. Talley, the first African-American woman to serve in this capacity.
She officially becomes chancellor in January and succeeds current chancellor Allan H. Gordon.
Andrew Chirls beat Allan K. Marshall in last Tuesday's election for vice chancellor and therefore will become the association's first openly gay vice chancellor.
About 500 lawyers and judges, all members of the Bar Association, attended a lunch and annual meeting on Tuesday to officially welcome Talley. The Chirls/Marshall election was going on throughout that day and Chirls was announced the winner Tuesday night.
Talley is a partner in the business and finance department at Drinker Biddle & Reath. She is originally from Nashville and decided to become a lawyer when, as a child, she saw the home of a civil rights lawyer firebombed because he was defending clients who wanted integration.
In her remarks to the Bar Association, Talley said that she felt the Association has come a long way.
And indeed it has. Talley is the first African-American woman to become chancellor, the second African American to be chancellor and the third woman to become chancellor.
The first African-American was Andre Dennis, who served in 1993. Deborah Willig and Doreen Davis preceded Talley, who will be the 76th chancellor.
Chirls mounted his campaign last year and networked with various organizations within the Bar Association. He has been with Wolf Block for 20 years and focuses on major tort cases. He heads up the $4-billion Fen-Phen settlement and also works on government cases involving eminent domain.
His partner of 24 years is Larry Frankel, the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Chirls said he did not campaign as an openly gay candidate but that he did not hide the fact either.
He said he feels that most people are aware because of the work he has done for the gay and lesbian community.
He was the first chair for the Committee for Legal Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men, was heavily involved in the Bar Association's committee that negotiated same-sex health benefits for members with an insurance carrier, and tried the first AIDS discrimination case in Pennsylvania.
"Out of the 13,000 members of the Bar Association, 200 may care about my sexual orientation and the rest will only focus on my image as a leader," said Chirls.
He added that with the new diversity of the Association, the organization can attract the best and the brightest in the legal field.
Also at Tuesday's event, Federal Judge Charles R. Weiner received the Bar Association's Bar Medal for recognition of his lifetime service to the region, state and nation.
Barbara Sicalides, a partner at Pepper Hamilton & Sheetz, was given the First Union Fidelity Award for her efforts with the Philadelphia Volunteers for Indigent Programs.
Talley said that the association intends to play an even more active role in next year's judicial elections. There will be elections for Common Pleas and Municipal Court here in the city.
In the past, the Bar Association favored merit selection of judges over political campaigning.
Judicial candidates, both local and on the appellate court, are at the mercy of ward leaders and must pay a lot of money to both the Democratic and Republican parties to ensure their election.
The Bar Association does not condone this process but, until the state laws change, partisan politics will remain in effect. The Bar Association prefers to rate all the candidates and recommend those deemed worthy. They then publicize these ratings so voters can be made aware.
"For the primary and general election next year, we will launch an unprecedented public education campaign that tells voters why it is important to select judges based solely on their qualifications for office. We will promote public awareness of the importance of an impartial judiciary," said Talley.
Aside from the vice-chancellor election, Bar Association members voted for the executive committee for the Young Lawyers Division. In order to vote, one must be 37 years old or younger, or have practiced less than three years.
Despite her name recognition, Fran Fattah, a daughter of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, lost. A former youth president at the NAACP and an intern in the White House General Counsel's office, she is now with the Schnader firm.
Judicial candidates have started to make the rounds for next year’s elections. The Democratic Women of Philadelphia’s annual soiree at the Swann Caterers in South Philly last Friday was a good stop.
Glenn Bronson, Holly Ford, Thomas Nocella, Joseph J. O’Neill, Doris Pechkurow, and Karen Zeitz are all running for Common Pleas Court next year.
There are as many as nine openings on that court.