Login | September 18, 2021

Akron Bar welcomes new president, Barberton-style

Immediate Akron Bar Association Past President Hamilton "Hal" DeSaussure Jr., left, catches up with Executive Director C. Allen Nichols, right, June 24 at the association's first in-person meeting in 15 months. (Photo by Tracey Blair/Legal News)

Barberton Law Director Lisa Miller is sworn in as the new Akron Bar Association president June 24 by retired Barberton Judge Gregory Macko. (Photo by Tracey Blair/Legal News)

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 23, 2021

Typically, the Akron Bar Association’s Annual Meeting is a formal, sit-down event held inside at a banquet hall.
But the past year was anything but typical, so Executive Director C. Allen Nichols and the rest of the Akron Bar staff wanted this year’s meeting to reflect that.
So on June 24, more than 170 association members gathered outdoors at The Piggery at Anna Dean Farm in Barberton to watch Barberton Law Director Lisa Miller be sworn in as the new bar president.
“We didn’t give Lisa a choice,” Nichols said with a laugh. “We said we wanted something a little bit more fun just because of coming out of COVID, and that we’d like to come to Barberton at this venue in her neck of the woods and she thought it was great.”
Prior to a farewell presentation to outgoing President Hamilton “Hal” DeSaussure, Jr., a partner at Brennan Manna Diamond, attendees mingled and dined outside in the sun on tacos, ribs and other treats from food trucks.
“I remember when I was nominated to be the Akron Bar president- which seems like a long, long time ago – the standing joke was the best thing about becoming president was becoming past president,” DeSaussure told the crowd.
But DeSaussure faced even bigger challenges than most presidents, taking over just before the height of the pandemic began and communicating with members only over Zoom.
“This is my first face to face meeting with members of the Bar Association as president,” he said. “When I started, I was looking at a camera and I did that the entire time I was president. In fact, I am wearing a tie now because I was never wearing a tie or anything other than shorts, so I wanted to dress it up a little bit. But I missed the memo it was casual.”
DeSaussure noted that at the beginning of his presidency, finances were so uncertain they didn’t do a full budget until October. But the Bar Association is now alive and well, he added.
“It’s been challenging for sure,” DeSaussure said. “But the Akron Bar Association’s staff and directors showed tremendous flexibility and creativity in sorting the waters of this. It was a hard year for the staff in particular. Staff reductions had to be made early on. We all struggled in our own practices, but the bar’s office was closed. It created uncertainty for the staff and uncertainty for the way things were going to go.”
Despite the more casual nature of the event, the program featured a full agenda.
Akron Municipal Court Judge Annalisa Stubbs-Williams led the invocation. Referencing more than a year of social distancing, the judge told attendees, “Please feel free to give me all the hugs you want.”
DeSaussure started the meeting by thanking various members of the bar association staff, including Membership Director Thomas Petropoulos.
“He added a whole tech side of things to facilitate web content,” DeSaussure said. “The Bar Association now can host CLE and meetings in both live video and conferencing, which is a huge benefit because if anybody tried to dial in on the phone in a board meeting that wasn’t working, it now works really good. Thomas stepped it up and really did a good job.”
Meanwhile, the association has been working on creative ways to increase membership, including automatically making every law student a member.
“We don’t make them pay, but the hope is that after four or five years, they’ll want to stay on and maybe become paying members,” DeSaussure said. “It’s really kind of an innovative approach.”
Meanwhile, the Bar Association is caught in the middle of another unusual thing going on in the legal community that had nothing to do with the pandemic – a dispute about which Summit County judges should appoint attorneys to felony cases.
“One of the weird things about this year is that unfortunately we have one set of courts suing another set of courts. The common pleas judges and some of the municipal courts are actually in court suing each other,” DeSaussure said. “This has created a dilemma for many of our practicing lawyers -particularly the criminal section – over the ability to attain criminal appointments and how that is done, not to mention the ongoing issue about indigent fees. We as Bar Association leadership have been approached by attorneys saying, `What do we do?’ We don’t have the ability to solve these issues, but hopefully we can bring to the light some of the practical realities our members face.”
On a more positive note, the past bar president encouraged members to visit the association building, which is reopening in July.
“It’s a lot brighter in there now. We finally put LED lights in,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this forever because it’s so expensive to put LED lights in, but it saves a lot of money on the electric bill. We were able to figure out some creative financing, and it’s remarkable how much brighter it is, so come on in.”
DeSaussure also took a moment to note that Akron Law School Dean Christopher “C.J.” Peters is stepping down from his post.
“Dean Peters was an active partner of the Bar Association,” he said. “We’re working on getting more faculty to become members.”
The past president also thanked the association’s executive director for managing to put together a balanced budge for next year – which was not a certain thing in 2020.
“We are in good financial shape,” DeSaussure said. “We have new revenue sources, particularly with the Ohio Notary Service, which is now starting to develop a source of revenue for the Akron Bar Association.”
The meeting concluded with the administration of oaths given by retired Barberton Judge Gregory Macko.
“It’s very humbling and a huge honor, and I’m very excited to have people in my hometown tonight to celebrate,” Miller said of becoming the association’s president.