Public service drives New Orleans attorney as she prepares to lead the American Bar Association

By Mary Ann Magnell | Aug 14, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — For Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect of the American Bar Association (ABA), the fact that her term will fall within the centennial celebration of the adoption of 19th Amendment to the Constitution holds special meaning.  

“We need to make sure that we have full and meaningful participation of women and others who at some point in the history of our country were disenfranchised, or who still are today,” Martinez, a New Orleans attorney with Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn LLP, said in a telephone interview with the Louisiana Record.  

Martinez calls the adoption of the 19th Amendment, in August 1920, “the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country,” and the anniversary provides her with opportunity to educate the public about the country’s history and women’s right to vote.

Martinez intends to use the centennial events to “talk about the importance of voting and what that means for individuals to exercise their right to vote,” within many public settings during her 2019-2020 term as president of the American Bar Association. Although Martinez notes the significance of this event, she recognizes that it is just a small piece of her engagement in her leadership position with the ABA. 

Her next year will include planning and preparation for the role that she will take in August 2019, as well as supporting the current president of the ABA, Montana attorney Bob Carlson. 

At the end of this month, Martinez will accompany Carlson to Harlingen, Texas, to see the contributions of volunteer lawyers who are representing migrant families that have been separated, according the ABA’s website.

“We will be rolling up our sleeves and assisting clients down there,” Martinez said of the one-week visit in which she will be one of many lawyers providing pro bono work.

She notes that there are “innumerable lawyers who are stepping up to lend their pro bono help on an extended basis.” This help is not only needed at the border, she said, but it’s also needed in the cities across the country where people end up after they come to this country. 

“Immigration is such a critical legal need,” Martinez said. But for every legal need on immigration, she said, there needs to be “separate conversations” on other fronts as well. 

“There are so many other legal needs in this country that need to be addressed,” she said. She includes people facing evictions and women and children who are dealing with domestic violence among those in need. 

Further, she stated that the work that lawyers often do pro bono is “extraordinary, but we also need more of it.” 

Public service and pro bono work has always been an important part of Martinez's professional career. She said that even as a commercial litigator, she tried to incorporate contributions to her community. In 1986, she helped found the pro bono project to help low-income New Orleans residents navigate the court system. She has chaired the New Orleans Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, has been a member of the ABA House of Delegates since 1991 and currently serves as the vice president of the World Justice Project.

“When you have the opportunity to serve, it more often than not makes you a better lawyer, a better person and makes you a better citizen,” she said. 

Working one-on-one with clients who are facing legal problems helps her understand their challenges, she said. “That proximity to the cause is critically important in understanding what people are going through,” she said.

Martinez said her work in the ABA and its leadership has “afforded me a lot of opportunities to see the good work of the ABA and how it fulfills its missions."

“I’ve had a good chance to do a lot of listening,” she said of her leadership and service roles throughout the years. “As a consequence, I have a perspective that can be of some assistance and contribution with regard to how the ABA can help lawyers, as well as how we can close the justice gap.”   

Martinez said that during her term as president of the ABA she hopes to “further the goals and the mission of the ABA."

“My vision is really about the ABA’s vision,” she said.

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