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Bar trips could get high court scrutiny

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Supreme Court of Virginia will review recommendations from a study panel considering the future of overseas legal seminars organized by the Virginia State Bar.

The study – now underway – was sparked by criticism arising from the bar’s decision to cancel plans for a trip to Israel this November.

Bar leaders were responding to pressure based on Israeli travel policies that single out Arabs and other visitors for special scrutiny or even bans on travel. Israeli sympathizers accused the bar of caving to pressure from Israel’s enemies.

VSB president Kevin E. Martingayle said he heard concerns from the Supreme Court not long after the March controversy through a routine conference call with Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons.

Among the court’s concerns, according to Martingayle:

  • The small percentage of bar members who participate in the Midyear Legal Seminars
  • Whether the midyear seminar is central to the mission of the VSB
  • Whether the risk of foreign excursions is worth the benefits

Addressing the executive committee of the VSB Council Wednesday, Martingayle noted the Supreme Court controls the future of the midyear seminar.

“At the end of the day, we are an agency of the Supreme Court. If they want, they have the power to cancel the trips. They don’t have to say why, either,” Martingayle said.

In early May, Martingayle named a seven-member panel to consider whether the midyear seminar fit the mission of the VSB and, if so, what criteria should guide its planning.

Although Martingayle formed the study panel without direction from the court, he said Lemons “seemed to think it was a good idea.”

While “flying under the flag of Virginia,” Martingayle said, “we have to be very careful and very accommodating to everybody.”

He said he expected the report to conclude that the travel program was worthwhile.

“The plan is to turn that over to the chief justice,” Martingayle said.

“He can do with it as he sees fit,” he added later.

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