Montco legal community celebrates Law Day

Montgomery County judges attend the annual Law Day celebration sponsored by Montgomery Bar Association on Thursday, May 1, 2014. (Photo by Carl Hessler Jr./21st Century Media)

NORRISTOWN — With the theme “Why Every Vote Matters,” Montgomery County’s legal community gathered Thursday to celebrate Law Day.

“The right to vote is the very foundation of government by the people and is one of the simplest yet most powerful duties we hold as citizens. We must continue to emphasize the work of our founding fathers and protect every citizen’s right to be heard and right to vote,” President Judge William J. Furber Jr. said during his opening remarks to the crowd of more than 100 that gathered in the county’s ceremonial courtroom for the annual celebration.

Referring to the approaching 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the judge said, “This year’s Law Day theme calls on every American to reflect on the significance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges we still face to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to participate in our democracy.”

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The annual program included an admission ceremony and introduction of the Montgomery Bar Association’s newest members, who were greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.

“This is a relationship that has been cultivated over the years and allows us to work hand-in-hand to provide the framework necessary to promote the practice of law in Montgomery County,” Furber said to the latest inductees.

Judge Gail A. Weilheimer, who joined the county bench in January, said the law is “a time-honored profession because every day we have the opportunity to help others.” Keeping with the day’s theme, Weilheimer reviewed the history of voter rights in the U.S.

“Unfortunately, too many people don’t exercise this right that we have. You hear repeatedly on Election Day ‘My vote doesn’t count.’ But we know from history and the recent past that every vote does count,” said Weilheimer, referring to the 2000 presidential election and a recent commissioners’ race in Abington that were “unbelievably close.” “Every vote counts but in order to have your vote count you have to show up. Each of our voices has a right to be heard.”

During the celebration, the bar association’s Henry Stuckert Miller Public Service Award was presented to Joseph P. Lynch of Jeffersonville, for his dedication to serving legal aid clients and his leadership.

Montgomery Bar Association President Michael F. Rogers presented county Assistant Public Defender Kathryn L. “Kate” Taxis with the Courthouse Employee Award, which is given each year to a public employee “who has provided outstanding service to Montgomery County citizens on a daily basis.” Taxis, of Norristown, who also served as a county social worker, is the daughter of the late county Judge Alfred L. Taxis Jr., who served on the bench from 1954 to 1998. Taxis paid homage to her dad during her remarks.

“I don’t know whether the courthouse is my first home or my second home,” said Taxis, recalling that as a child she would accompany her father to the courthouse each Sunday after church when he would stop by to pick up work. “The courthouse was always something that I knew as a place to be. We would sit in his chair and in his chambers. He was my inspiration. He encouraged me. He didn’t discourage me when I decided to go to law school. I think he was pleased that I chose public service, working for the county.”

Taxis said she was “flattered and humbled” by the recognition.

“What I do as an employee here is a reflection, a culmination, of a lot of people and their work efforts. I couldn’t be what I am today without the help and assistance of all the people that work with me. They carry me through this. We’re dedicated to serving those who need a voice,” Taxis added.

Juan I. Guerra, of ACLAMO Family Centers in Pottstown and Norristown, an organization that provides access to educational, economic, health and community support to mostly Latino low-income individuals, was presented with the association’s public service award.

During the celebration, TJ Cole, Jack Pechet, Eli Wachs, Jack Henderson, Jackson Simon and John Zipf, students of The Haverford School, were honored for winning the association’s annual mock trial competition. Their teacher coaches, Carmen Mateos-Hirshman and Jameson Maley, and their advisor, well-known criminal defense lawyer Frank DeSimone, beamed with joy as the students were honored.

The celebration also included comments by Michael E. Furey, chair of the association’s Law Day Committee and Bruce Pancio, president-elect of the association.

Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews