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An Interview with CCE's new Board Chair and President

CCE staff recently interviewed our new Board Chair, Marie Johns, and Board President, Irvin Nathan. Learn about their priority areas for 2015 and beyond below.

How did you first come in contact with/ hear about CCE?

Marie: I have known about CCE for years back to the Sam Harahan days. I had the privilege to work for Del Lewis many years ago and he actually introduced me to Sam and the Council’s excellent work.

Irv: I first came into contact with the Council  more than 30 years ago when I was approached by then-president Charlie Horsky and then-executive director Sam Harahan to participate on a committee that was charged with developing proposed changes to the probate system at the Superior Court. Although my practice in general litigation at Arnold & Porter was not focused on trusts and estates or probate, I found the experience very rewarding. It was an excellent committee of dedicated practitioners, judges and lay folks, and we made a number of recommendations that were accepted and hopefully expedited and simplified the process. Several years later I participated in a committee, chaired by Michael Hays, to improve the grand jury system in both the federal District Court and the Superior Court. Once again, I found the experience quite positive because the discussion was on a very high level and I thought the resulting proposals were quite constructive, even if not all were adopted. Of course, when I was DC Attorney General, I was an ex officio director of CCE. In addition at that time, representatives of CCE met with me on several occasions to discuss matters of interest to the Council and city, including the establishment of an independent laboratory to do objective analyses for criminal cases. When I was AG, I was asked to co-chair, along with federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a committee of judges, practitioners, analysts and former jurors looking at ways to improve the jury system in our courts in DC. The Committee has worked very hard and diligently over the last year, with the dedicated help of CCE staffer Zach Zarnow,  and I hope the report will be published this fall. In all of these interactions, I found the work of CCE to be first rate and I was very honored to be asked by the Nominations Committee to stand for election to be President this year.

In your new positions (as Board Chair and President), what do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?

Marie: As board chair, I see my primary role as a champion for the organization across the broader community--the civic and business sectors in particular. I will be focused on helping to bring new members and new resources to support the Council’s work.

Irv: I am very impressed by the quality of the staff at CCE and the nature of the dozen or so projects that are already underway, including of course the jury project. My first short-term goal is to make sure that we retain the excellent staff that our outstanding Executive Director, June Kress, has assembled and that each of the pending projects comes to fruition in timely fashion over the next 18 months. These include a  project to help the previously incarcerated find jobs, to evaluate the DC Office of Administrative Hearings, to combat legal consultant fraud in the immigrant community, and to continue our work in the juvenile justice system in the District. I also want to help make the Council’s work more visible in both the legal and business community and particularly to impress upon the business  community that it too has a vital stake in an excellent local justice system to resolve disputes fairly and expeditiously both with private parties and with the government.

In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue facing DC's justice system or DC in general?

Marie: I am very concerned about the egregious imbalances that affect men and boys of color in the criminal justice system and the destabilizing impact on communities in Washington, DC. We must continue to work together to develop policies, strategies and programs that stem the pipeline to prison flow.

Irv: On the civil side, I believe the most pressing issue is access to justice so that people in our community who need legal help can receive it from the local bar. On the criminal side,  I think it is imperative that prosecutorial judgments reflect local values and that trials reach the correct result so that no innocent individuals are convicted. More specifically, I believe Congress and the DC Council should be considering  what role the local elected Attorney General should have in prosecuting local crime and what access defense counsel should have to material information before trial.

How can CCE help address that issue?

Marie: CCE’s experience and effectiveness as a convener across broad sections of the community could play a critical role in bringing together the various constituencies needed to develop sustainable solutions.

Irv: On all of these issues, I believe CCE can study the issues and, with its stellar reputation for objectivity and proposing improvements in  the administration of justice in our city,  make its views known to Congress, the DC Council and the local courts. I also believe we can rally support for our proposals from the local legal and business communities.

Tell us about your background.

Marie: I am the founder and President of L&L Consulting LLC and have been a leader in the business community and government service for more than 30 years.  From 2010 through June 2013, I was the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In addition to other duties, I had the privilege of serving as the chair of the President’s Interagency Task Force on Veterans’ Small Business Development.  I also was the force behind “Start Young,” an SBA/Department of Labor initiative that provides entrepreneurial training to Job Corps students and encourages them to use their technical skills to start a business. Prior to government service, I held senior positions in the telecommunications industry, including serving as President of Verizon Washington.  I earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, later served as a board member for the Indiana University Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, and served as CCE's Board Chair from 2008 to 2009 when I left for the Small Business Administration.

Irv:  Very briefly, I have been a litigator in public service and in private practice in DC for over 45 years. After my clerkship with a wonderful mentor, Judge Simon Sobeloff of the Fourth Circuit, I began as a general litigation associate and then partner at Arnold & Porter. After serving as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, I returned to the firm and my practice focused on white collar criminal defense, internal investigations and complex commercial fraud matters, often representing victims. I also had the honor of serving as the General Counsel of the U,.S. House of Representatives under Speaker Pelosi (2007-2010)  and as the appointed Attorney General for the District of Columbia (2011-2014) under Mayor Gray. I have also been active in local bar matters, serving as a Member and later Vice Chairman of the Board on Professional Responsibility (2004-08) and Chair of the DC Bar Ethics Committee (1999-2001).

What other nonprofits/areas of interest do you support?

Marie: I am a soft touch for a good cause so my list of volunteer engagements is extensive. A partial list of affiliations include: Board of Trustees, Howard University; Girl Scouts Women’s Advisory Council; Board Chair, DC Trust; Active member, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Irv: My other principal non-profit to which I devote time is the Frederick B. Abramson Foundation, which provides college scholarships and mentoring to highly deserving but financially needy local high school graduates.  I think it is critical for the future of our community that we help these young people get a solid education and then hopefully they will return to this city and dedicate their efforts for the betterment of those coming up behind them. Of course, my wife and I also provide financial support to several non-profit organizations, such as the Legal Aid Society, the DC Bar Pro Bono program, the Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy and the local Girl Scout Council.

What's a hobby or activity you like to do in your spare time?

Marie: I love to read, I love to cook and I thoroughly enjoy attending artistic performances--music, theatre, dance, you name it!

Irv: I am a pathetic but enthusiastic golfer, a middling doubles tennis player and I love to spend as much time as I can with the grandkids. I also like reading (mostly history and other non-fiction)  and rooting for both the Nats and the Orioles.

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