John E. Savoth officially took over as the newest chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association Tuesday, and outlined his upcoming plans for what is recognized as the oldest association of lawyers in America.
In his inaugural address during the association’s 2011 annual meeting, Savoth, a North Jersey native, said he credited his success, at least in part, to loving and supportive parents who taught him the “value of hard work, determination and perseverance.”
Savoth’s address, which took place during the group’s annual election of officers’ gathering Tuesday at The Hyatt at the Bellevue in downtown Philadelphia, was posted to the bar association’s website.
In his statement, Savoth also credited much of his professional success to colleagues who help “make this profession what it is,” those, he said, who are a “vital determining factor in the life of this city, this region, and yes – even our world.”
The transplanted Philadelphian, who was reared in neighboring New Jersey, also heaped much praise on the city itself, saying he’s honored to be able to practice law in a city where citizens are “proud of their cherished roots, and so accepting of many who travel here to make a life. It’s the rhythm, the soul, the love, the brotherly and sisterly love that embraces us.”
One of his best choices upon landing in Philadelphia, Savoth said in his address, was the decision to join the Philadelphia Bar Association.
“That’s how I met people,” he said. “That’s how I made connections. That’s how I learned about this town and its unique culture. That’s how I developed lasting, cherished friendships.
“And yes, it helped my career,” he continued. “And yes, I was able to network and gain business from it. And these are no small matters.”
But Savoth also seems to have taken issue with recent criticism of the civil trial division in Philadelphia County.
In an interview he gave to the Legal Intelligencer newspaper prior to his installation as chancellor, Savoth said he plans to use much of his time as head of the bar association to promote the civil section of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which he was quoted as saying is not as dire as some make it out to be.
“I’m sick of hearing from other parts of the state and the country that Philadelphia is a judicial hellhole,” Savoth told the newspaper.
The bar association chancellor was referring to a nickname given to the Philadelphia court system by the American Tort Reform Association late last year. The ATRA had named Philadelphia as among a handful of the worst civil court systems in the country, dubbing the city’s Court of Common Pleas a “judicial hellhole.”
In his interview with the Legal Intelligencer, Savoth, who does plaintiffs work but noted that many of his fellow bar association members represent defendants, said he aims to use some of his time in the spotlight to promote what he terms the successes of the city’s civil trial division.
“I just find it offensive that we’re constantly ridiculed for our system of justice when it’s the exact opposite so I want to promote it by really highlighting this case management program, but in the bigger picture [by highlighting] that justice delayed is justice denied,” he told the paper. “But that doesn’t happen here.”
In his inaugural address comments, Savoth spoke of how his colleagues at the Philadelphia firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, particularly well-known plaintiffs attorney Bob Mongeluzzi, have helped him grow in the legal field.
Mongeluzzi’s “passionate and relentless pursuit of justice serves as a guiding light every day,” Savoth said in his address.
Savoth said “the bar association enriches not just your work but your life. It makes your life more meaningful.”
Savoth also focused on the upcoming year, and outlined various initiatives he feels will make a difference in the lives of trial lawyers.
One such initiative will be to reach out to military servicemen and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and offering pro-bono legal assistance in areas that “impact their daily lives,” such as employment, housing, family law and wills and estates. The initiative will be titled the Military Assistance Program.
Another initiative Savoth outlined will be to expand the association’s Advancing Civics Education Program, or ACE, into an additional nine elementary schools throughout the School District of Philadelphia.
The program has lawyers and judges visiting various public schools throughout the city to teach civics lessons.
Savoth said in the coming year, the association would also continue focusing on additional pro bono service and community volunteerism.
“Today, the integrity of so many in our community is under constant assault and we have the talent, knowledge, work ethic and legacy of greatness to combat these problems, and, hopefully raise the hopes of those in need,” Savoth said in his address. “I am honored by this position and look forward to working for you in 2012.”
In addition to Savoth’s address, the bar association also chose new officers during its annual meeting Tuesday.
William P. Fedullo, of counsel to Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo, will serve as vice chancellor; Sophia Lee was named secretary; Joseph A. Prim, Jr., was elected treasurer; and five attorneys were chosen to sit on the association’s Board of Governors. The five are Jennifer Segal Coatsworth, Rainy Papademetriou, James A. Rocco, III, Eric H. Weitz and Kay Kyungsun Yu.