Commissioner’s Column: 2022 in Review

Gary L. Cooper
Sixth and Seventh Districts

Clear Water drop with circular waves

By the time this is published we will be at or near the end of the first quarter of 2023.  However, I am writing this just as the new year dawns.  So, bear with me as I review 2022.  It was not a great year in my opinion.  We lost some important members of the Bar, the stock market tanked causing many to delay plans for retirement, and our beloved University of Idaho suffered an excruciating loss of four students.  However, there was much that was good about 2022, which I predict bodes well for the coming 2023.

Our court system emerged in 2022 from the pandemic stronger than ever in my estimation.  A case in which I was involved was scheduled to go to trial in January of 2022, but was postponed because of another COVID wave.  That was disappointing, but by February or March cases were getting tried and the pandemic backlog was beginning to slowly disappear.  During the year we lawyers continued to take advantage of experience learned during the pandemic which included remote hearings, depositions, and mediations.

Those three uses of Zoom, or other similar platforms, will make litigation less expensive and will vastly improve scheduling flexibility for every lawyer in Idaho who is engaged in litigation.  That is something good which came out of the pandemic.  In December, I tried a jury trial where we presented several witnesses by Zoom.  It was not perfect, but in comparison to canned depositions taken for trial which are too long, too boring, and always slightly out of touch with developments during trial, I think witnesses presented by Zoom are a huge improvement.  Again, that saved our clients a significant amount of money and contributed to more efficient use of the time in the courtroom.

The Idaho State Bar welcomed members to Twin Falls in July for the annual meeting.  It was held at a smaller venue which made the crowd seem larger than it was.  The views from the rim overlooking the Snake River were amazing and the weather could not have been better.  Everybody in attendance was genuinely happy to see each other in person.  The highlight for all in attendance was the presentation of the Distinguished Jurist Awards to the Honorable Candy W. Dale and Honorable Christopher M. Bieter.  Equally enjoyable were the Distinguished Lawyer Awards to J. Ford Elsaesser, Trudy Hanson Fouser, and William L. Mauk.  The only surprise was that these distinguished lawyers had not received this award earlier.

It was evident that part of the strength of the Idaho Bar is that we do interact with each other in person outside of the courtroom.  The bonds created by personal contact are priceless.  Celebrating the careers of this year’s Distinguished Jurists and Lawyers with my fellow bar members was one of the year’s most memorable highlights.  It was also inspiring to hear about the Outstanding Young Lawyers who received awards.  I am convinced the profession is in good hands going forward after hearing about their accomplishments.

I do not want to over emphasize “in person” meetings.  There is a place for remote participation in our meetings and we need to encourage and improve how that participation is made available to the members of the Bar.  I was initially resistant to remote participation because of how much I value “in person” contact with other lawyers.  However, after listening to several presenters over this past year and hearing from one of my fellow commissioners who has a young family, I am changing my mind.  I now believe to advance the goal of inclusivity, which is a commitment each of us needs to make, we should consider and include remote participation for all meetings.  I am convinced this will aid us in our efforts.

The 2022 Roadshow was another highlight for me.  My fellow commissioners and I traveled to all seven judicial districts and met with members of the Bar from each of those districts.  We watched as the members of each district presented deserving members with the Professionalism Awards and Denise O’Donnell Day Pro Bono Awards.  I enjoyed the presentation of the Richard C. Fields Professionalism Award to Andrew Brassey.  He is a very deserving recipient of this prestigious award.  I met many lawyers at the roadshow meetings who I had not previously met.  Each of them was eager to serve their local bar association, participate in its activities, and they all were excited to be practicing law.  That was encouraging and perhaps a good sign for the profession in the coming years.

During 2022 we lost some memorable lawyers, three of whom I had the privilege of knowing very well – Bob Alexander from Twin Falls, Bill Olson from Pocatello, and Mark Nye from Pocatello.  Bob Alexander always seemed genuinely happy to see me when I stopped by his office in Twin Falls.  He was a really good lawyer and a really good mediator.  I practiced with Bill Olson and Mark Nye for 23 years before I opened my own office.  I spent many memorable days in the field hunting and fishing with Bill.  He was always happy to make room for the kids and the dogs on our adventures which made it a lot easier for me to justify why I was hunting and fishing on the weekends.  Mark Nye was one of the smartest guys I ever met.  His dry sense of humor left me wondering what I had missed in the conversation more times than I care to remember.  In his later years he did so much for Idaho with his service in the Idaho Senate and his service to Idaho State University.  Each practiced law for a long time, improved the profession while they practiced it, and made me a better lawyer along the way. I will miss them.  I know I am not alone.

For every Idaho Vandal out there, the year ended in a dark place.  Idaho law enforcement agencies were criticized by the pundits so mercilessly that most of the rest of the country just assumed that they were not up to solving a horrible crime which occurred in Moscow before Thanksgiving.  But when the probable cause affidavit was published early in January 2023, Idahoans rightfully took pride as the pundits changed their tune and called local law enforcement “geniuses” for their diligent investigation and use of modern technology.  I am confident that the rule of law is alive and well in Idaho.  Our judicial system benefits from an independent judiciary and highly competent prosecutors and defenders who will assure that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are vindicated.  As lawyers we should take every opportunity to reinforce this with our friends and neighbors.

I am glad 2022 is in the rear-view mirror, but I am confident 2023 is going to be a great year to live and work in Idaho.  I hope everyone who reads this will join us in person or by remote means at the Annual Meeting in Boise this July.  See you then.

Gary L. Cooper was raised in Idaho. He received an undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Idaho. He has practiced in Pocatello since 1975. For the last 23 years, he has practiced with his good friends, Reed Larsen and Ron Kerl. He and his wife, Jane, have three children and five grandchildren.