Montco Bar President Urges Diversity in Leadership
Amaris Elliott-Engel

2011-01-20 12:00:00 AM

As Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio begins her year of leadership of the Montgomery Bar Association in 2011, one of her priorities will be diversifying the leadership of the 2,100-member organization to reflect the community the association’s members represent in court and in legal transactions.

With her speech at the association’s annual meeting last week, Carluccio became the third woman to lead the association and the first judge to lead the association in its 127-year history.

In an interview in her chambers a few days before the annual meeting, Carluccio said her theme for the year will be “diversity in leadership” in response to complaints she has heard that the bar association has traditionally been led by white, male trial lawyers.

The bar association has made progress in diversifying the bar by establishing a diversity committee and by establishing an internship program for 1L law students, Carluccio said. But she said more needs to be done.

“It’s really incumbent upon me to encourage others to be open to inclusion in our leadership ranks,” Carluccio said. “In the past, it’s been viewed as an exclusive organization. That’s what I want to change.”

Carluccio has assembled a roster of prominent lawyers and judges to examine the issue of diverse leadership in the organization, including Judge Anthony J. Scirica, of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; state Superior Court Judge Susan Peikes Gantman; Catherine J. Lanctot, associate dean for academic affairs at Villanova University School of Law; Cheryl Young, who was the association’s second female president in 2004 and is a shareholder at Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin in Norristown, Pa.; and Mohammad Ghiasuddin, a member of the association’s board of directors and partner at Kaplin Stewart Meloff Reiter & Stein in Blue Bell, Pa. Young will chair the group.

Carluccio said diversifying the association’s leadership is not just a matter of more traditional identity characteristics of race, gender and sexual orientation, but also about the area of attorneys’ practices.

Carluccio, who spent her career before her election to the bench in 2009 as a government lawyer, said other bar associations have benefited from being led by judges, prosecutors, public defenders, law professors or corporate counsel.

Carluccio said she also made a point of appointing women or men of diverse backgrounds in the six appointments she made as president to the nominating committee, which functions as the gatekeeper to leadership of the bar association by screening officer candidates. Young is in line to chair the nominating committee in 2011.

The theme of leadership, Carluccio said, also includes a partnership with the Villanova School of Law to hold a panel for law students about professionalism and what the practice of law is really like. The association also hopes to partner with law students to work with lawyers coaching mock trial teams, she said.

Carluccio and outgoing President Steven H. Lupin took pains to emphasize at the annual meeting that Carluccio is not the first trial judge to lead a county bar association in Pennsylvania. Allegheny Common Pleas Judge Kim Berkeley Clark was president of the Allegheny County Bar Association five years ago.

Carluccio, who keeps a picture of her staff on the top shelf of the bookcase behind her desk, said that her courthouse staff and the bar association staff will make it possible for her to juggle her courtroom schedule while leading the bar association this year.

Carluccio was born in Norristown, the seat of Montgomery County’s government and courthouse. She attended Widener University School of Law in Delaware. Carluccio said her maternal uncle, Montgomery Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Smyth, sparked her admiration for the law.

While Carluccio has almost always worked as a government lawyer, she has had a diverse career in the public sector.

Right after law school, Carluccio clerked for Delaware Superior Court President Judge Albert Stiftel. Then, in turn, Carluccio worked as a Montgomery County assistant public defender, as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, as Montgomery County’s chief public defender, and as chief deputy solicitor in the county Solicitor’s Office.

While in the Solicitor’s Office, Carluccio also served as the interim director of human resources. Carluccio’s most notable case in that office was representing the county when the county and a group of art students, alumni and neighbors of the Barnes Foundation pursued an unsuccessful and long-shot effort to reopen a 2004 decision allowing the foundation to depart from Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ charitable bequest requiring the foundation to stay in Lower Merion in perpetuity.

Working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office opened many doors for her, including the opportunity to travel throughout the country to prosecute drug cases, Carluccio said. She also was lead counsel in the first case in the country in which a jury convicted a billing company of Medicare and Medicaid fraud. In that case, an ambulance company was charging emergency rates for transporting patients for dialysis treatment, Carluccio said.

And because of her work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Carluccio met her husband, Thomas Carluccio. Thomas Carluccio was an attorney with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office and was cross-designated on the billing fraud case. The case stretched out for more than two years, and the Carluccios got married shortly before the case went to trial. They have three children.

Upon joining the bench about a year ago, Carluccio was assigned to the family division, including as the backup judge on juvenile cases.

“Family law is a lot more complicated and involved than most people realize,” Carluccio said. “… A good family practitioner really needs to be a jack of all trades. I enjoy the custody cases the most because I believe those are the decisions that are most important.”

Carluccio said she enjoys speaking to children when they are witnesses in family court cases.

“I find children, no matter what the age, to be incredibly perceptive, incisive and bright,” Carluccio said.

Carluccio said her strengths as a leader include her orientation toward people, her consensus building and her communication skills. Her weaknesses, she said, are detail-orientated matters.

Despite being elected to the bench, Carluccio said she thought it was important to finish out her leadership term as the bar association had already invested a great deal in her because she had served out almost three-fifths of the five-year leadership cycle for the association presidents by the time she was elected. Carluccio also said it was important to her to take up the mantle as president as only the third woman to be elected to lead the association.

“We do not want to be left behind when it comes to diversity,” Carluccio said in her speech last week. “By promoting lawyers of diverse backgrounds, we are assuring that our reputation for leadership will continue and, indeed expand.”

Copyright 2011. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. The Legal Intelligencer.

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