The Winter Meeting

From the Editor

The Winter Meeting

By Bennette D. Kramer

 kramer     The Winter Bench and Bar Conference, known as the Winter Meeting, was held the first week in February this year at the Four Seasons Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii.  I always enjoy the Winter Meeting, especially the opportunity to meet with the judges who attend and to spend time with friends I have made over time.  It is a wonderful opportunity to work with judges and other lawyers to put together programs and dinners.  This year was special for two reasons.  First, Justice Sonia Sotomayor attended the Winter Meeting and participated in all the activities and, second, Sean Coffey set up an extraordinary trip to Pearl Harbor.

Justice Sotomayor

      Justice Sotomayor not only attended all the activities at the Winter Meeting – programs, dinners – but she always was willing to talk to curious participants about the Court, her life on the Court and before, and really anything else.  She participated in two programs with enthusiasm, one on “Current Issues in Statutory Interpretation” and the other a “Conversation with Second Circuit Judge Richard Wesley.”  In both programs (which we discuss below) she interacted with judicial friends in a relaxed way.  In fact, during her discussion with Judge Wesley, Justice Sotomayor walked around, making each and every attendee feel that the Justice was speaking to him or her.  Justice Sotomayor’s warm personality draws people into conversations so that all who spoke with her felt that they were speaking to a person interested in what they were saying.

      Justice Sotomayor is also a big fan of Hawaii and traveled from one end of the Big Island to the other during the afternoons and off days. She talked enthusiastically about her trip to Hilo for the big Saturday market, which includes craft sellers, and demonstrated her purchase. My husband and I ate lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant in Hawi at the Northern tip of the island the day after the conference ended.  As we were leaving the restaurant, the owner stood up and demanded everyone’s attention.  She said that several days before the restaurant had been visited by a Supreme Court Justice who had eaten lunch and had warm greetings for those who came up to talk to her.  The owner was so excited to have had the opportunity to meet Justice Sotomayor.   

      Everyone at the Winter Meeting spoke enthusiastically about conversations and interactions with Justice Sotomayor.  From my point of view, her generosity with her time and willingness to participate in all phases of the Winter Meeting made this Winter Meeting special.

Pearl Harbor Trip

      Several months before the Winter Meeting, Sean Coffey said that he would try to arrange a trip to Pearl Harbor with his Naval Academy friend, Admiral Harry Harris.  Little did we know at the time how special this trip would be.  Admiral Harris is the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, covering the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region, headquartered in Oahu, Hawaii, near Pearl Harbor.  Admiral Harris, our host during the visit, went out of his way to make us feel welcome and spent a great deal of time with us. 

      To get to Pearl Harbor from the Big Island, 24 of us left the hotel at 6 a.m., armed with boxed breakfasts.  When our flight arrived in Oahu we were escorted to the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet Boathouse, where we watched a documentary on Pearl Harbor, visited a small museum, and received a briefing on the December 1941 attack.  After the briefing, we embarked in two groups on the Commander’s Barge and the Deputy Commander’s Barge to tour the harbor with Admiral Harris and Army Lieutenant General Anthony G. Crutchfield, Deputy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. 

      We were with Admiral Harris on the Commander’s Barge, a lovely yacht that is kept in pristine condition.  We cruised around Pearl Harbor, past the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and the markers for other battleships that were sunk during the attack.  The combination of the documentary and the view of the locations of the ships was very moving.  We could imagine the terrible day of the Japanese attack. 

      After the “Barge Tour,” the group was escorted to the U.S. Pacific Command Headquarters, where Admiral Harris gave us a briefing about the Pacific Command and the threats to the United States from North Korea and China in the area under his command.  Those of us on the trip felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear what Admiral Harris had to say, and we probably will not be able to hear about either North Korea’s or China’s activities in the area without feeling a shudder of apprehension.  Admiral Harris also patiently answered all of our questions.

      Following the briefing, Admiral Harris took his leave, and Lieutenant General Crutchfield hosted a luncheon at the U.S. Pacific Command Flag Mess.  A number of Army, Navy, and Air Force lawyers also attended the lunch, providing an opportunity for us to ask questions about the work of lawyers connected to the Pacific Command.  All of the lawyers practice law over a tremendous territory and deal with issues involving personnel and international relations.  It was fascinating to talk with them.

      After lunch we flew back to the Big Island to continue the Winter Meeting programs and other activities.  We all felt that we had been given a remarkable opportunity to see what our military is doing in the Pacific.  Thanks to Admiral Harris and Lieutenant General Crutchfield for their time and hospitality. Thanks to Sean Coffey for asking Admiral Harris to make this unforgettable day possible.  And thanks to Ryan Wischkaemper and S.S.G. Shavon Claxton, our guides for the day.

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