New State Bar CEO

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John Phelps, the new head of the Arizona State Bar, discusses issues facing the Bar and his experience organizing the inauguration of President Obama.

The state bar of Arizona has a new leader. John Phelps is the new C.E.O. of the state bar, a non-profit organization that operates under the supervision of the Arizona Supreme Court. Besides regulating Arizona's lawyers, the bar also provides education and development programs for lawyers and the public. Before taking the job, Phelps served as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. General Services Administration. He also helped organize president Obama's inauguration. Joining us now is John Phelps. Welcome to the program, thanks for joining us.

John Phelps:
Good evening, Ted. Nice to be here.

Ted Simons:
C.E.O. of a state bar, is that something you aimed for? Talk to us about it.

John Phelps:
I had the opportunity to work with the state bar prior to going to Washington, in my capacity as Chief Operating Officer of the American Red Cross. The state bar as some people may know helped with the shelter we set up here in Phoenix and provided volunteer lawyers and it was through that connection, the state bar president at the time worked with me and as I was looking to come back from my tour of duty in Washington, I sent her a note and let her know I was coming back and she let me know there was a opening at the state bar and thought it would be a great fit and it's a good combination for me. It matches my legal background with executive leadership. So I couldn't be more delighted to be given the opportunity.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to your tour of duty back in Washington in a second. But as far as the bar is concerned, what are your goals? What do you see as the most pressing issues, and what would you like to see accomplished?

John Phelps:
The bar has been around since the 1930s and it's a great organization. It is a value-driven organization. And so my role as Chief Executive Officer is to really advance that mission. To promote justice, to provide for the professionalism of the bar. To provide a home for Arizona lawyers, a place they can come to get education and information. And it also performs a disciplinary role for those lawyers that don't match up to the standards, meet the standards. It is the arm of the court that makes sure that the bar is providing the level of service that citizens expect. So my role in that is to advance that. So I don't have a personal goal in mind other than to do that important work.

Ted Simons:
Quickly, back to the bar. As far as a legal community in general, is there a pressing issue there you would like to see addressed? Is there something that the legal community is looking at and saying, we need to keep an eye on this?

John Phelps:
I think the legal community, like many of the other professional communities in our -- in the American society, is feeling the pressure of the economy and so, you know, how to continue to provide service when resources are becoming more scarce. Lawyers are faced with that and the bar is doing things to help with that. I think the -- one of the themes certainly that the current board of governors and we're over the organizations overseen by a board of governors that govern the organization, one of the themes is professionalism, to really make sure that the lawyers that are licensed in our state are providing the highest level of competent, professional, courteous, compassionate service that citizens expect. And so professionalism is certainly one of the focuses of the current board. And I think it's a good one, and I think it's a national focus.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned providing assistance, you mentioned the economy in particular, and providing assistance, and we have a website we're going to show to folks who may be in tough economic times and need help and might be able to go to this website and get information. With that said, I do want to get back to you in Washington and you were -- you had a pretty prominent role in the inauguration of President Obama. How did that happen?

John Phelps:
I'm not sure how prominent it was, but certainly in my position with the General Services Administration, I had a role in helping to plan and support the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, and the inter-agency efforts to plan for the inauguration itself and for the parade and all of the support activities that go into that. The buildings, opening buildings to allow folks a place to get warm. Security issues. Emergency preparedness and all of those things and the General Services Administration had the responsibility for supporting all of those logistically from a planning perspective and so, yes; I had a chance to be involved in really a history-making event.

Ted Simons:
Interesting, as far as working with the GSA back in Washington, history making events -- and by the way we're showing the website right now as far as folks who might need legal help through the state bar, especially in tough economic times, it's a good resource -- but do you miss being back in Washington during what I guess could be called exciting times?

John Phelps:
Washington is an incredibly exciting place, as you know. And I think there's a certain energy there. But it's great to be in Arizona. I love this state. It's our adopted home. I spent most of my professional career in the military but my roots, my family, is back here and it's great to be back here. I love the environment here. The people. The culture. And so although I miss some of the exciting aspects of Washington, and it is a beautiful city, I don't miss it that much.

Ted Simons:
The interesting times can get a little too interesting at times! A reminder, again, the website at the bottom of the screen is for those looking for assistance or legal help and especially in tough economic times, you can't go wrong with something like that. Thank you for that service, and thank you for joining us on "Horizon," and welcome back to Arizona.

John Phelps:
Thank you very much, Ted.

John Phelps:CEO, State Bar of Arizona

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