The annual convention of the American Bar Association will convene in Chicago on August 1-7. The House of Delegates will be asked to approve Recommendation #107D, a resolution regarding “Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombudsman Offices”.

These standards are the culmination of 4 years work by a combined committee of the ABA sections of Dispute Resolution and Administrative Law. USOA has been deeply involved in this process.

Unfortunately, it is the belief of the USOA representatives on this committee that these final standards rather than helping to establish a “Gold Standard” for the establishment of ombudsman offices, serve to harm and weaken both existing statutorily established offices and allow the creation of new offices that may not reflect the strengths of the 1969 ABA resolution. (The 1969 resolution and an appendix containing the “12 Points” published 2 years later have significantly affected the creation and content of ombudsman legislation around the world since it’s passage.)

The proposed standards also allow the establishment of “Advocate Ombudsman” offices, which we believe are antithetical to the basic ombudsman value of being impartial in the examination of complaints. It is of interest that TOA and UCOA (The Ombudsman Association and the University and College Ombudsman Association) also agree with our concerns regarding the creation of Advocate ombudsman offices. However their solution for this is to change the name to “Protector” ombudsman, which does not alter the fundamental and underlying concepts of advocacy set out in the ABA proposal.

There have been several papers and significant e-mail exchanges regarding the propriety of having the ABA pass a resolution that will significantly alter the basic definition of what an ombudsman is. This will have an effect both on the creation of future statutorily created offices in the US as well as internationally.

It is strongly suggested that all members of our profession review and become aware of these important issues. You may want to contact your Board members and advise them of your views regarding the proposed standards.

It is of note that Past President John Eddings has endorsed these new ABA standards. His letter was published in the last USOA newsletter.

However, it is very important to note that three past and current presidents of USOA strongly oppose the passage of these standards unless there are significant revisions made. Their letter of opposition was also published in the last USOA newsletter.

The USOA Board has decided to oppose the proposed Resolution in its present form. It has asked that changes be made to address the Association’s concerns or that the document be returned to the Ombudsman Committee for further work. In the event it proceeds to the ABA House of Delegates, the USOA Board is requesting that it be withdrawn, amended or be defeated.

It is significant that the USOA Board is not alone in their opposition. Concurring with their opposition is the Canadian Ombudsman Association; Bernard Frank, one of the authors of the original standards who has also been internationally recognized by governments as well as the ABA just last year for his efforts in establishing the ombudsman concept; Dr. Larry Hill, an academic who has published extensively on the effectiveness of the ombudsman institution and was a member of the ABA committee; and Dr. Donald Rowat, also known internationally as a published scholar of the ombudsman institution.

In addition, it is very significant that the ABA’s Section of Labor and Employment Law opposes the proposal. They have prepared a 36 page paper of the reasons for their opposition. This Section has a membership of more than 22,000 lawyers.

Below you will find the following documents:

  1. The proposed ABA Standards and Report (ABA Recommendation #107D)

The following are letters and documents that are in opposition to passage of the current ABA proposal

  1. The USOA’s letter in opposition to the standards
  2. USOA’s proposed amendments, which if passed would make the standards acceptable to USOA.
  3. The Canadian Ombudsman Association’s letter in opposition to the proposed standards
  4. Bernard Frank’s letter in opposition to the standards
  5. Dr. Hill’s letter in opposition to the standards
  6. The Section of Labor and Employment Law’s statement of opposition
  7. Three Past USOA Presidents letter in response to Past President Eddings and in opposition to the Standards

The following are letters and documents that support the passage of the ABA standards or rebut stands taken in opposition to passage of the standards:

  1. The TOA/UCOA letter supporting the ABA proposal but voicing concerns regarding the term “Advocate”
  2. Eddings letter to USOA in support of passage of the ABA proposal
  3. Levine, Waxman and Harter letter to USOA members rebutting the “Three Past USOA Presidents” letter
  4. Ad Law sections response to Labor and Employment’s opposition