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History-Making New Chancellor Tells
Enhance Opportunity for Immigrants, Others
December 7, 2004
Chirls, who will officially take the helm of the 13,000-member Association on January 1 is the first openly gay elected leader of any major bar association in the United States. Referring to his history-making status Chirls said it represented continuing social change and he promised to work for even greater inclusion for all those who feel they are left out "simply because they are different."
Chirls, a Center City resident and a partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen noted that "from 1980 till 2000 the country's population grew, but this city lost 10 percent of its population," Chirls called this "a serious loss. But," he added, "there was one bright spot: during the same period, the foreign-born population of our city nearly doubled, from about six percent to 11 percent." Chirls said that most cities that have grown have done so not just through attracting outsiders from other states but with the help of newcomers from other nations. "Immigrants bring an incredible amount of faith, energy, confidence and investment to our communities," he said.
To encourage continued opportunity and growth Chirls proposed greater access to the courts and the justice system for those who do not speak English. He said the Association would work with the courts to make more court interpreters available and that the Association would begin to offer its successful public outreach programs in Spanish and other foreign languages. Likewise, documents about basic real estate issues and use of the courts will also be made available in Spanish. Chirls also called for a change which would make it possible for foreign-born students who acquire advanced degrees in American law to gain admission to practice law in Pennsylvania. "Currently, it's impossible for them to practice law here. So they go to other states to take the bar exam and practice law," Chirls explained. "This is but a small part of the Pennsylvania brain drain, and we must do our part to reverse it so we don't lose bright and energetic newcomers."
On other fronts the new Chancellor said the Association was committed to help make the dream of a new Philadelphia Family Court Center a reality. He cited a list of problems currently facing the Family Court and said that a new facility will solve many of the problems. Chirls said he has been conferring with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, who is liaison justice to the First Judicial District and that the Association will work with Justice Newman "on the shape and location of this project."
Chirls praised Philadelphia's Common Case Management Program noting that the program "is attracting large cases of nationwide scope" and he pledged the Association's continued commitment to the Commerce Court. He also identified tax reform as a continuing Association priority and said the Association would work to end "the overlap of the business privilege tax and the net profits tax. The overlap," Chirls explained, "means that there are two groups of people who get taxed twice: sole proprietors and partners in professional organizations. That's a drag on our profession and our ability to export our talents and services. We will continue to work to overcome the double taxation system that slows economic growth and vitality."
The new Chancellor also spoke about his personal experiences in reaching out to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth at a local support center for teenagers. "Trust me," Chirls told his colleagues, "you don't know the troubles these kids have seen just because they are different." But Chirls said he hoped that his Chancellorship will send a message to those who feel they may have no future. "The message is: 'You have a place in our society...even if you are different. You, too, can be part of things, even if you are different; and maybe you can even lead it, even if you are different."
As the city approaches the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, Chirls suggested that it must recapture the vibrancy and robust spirit of growth and opportunity that attracted Franklin in the first place. "Just as Franklin exemplified a time when newcomers made the city great, that kind of time has returned to us again," Chirls said. "And hope is what it's all about," he added. "The hope and the promise of equal rights for all. The hope of a vibrant, diverse, prosperous, dynamic city."