LOCKPORT – On Monday, Ronald J. Winter will experience one of the biggest thrills a lawyer can have: an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s the second consecutive year that Winter will rise before the high court on the first Monday in June to ask the justices to admit members of his law fraternity to practice in the Supreme Court.
Winter, who is admitted to Supreme Court practice, serves as international justice, or chairman of the board, for Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity.
It is the second-largest professional organization for attorneys in the United States, although dwarfed by the American Bar Association. But five of the nine justices Winter will address Monday are members of Phi Alpha Delta.
If things go as they did last year, the red curtains will part to reveal the Supreme Court bench, and the nine justices will file in and take their seats. Then Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will invite Winter to the podium by saying, “Mr. Winter.”
“It’s one of those goose-bump moments,” said Winter, whose regular job is serving as confidential law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. “We all look up to that court, those of us in this business.”
Winter then will say, “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court, I move the admission of the following attorneys.”
He then will read the names of 16 Phi Alpha Delta members from around the nation who are to be admitted to Supreme Court practice. Last year, Winter’s list had 13 names.
“At the end, he says, ‘Your motion is granted,’ ” Winter said.
Last year, Winter sought a souvenir from the court reporter.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to get a transcript of this.’ It was only later I found out they didn’t make a record,” he said.
After the admissions, the court’s other business will continue. Last year, Winter had a front-row seat for the reading of the court’s decision and dissenting opinions in the case of Maryland v. King, regarding the constitutionality of collecting DNA swabs from people arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. He said retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also was in the front row, about 10 feet from him.
This is the last time Winter will have this role, as his two-year term as international justice expires Aug. 2. His successor will be chosen at the fraternity’s upcoming convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Winter was elected in 2012.
Winter joined Phi Alpha Delta in 1978, when he was attending law school at the University at Buffalo. “I’ve been active ever since,” he said. “I’ve held national office for 30 of my 36 years.”
In fact, Winter’s first job after passing the bar exam in 1981 was as a California-based recruiter for the fraternity.
After two years of that, Winter returned to Niagara County and joined the District Attorney’s Office, where he remained until 2001, when he resigned to work for Kloch. He had known the justice since 1978, when Kloch was North Tonawanda city attorney and Winter served a summer internship as his clerk.
At one time, there were about a dozen law fraternities in the U.S., but now there are only two, Phi Alpha Delta and the much smaller Delta Theta Phi. There are no hostilities.
“I addressed their convention last year by video,” Winter said. “My daughter took it on her phone.”
Winter said he spends two or three hours every evening conducting fraternity business at home, by phone or email. “When you’re the head of the organization, you’re responsible for all the moving parts,” he said.
Winter’s fraternity has 33 districts, and more than 300,000 attorneys have joined it in its 111-year history.
“I saw it as a service organization that could be beneficial to me as a law student and long term as a means of networking and finding employment,” Winter said.
He regularly attends student and alumni gatherings of fraternity members to foster that networking idea.
The Phi Alpha Delta network is prestigious, since five current Supreme Court justices – Samuel A. Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan – are members.
Also on the rolls are former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Biden. Winter said he is trying to line up Clinton or Biden to speak at the August convention of the fraternity.
Clinton was the sixth president to be a member of Phi Alpha Delta, the others being William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter. Taft also served as chief justice, as did another fraternity member, Warren E. Burger.
Before becoming international justice, Winter served two terms as vice justice. One of his predecessors in that post was Tom C. Clark, who handled it in his spare time from serving on the Supreme Court, where he was a justice from 1949 to 1967.
One of Winter’s predecessors as international justice, half a century ago, was a federal judge named Alfred P. Murrah. He had a federal office building in Oklahoma City named for him, until Timothy McVeigh, of Pendleton, joined in blowing it up with a truck bomb in 1995.