Federal Litigation Section
This month’s issue of The Federal Lawyer concerns federal litigation. As a federal judge, this is a topic that I care deeply about since I preside over civil and criminal cases every day in a federal courtroom. The FBA’s Federal Litigation Section (which we refer to as “Fed. Lit.”) is the largest of the FBA’s sections. Fed. Lit. is chaired by John McCarthy, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell in New York City. John has done a great job leading the Fed. Lit. Section, and I applaud him for his long-standing service and dedication to the FBA. I take this opportunity to thank all of the FBA members who have worked with John to ensure that the Fed. Lit. Section continues to thrive and prosper. I also thank all FBA members who are engaged in federal litigation on a daily basis—whether as lawyers, judges, clerks of court, law clerks, or in other legal capacities. Working together, under the auspices of the FBA, we collectively strive to ensure that the federal courts remain the centerpiece of the best justice system in the world.
Civics and Service to Others
This year, during my presidential term, the FBA has focused on Civics and Service to Others. One very important aspect of Service to Others, in my view, is our obligation to ensure that the federal courts remain open to all. The FBA is fulfilling that promise of openness, under my leadership, in two significant ways: first, by helping to open the doors of federal courthouses to all; second, by creating multiple access-to-justice initiatives.
Law Day and Law Month
The FBA, as part of our national civics initiative, worked this year with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) to celebrate Law Day on May 1, and Law Month during the month of May. The focus of Law Day and Law Month in 2017 is Open Doors to Federal Courts.To celebrate that theme, FBA chapters throughout the country are encouraged to assist local federal judges to invite students and teachers to tour federal courthouses.
Constitution Day and Citizenship Day
The FBA plans to work with the AO to celebrate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day again this September—the second year in a row the FBA and AO have teamed together to celebrate this important day. This year, the focus will be to encourage federal judges to hold naturalization ceremonies in schools on or about Sept. 18. More information about these efforts can be found at http://www.fedbar.org/civics.
Creation of the FBA Access to Justice Task Force
The FBA is also focusing this year on the important issue of access to justice. Access to justice, put simply, means that all litigants have equal access to the federal courts, and that barriers to such access are removed. To that end, I put together an Access to Justice Task Force to examine ways in which the FBA can increase access to justice. If you would like to be part of this effort, or have ideas as to how the FBA can help increase access to justice, please reach out to me. In the pro se arena, our task force has already identified two ways in which FBA chapters can increase access to justice in the federal courts: (1) writing and distributing pro se handbooks; and (2) creating a list of panel attorneys willing to represent pro se litigants in civil cases.
Pro Se Handbooks
Many, but certainly not all, district courts have pro se handbooks designed to assist unrepresented parties in navigating the complexities of the federal civil litigation process. These handbooks are invaluable in that they help to explain the importance of service of process, how the discovery process works, mediation, and how cases proceed to summary judgment and trial. For many years, the FBA has been instrumental in this effort—so much so, that many federal judges across the country have reached out to local FBA chapters and asked the chapter to write (or help the court to draft) such a handbook. I encourage all chapters to assist in this effort—by meeting with your district’s chief judge to ask whether the court would like a pro se handbook to be drafted or, if such a handbook already exists, if the court would like the chapter to update the handbook.
Assisting Pro Se Litigants
With regard to pro se representation in the civil context, many federal judges struggle with this issue every day because pro se plaintiffs frequently file motions for the appointment of counsel. Two barriers exist: (1) counsel appointment is not mandated in civil cases, and (2) few counsel typically express a willingness to take on such representation. Some federal courts around the country (both district courts and circuit courts) have begun assembling lists of counsel who have volunteered to assist pro se litigants and pro se appellants. (In some courts, such representation is entirely pro bono; in other courts, counsel are permitted to file a fee petition if they prevail at the conclusion of the case.) I encourage FBA chapters to meet with your local federal judges to ask if the chapter can assist in creating such a list of counsel willing to represent pro se litigants. Once those lists are created, I further encourage FBA members to consider taking such cases on a yearly or periodic basis.
Prior to becoming a judge, when I was a partner at Dinsmore & Shohl in Cincinnati, I had the great privilege of serving as lead counsel in many pro se and pro bono matters before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Sixth Circuit, at that time, maintained a list of counsel willing to represent pro se appellants, and I was frequently asked to do so. Representing those pro se litigants—in criminal, habeas, and § 1983 appeals—made me proud to be a lawyer, and it was my honor to help the Sixth Circuit by undertaking such representation.
In my community, I have volunteered to serve on the board of directors of the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project—a worthy effort to appoint counsel in state and federal civil cases—and I encourage other FBA members to do the same.
I also encourage FBA members to assist in our upcoming FBA National Wills for Veterans Day, which will take place in conjunction with Veterans Day this coming November. For more information on assisting veterans in this way (and thus affording veterans more access to justice) or to offer to run this important effort in your FBA chapter, please contact FBA Executive Director Stacy King at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have asked Todd Hedgepeth, from the San Antonio chapter, to be in charge of this effort, and I thank him for his fine leadership.
Civics Success in New York and South Carolina
As I write this month’s President’s Message, I have just returned from a trip to New York where I visited with judges in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and met with Chief Judge Robert Katzman, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, to discuss civics. After New York, I traveled to Charleston, S.C., for the FBA’s quarterly board of directors meeting. While in Charleston, a number of local federal judges and I met with students, in their schools, as part of the FBA’s national civics initiative.
It was a great trip with a number of successful outcomes. I was honored to meet with many federal judges in both of the EDNY federal courthouses, which are located in Central Islip and Brooklyn. During my visit, Judge Joseph F. Bianco—who, last summer, along with FBA member and career law clerk Dina Miller, started the first week-long, federal “court camp” in the United States—hosted 50 or so local elementary school students in his chambers, where he explained to them how cases are tried and legal disputes are resolved. He is a born teacher, and the young students greatly enjoyed hearing from him. (I am told he does this once a week.) Dina graciously served as my tour guide, and we met, among other judges in Central Islip, Judge Leonard D. Wexler, Judge Arthur D. Spatt, Judge Alan S. Trust, Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke, and Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson. Judge Wexler engages in civics education with law students in a novel way: He schedules multiple trials in June and has 30 local law students shadow him every day that month so they better understand civil procedure and federal trial practice.
In Brooklyn’s Theodore Roosevelt Federal Courthouse, Chief Judge Dora L. Irizarry kindly hosted a luncheon in my honor with a large number of district judges and magistrate judges attending, all of whom are very excited to participate in the FBA/AO civics initiative and engage with local students. Thereafter, we had an opportunity to meet Chief Judge Katzman in his chambers—along with the Second Circuit’s circuit executive, Karen Greve Milton, and U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero—to discuss civics in the federal courts. I take this opportunity to thank Chief Judge Irizarry and Chief Judge Katzman for their kind efforts and their continuing support of the FBA.
The significant civics effort undertaken by Chief Judge Katzman, Judge Marrero, and Judge Bianco was discussed last month in these pages, but I again take this opportunity to commend them, and also Dina Miller, for their outstanding and groundbreaking work in the civics arena. Years from now, when the history of this civics education movement in the federal courts is written about, I am confident and proud that the FBA, AO, and Second Circuit will all be acknowledged for leading this effort along with other circuit courts and district courts across the United States.
While in New York, I also had an opportunity to participate in “speed dating” at Fordham University’s School of Law with 100 or so international LL.M. students in an event organized by FBA member and Fordham Law alumnus Ray Dowd. Ray did a wonderful job and is to be congratulated. The students I met came from England, Finland, Italy, Israel, and France, among other locales, and were licensed attorneys in their home countries before coming to the United States for their graduate law studies. These students have a deep respect for our system of justice, and the federal courts as an institution, and want to start an FBA law school division at Fordham. With the kind assistance of Dean Toni Jaeger-Fine, I am hopeful that will soon occur. Dean, I thank you for your passion for the FBA and for your willingness to work with the students as they start the Fordham Law student division.
Prior to the board meeting in South Carolina, I met with a number of South Carolina federal judges from both the Columbia and Charleston federal courthouses. We traveled to two schools in Mount Pleasant, S.C., which is located just outside of Charleston. At the first school, Moultrie Middle School, we held a civics discussion and question-and-answer session with several classes of seventh and eighth grade students. FBA President-Elect Kip Bollin and FBA Treasurer Maria Vathis both served as moderators. We talked to the students about the federal courts and how they work, being selected as a federal judge, the difference between mediation and trials, district judges and magistrate judges, felony and misdemeanor criminal cases versus civil cases, how judges go about deciding difficult cases, and how judges ensure they are free from a bias. Thereafter, we went to Wando High School and met with two Advanced Placement government classes. These were great discussions, at both schools, and I know the judges enjoyed them as much as the students. I take this opportunity to thank the many judges and FBA members who made these two school trips possible including Judge David C. Norton, Judge Margaret B. Seymour, Judge Bristow Marchant, South Carolina Chapter President Matthew Hubbel (who is doing a great job leading his chapter), FBA board of directors member Christie Varnado (who handled many logistical issues with aplomb), and chapter civics liaisons David Paavola and Mary Willis. Thanks to each of you for making these South Carolina school visits so successful and meaningful for the students.
The full-day board of directors meeting was held the next day, and we got a great deal accomplished. I take this opportunity to again thank all of the board members, who spend hours preparing for these quarterly meetings and fly across the country, during the week, to attend them. I am grateful for your dedication and service to the FBA.
During the Charleston board meeting, Membership Committee Chair Jonathan Hafen announced that the FBA is now at 19,000-plus members, our largest membership ever. The board also began the preliminary work to approve the charter of the new Vermont Chapter. Significant credit goes to Chief Judge Christina Reiss, who greatly assisted the FBA in the creation of this chapter. Thank you, Chief Judge Reiss.
The FBA’s Multiple Efforts to Assist Veterans
Another aspect of the Civics and Service to Others initiative is the FBA’s commitment, during my presidential year, to assist veterans with legal concerns.
I have previously written about the importance of Veterans Courts; I am proud to have started, and preside over, the first federal Veterans Court in the state of Ohio. I encourage all of my fellow federal judges to initiate such efforts in their specific seat of court.
In this President’s Message, I also wrote about the FBA’s commitment to undertaking a National Wills for Veterans Day in conjunction with Veterans Day 2017. I am excited about this effort and the important impact it will have on the lives of hundreds of veterans throughout the United States. I encourage FBA members to participate in this most worthwhile event.
Recently, the FBA began a third effort to assist the veterans community: a training session to teach counsel how to assist veterans with disability claims on a pro bono basis. This this three-hour CLE, entitled “Fundamentals of Practice Before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),” offered for free to counsel by the FBA and other organizations in Cincinnati, was an opportunity for Ohio lawyers to learn from David Myers, director of case management at the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program in Washington, D.C. Myers explained to counsel how to assist veterans with the disability claims process before the VA, and did a great job. I thank him. We had a large attendance, and it was a very successful event. The FBA plans to video record Myers in the next few months and place this video on the FBA’s website—for free—so that other lawyers, around the country, who seek to assist veterans on a pro bono basis with disability claims can do so. By so acting, the FBA hopes not only to assist the veterans community, but also to increase veterans’ access to justice.
I take this opportunity to thank the many FBA members who made this effort possible including Scott Kane, Scott McIntyre, Kermit Lowery, Judge Peter Silvain and many others. A number of entities were responsible for this free CLE, including the FBA’s Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky and Dayton Chapters, the FBA’s Senior Lawyers Division, and the Cincinnati Legal Aid Society. I sincerely thank you all.
I take this opportunity to again thank each of the 19,000-plus members of the FBA for all you do each day to help others. Our membership ranks, both professional and law student, are growing on a daily basis. As noted, our Civics and Service to Others initiative is proving to be quite successful: we are helping to educate students all over the United States via our civics work, helping those in need via the SOLACE program, and increasing access to justice.
It is my honor to lead the FBA in these important efforts. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Hon. Michael J. Newman is FBA president and the first U.S. magistrate judge to hold this
role. Judge Newman can be reached at Michael_Newman@ohsd.uscourts.gov.