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June 29, 2020 Appellate Judges Conference

AJC Chair's Column

By Hon. Albert Diaz, Charlotte, NC

Nearly 244 years ago, facing a very different enemy, Thomas Paine famously intoned, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  As this column goes to print, our battle with a silent yet deadly virus continues.  We mourn the many who have succumbed to COVID-19 and praise the legions of essential workers who have rallied to the fight.

For lawyers and judges, that fight has been to preserve a vital pillar of our democracy amid the pandemic—the rule of law.  Many of you have taken the field with vigor.  You have (among other things) mastered new technologies to keep courtrooms functioning, modified rules and procedures to account for the logistical hurdles faced by parties and lawyers, worked to maintain public access to courtrooms and records, and adopted flexible work rules to protect the public and court staff.  And you have done so with patience, dignity, and a firm commitment to equal justice under law.

A primary mission of our Conference is education.  This past April we presented a timely webinar on Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19.  The program brought together a panel of court administrators, judges, and advocates to discuss best practices and technology options for successfully navigating the pandemic and continuing to hear cases.  My thanks to Justice Eva Guzman of the Supreme Court of Texas, Jim Hivner, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, and advocates Jeffrey Gerish and Andrew Simpson for serving on the panel.  Justice David Thomson of the Supreme Court of New Mexico was our able moderator.  And special thanks to CAL Executive Board member Jill Wheaton, and the superb ABA staff (especially Kris Berliant) for helping to organize the program. 

Flexibility in the age of COVID also means acknowledging the dangers associated with mass gatherings.  That reality forced the ABA to transform its annual summer meeting into a virtual one.  Although we cannot gather in person this summer, we anticipate a full calendar of governance events and substantive programming.  Please join us online! 

The pandemic also forced the postponement of the 2020 AJEI Summit.  But happily, Justice Eva Guzman has agreed to continue serving as our program chair, and we have secured a new date (November 11-14, 2021) in the same great city of Austin, Texas.  Our program is largely set, although we will no doubt tweak it over time.  One thing, however, will not change—working with our partner the National Judicial College, we will offer the very best appellate education programming available.  Join us!

This is my final column as AJC Chair.  Lee Iacocca once said that a smart leader surrounds himself with people brighter than he and then gets out of their way.  Those words certainly ring true this year, as my fabulous Executive Committee has made me look better than I deserve.  I want to especially thank Amanda Banninga, our Conference manager, for keeping me in line and always having the right answer for all things ABA.  When others are running around with their hair on fire, Amanda is there to douse the flames and restore order.  She embodies the very best of the ABA.

Justice Steven David of the Indiana Supreme Court will be my able successor as Chair.  I look forward to working with him and my other friends and colleagues of the conference.

This column comes almost two months after the death of George Floyd.  What followed has been a jarring reminder that we have yet to fully make good on the promissory note of equality that Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently spoke of in 1963.  In the months and years ahead, our democratic institutions will be tested as never before.  And while judges can’t fully engage in the political arena, we can speak loudly by holding true to our oaths to administer justice without respect to persons, to do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and in so doing, to uphold the rule of law.

Be well, stay safe, and let’s continue to move forward—together.  

Hon. Albert Diaz

Hon. Albert Diaz

2019-2020 AJC Chair