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June 29, 2020 Judicial Division

Director's Column


By Tori J. Wible, Chicago, IL

When I started writing this column, the news was all about the COVID-19 Pandemic, the economic collapse, skyrocketing unemployment, protests by people who didn’t want to wear masks, and groups of people gathered at Memorial Day gatherings without practicing social distancing. In the intervening week, those issues have been pushed aside for something even more insidious than a virus, the systemic bias brought to the forefront so many times before. This time it was the videotaped death of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer. The resulting protests were understandable, the First Amendment protects the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. We watched in horror as those peaceable assemblies turned violent and calls for justice became opportunities to loot and destroy property.

For those of us who believe in the rule of law, and equal justice under the law, it has been a difficult time. For those of us who struggle with the concept of white privilege there have been some tough conversations. How can we say any lives matter, if we don’t say that black lives matter? There is a lot of hard work to be done.

We all want to think the best of ourselves, we work hard, we are fair and open-minded, we take all the elimination of bias trainings. I think what it comes down to is walking in another’s shoes, or as Atticus Finch told Scout, you never really understand a person “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I can’t understand what it’s like to be afraid to go outside, or afraid to drive in a certain neighborhood. I understand that I can’t understand. However, I can stand with my friends and colleagues who are afraid. I can have conversations with my friends and ask them to point out where I am failing to be fair and open-minded.

These have been trying times indeed, I do want to get back to a bit of what I had started to say about the Judicial Division during the pandemic.

The reason steel is tempered in fire is to strengthen it. We have all been through a lot over these past months and are stronger for it. I have been truly impressed by the strength and resilience of our staff and volunteers. Everyone has stepped up. I would like to specifically recognize the amazing women of the JD staff, to a one, they each seamlessly transitioned (whether it was easy, or they just made it look that way) from offices at 321 North Clark to offices in kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms. Our newest team member, NHTSA Project Manager, Kennedy Green, started on March 9. She was only in the office for 5 days before the work from home order. She truly hit the ground running!

The members of the executive committee and the conference leaders haven’t skipped a beat either. In fact, all have added to their responsibilities by taking on task force duties, planning COVID-19 webinars, participating on and leading rapid response teams, or creating first of its kind virtual expos. They have accomplished all this while maintaining their usual workload and many with added duties like homeschooling, childcare, elder care, and meal preparation!

One phrase I’m hearing lately is “Crisis Accelerates Change”. Courts that had previously not considered technology are embracing video hearings. A court in Texas livestreamed a Virtual Summary Jury Trial. The landscape is changing. What if we didn’t go back to the way we’ve always done it? What if, instead of walking it back, the courts looked at what worked, decided it increased access to justice, and then collaborated to fix the problems. I suggest we all look around; as the 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal wrote, "Somewhere, something is waiting to be known."

Tori Jo Wible

Tori Jo Wible

ABA Judicial Division Director