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June 29, 2020 National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary

NCALJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Robert S. Cohen, Tallahassee, FL

When I sat down to write my Chair’s column at the end of February, who knew we were on the verge of stay-at-home orders, teleworking, plenty more home cooked meals than usual, grocery delivery, and, most of all binge-watching series we may have missed throughout the year? For those of us who travel for our jobs, used to spending lonely nights in hotels while conducting hearings away from home, spending so much time with our families, even while working, has been a blessing to treasure. Whether helping children and grandchildren with homework, school art projects, and scavenger hunts, or hunkering down with loved ones, COVID-19 has served as a reset button for so many of us. Most everyone in the administrative judiciary has not had to worry about remaining gainfully employed; conducting hearings via Zoom, GoToMeeting and other video meeting platforms; or by telephone; and staying in touch with our employers, colleagues, friends and family by these same technologies.

During this time of working from home for many of us, we did not forget our brothers and sisters working as immigration judges (IJs), who were kept in service under conditions that could in no way be considered proper “social distancing.” Our IJ friends reached out to us for assistance and we were able to work with the Judicial Division (JD) and ABA President, Judy Perry Martinez, who authored strong letters to the powers that be in Washington pleading for the safety of the detainees, their lawyers, the government lawyers, and the adjudicators. President Martinez’s letters proved once again that the ABA stands behind the judiciary and is present to respond in times of great need.

Additionally, and working with our liaison from the Lawyers Conference, Jim Pauli, NCALJ used an ad hoc committee to perform a COVID-19 Survey that was sent to hundreds of our members and members of other administrative adjudicator organizations, the results of the survey have been shared with our membership and the organizations that participated, and have provided a wealth of information for administrators, chief judges, and judges who are in the trenches. Our follow-up survey will see if the best practices formulated by agencies and central panels, with input from their judges, will service return-to-work orders, since nothing is more important to us than the safety of our judges and court personnel. By my next column, I will have results to share with you of the follow-up survey so we can issue a report card on how we treated our fellow administrative adjudicators when compared with the federal and state judiciaries.

We now know that there will be no in-person Annual Meeting in Chicago. The bad news is we will not be able to gather to share ideas, good meals, and a beverage or two while we plan and strategize as to how we move forward in this time of limited contact with our co-workers, families, and the people we serve in our daily careers. The good news is that, by going to a virtual platform, every member of NCALJ will have the opportunity to participate in the business of NCALJ, the JD, and the larger ABA without having to travel to Chicago and incur lodging and food expenses. This will provide us the opportunity to showcase our governance to all our members who choose to join the meeting and, hopefully, to encourage more of our members to become actively involved with committees, Executive Council, and the Executive Board. Stay tuned for details on how to participate in the 2020 Annual Meeting from the comfort of your home or office. In the meantime, continue to seek out ABA CLEs and webinars, many of which are free to members. We can continue to learn while we work remotely, and the ABA library is chock full of topics to interest even the most discerning (or picky) among us.

As you continue to work and conduct hearings remotely, or if you are returning to the live action at the front lines, continue to be smart, be healthy, and pay attention to the directives issued by your state and local governments. As judges, we can lead the way in best practices to keep ourselves, our court personnel, and the good people who appear before us safe, at least when they come to our tribunals for the adjudication of their disputes.

Hon. Robert S. Cohen

2019-2020 NCALJ Chair