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October 09, 2020 National Conference of State Trial Judges

NCSTJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Linda Marie Bell, Las Vegas, NV

I extend my sincere thanks to Judge Heather Welch, Immediate Past Chair of the National Conference of State Trial Judges. Judge Welch has provided steady leadership for NCSTJ during the most challenging of times. I’m sure she will be a great source of wisdom in the year to come.  As I begin my term as Chair, I am honored to be a part of our conference leadership and I appreciate all the support of our members.  I look forward to working with all of you, include our delegates, board members, and incoming officers.  Our new officers include Chair-Elect Judge David Connors (Utah), Vice-Chair Judge Mary Vasaly (Minnesota), and Secretary Judge Vivian Medinilla (Delaware).

As with everything right now, the Annual meeting was a different experience.  Despite our distance and a more concentrated format, Judge Welch ran an excellent virtual meeting for NCSTJ.  We were able to discuss accomplishments from the past year and plans for the year to come.  We ended with some welcomed virtual social time to catch up.

Unfortunately, shortly after Annual, we lost a member of our NCSTJ family. Judge Bill Caprathe passed away on August 15, 2020. Judge Caprathe had a warm smile and a kind word for everyone he met.   As Judge Welch summed it up: “Bill was a wonderful guy and loved the law.”

Judge Caprathe worked for 30 years as a state trial court judge for the Bay County Circuit Court in Michigan.  Half of that time he served as the presiding judge.  He retired ten years ago as a result of reaching the mandatory retirement age.  Following his retirement, he served as a visiting judge and ran a private mediation service.

Judge Caprathe involved himself at the state and national level to improve the jury system and to ensure access to justice.  His ABA service included chairing the NCSTJ, co-chairing the Judicial Clerkship Program Committee and serving on the Commission on the American Jury Project. 

Alongside more traditional professional pursuits, Judge Caprathe regularly practiced mindfulness and was a strong advocate for attorney and judicial wellness.  He would have loved the Wellness Wednesdays being initiated by our new JD Chair, Judge Michelle Childs.

Maintaining excellent balance, Judge Caprathe always made time for his family and for his passion of traveling.  Judge Caprathe and his wife Linda celebrated their 43rd anniversary a few days before his death.  Former NCSTJ Chair Judge Bill Carpenter says of Judge Caprathe: “[My wife] Marilyn and I had a special bond with Bill and Linda since at one Annual Meeting event we discovered the four of us were married on the same day (August 13), same year (1977) and at the same time (2pm).”   Shortly before Judge Caprathe’s death, he told his wife Linda, “We had a great life...It’s been a great adventure.” 

Our deepest sympathies go out to Linda Caprathe and the rest of the Caprathe family. 

I hope this year to honor the spirit of Judge Caprathe through efforts to promote civility, access to justice and the independence of the judiciary.  In keeping with Judge Childs’s theme of “One Judiciary: Access to and for Judges,” during this year the NCSTJ will continue to promote the William D. Missouri Civility Award - civility is a foundation to our ability to support one another.  We also plan to continue work on our goal of educating judges on procedural fairness and its importance in a diverse society.  Addressing these issues during this time of great conflict in our nation will take all of our collective judicial wisdom, understanding and compassion.

In the words of our friend, Judge Bill Caprathe:

We should practice empathy with our clients, friends, spouses, children, etc. It does not matter what their religious or political persuasions are. We can use empathy in our relationships at home and away at the office, in courtrooms, in boardrooms, etc. The more we use it, the more our professional and personal endeavors will improve. . . .As empathy becomes a habit, our ability to relate and motivate others will multiply tremendously.”

‘Empathy’ at the Mediation Table, William J. Caprathe.