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April 05, 2021 Judicial Division

Director's Column

By Tori Jo Wible, Chicago, IL

A year to remember.

As the ancient curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” We had that covered and then some in 2020. It has been quite a year. When I tossed out my 2020 calendar – with tropical beaches on it to get me through the cold, dark midwestern winters – I noted March had a 14-day stretch marked off. I had been at the Traffic Court Seminar in New Orleans. Mayor LaToya Cantrell had just announced the first reported cases of Covid-19 in New Orleans. I was marking off the amount of time for a possible infection to make itself known. By the following Tuesday, March 17, all ABA employees had been sent home, until the end of March to stop the spread of the virus. How quaint that seems now, a year in.

In the intervening 12 months, the JD has quickly and efficiently transitioned to full time work from home. All staff of the JD remained employed. No staff became ill with the virus. Lives were upended, but we were flexible and resilient.

Ten million jobs were lost, over a half a million lives were lost. A long-overdue racial reckoning took place. The certification of the electoral college votes was disrupted by an angry mob encouraged to believe the 2020 presidential election had been fraudulent, even though more than 60 court cases alleging fraud had been unsuccessful in producing any evidence of fraud.

Our most over-used words and phrases were pivot, doom-scrolling, and ‘You’re on mute”. We all learned about zoom-bombing, cat filters, and background photos.

Through all that, the courts never completely closed. Some matters cannot wait, and they did not. Immigration judges kept on working, DUI and drug court judges kept on working. Administrative judges kept on working. Federal judges kept on working. Appellate judges all the way up to the United States Supreme Court kept on working. All of them helping people, people who needed justice, people who wanted a better life for themselves and their families, people who wanted a fair hearing. Their staffs did amazing work, as many have described, “building the airplane while you’re flying it.” Strained budgets did not permit new systems, to judges made what they had work, they held zoom hearings, they held court outside, they did jury selection in community centers.

The JD kept on serving its members and providing valuable content. JD Chair, Judge J. Michelle Childs, took her ideas and transitioned them to virtual events or moved them (several times) to dates when in-person events could safely occur. Judge Childs instituted Wellness Wednesdays to provide free content for JD members on areas of interest, such as judicial safety, careers after the bench, mindfulness. The JD went from a few webinars and some programming at the midyear and annual meetings, to 24 webinars and programming at the midyear meeting. Judge Childs also pulled together an inspiring Trailblazers program for Black History Month and another for Women’s History Month, in addition to a memorial program for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and a special edition of the JD Record with tributes.

Was everything perfect? Nope. We learned as we went. Mistakes are proof that you are trying. The volunteers pulled together, the staff pulled together, you tried new things, you had wine tastings and scavenger hunts, you visited school children, you engaged in meaningful conversations around diversity and inclusion.

I am proud of how this division responded with strength, resiliency, and compassion. The division and conference leadership embodies Justice Ginsberg’s message “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that leads others to join you.”

Tori Jo Wible

Tori Jo Wible

ABA Judicial Division Director