April 05, 2021 Lawyers Conference

LC Chair's Column

New year and full year of collaborative programs

By Monica A. Fennell, Indianapolis, IN

The Midyear Meeting may have been in the midst of a pandemic but with some creative thinking the Lawyers Conference Executive Committee was able to connect at a Zoom social hour. We were thrilled to be joined by past and currents chairs, getting us energized for a new year of programming. Every meeting I attended seemed to have kudos for the work of Judge Michelle Childs. Judicial Division Chair and Lawyers Conference immediate past chair Carolyn Dubay on the Dark Money in Judicial Elections CLE series at the midyear meeting. These are some good precedents. One of the best things about the Lawyers Conference is the opportunity to work on meaningful improvements to our system of justice through programs and webinars.

March is the month for judicial outreach to schools throughout the country. The Judicial Division’s National Judicial Outreach Week (NJOW) promotes judges speaking with elementary, middle school and high school students about the rule of law and a fair and impartial judiciary. The outreach efforts are going forward despite the pandemic, virtually and in person this year. We encourage everyone to participate in these vital educational efforts—and then share your experiences (online report form).

We are looking ahead to the First Monday in October. The Lawyers Conference is organizing a United States Supreme Court Small Group Admission Program for October 4. Judicial Division Chair Judge Michelle Childs will move for admission on behalf of the group. LC immediate past chair Carolyn Dubay will lead the group, and Melissa Aubin is organizing activities at the Court. Of course, it remains to be seen what activities will be possible at the Court and what COVID-19 restrictions might be in place, but we are monitoring those options. The pandemic has affected LC Day on the Hill as well, but we are looking even further ahead to possibilities for that event in 2022.

I have learned so much just in bringing together the speakers for the March 4th JD webinar “Virtual Courts: Ensuring Full Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities” and in collaborating with the Commission on Disability Rights. Not only did Colonel Linda Murnane conceptualize the topic but she also moderated the panel. The pandemic forced courts to re-think their physical environments and convert their courtrooms to a virtual platform. The webinar examined what tools work well and what challenges are there for those with disabilities—both lawyers and clients—and whether technology can be a solution going forward.

Brainstorming at the Midyear Meeting always produces so many ideas, and the Lawyers Conference is busy bringing the ideas to fruition. Webinars are being explored on topics including best practices for court-based pro bono clinics, legal issues in judicial security, trauma-informed re-entry and diversion courts, and expungement. The court-based pro bono clinic webinar will take place in the fall and will feature speakers from Oregon, Illinois, and Indiana, outlining best practices in federal and state courts.

If there is a possibility for in-person programming at the Annual Meeting, the Lawyers Conference hopes to present a CLE program entitled Courage Before the Court: Federalism, Diversity, and Advocacy. This program looks at Mark Curriden’s book Contempt of Court:  The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism. This book provides a historical account of the 1906 criminal trial of Ed Johnson, who was lynched in Chattanooga despite orders from the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution pending federal court review of his state criminal proceeding. The lynching occurred with assistance from Sheriff Shipp, which led to outrage by the Supreme Court and a trial against Shipp for contempt of the Court. Using the Johnson trial and Shipp case as a starting point and for context, the program will provide perspective on the progress our country has made in promoting civil rights and equal justice in state criminal trials. In part, this has been through the role of post-conviction review in the federal courts and through the development of a more diverse and ethical bench and bar to ensure public confidence in the rule of law. Marc Curriden will discuss his book in this light, and panelists will include Professor Greg Parks (Wake Forest University) and Judge Andre Davis (Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, ret.). 

Monica Fennell

Monica Fennell

2020-2021 Lawyers Conference Chair