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October 08, 2021 National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary

NCALJ Chair's Column

By Hon. John C. Allen, IV, Chicago, IL

Welcome to the 2021-2022 ABA year.  I am honored to be serving as the Chair of the National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary (NCALJ).  NCALJ has a long and proud history of constantly searching for new and better paths to improving our profession in order to ensure that the judicial opinions we make are grounded in knowledge and wisdom.  Our history of providing thought-provoking programs and seminars on fundamental issues, along with current events within our country and community, has kept NCALJ prominent within the Judicial Division and the American Bar Association.

Over the past few years, NCALJ has presented several Resolutions reinforcing the concept, need, and philosophy supporting the need for protecting judicial independence within the administrative las judicial process.  Our goal has always been to show the general public that even though the administrative law judiciary rests in the executive branch, our decisions are honest, forthright, and free from the perceived notions of inappropriate influence.  To that end, NCALJ has consistently worked with scholars, judges, and outside research collaboratives to find proven and unimpeachable methods to maintain our independence and provide assurances that our decisions as judges are impartial.  Unfortunately, in recent times, the hard work that has been put in by NCALJ has been met with opposing forces and with equal intensity.  The time to rest has not arrived yet and all of NCALJ must continue to establish a process by which federal administrative adjudications are viewed as inherently appropriate, impartial, and independent.  To that end, the Judicial Division, with the strong encouragement of the JD Chair, Chris Browning, has committed its full support to our cause by working to establish a task force that will examine the current issues, explore possible solutions and make recommendations on how best to accomplish our goals.  I look forward to working with the Judicial Division and the leadership of NCALJ to complete the work of the task force over this next ABA year.

A key component of establishing an independent judiciary that is accountable to the citizens it serves is to have in place a Code of Conduct that the administrative law judiciary is expected to abide. In 2018, NCALJ worked on a Model Code of Conduct for State Administrative Law Judges, under the leadership of then NCALJ Chair Julian Mann, who is now serving as the JD Vice-Chair.  The work done there resulted in a Resolution submitted to the ABA House of Delegates and was passed without any opposition.  The time has come to begin the effort to work on the Model Code of Conduct for Federal Administrative Law Judges.  Our NCALJ Vice-Chair, David Welch has graciously agreed to lead that effort and we hope to have an updated product that we can share with the Conference with pride.

In addition to our continuous pursuit of improvement, NCALJ is known for robust, engaging debate.  The nature of our profession is that, as a collective group of judges, we see a wide variety of issues that involve the general public. Most people will have some contact with a federal, state or local level administrative law judge.  Additionally, there is no limit to the severity of the issues we handle, from the basic parking ticket to billion-dollar conflicts within federal agencies.  That means each of us brings a different perspective to the table.  One of the themes that I want to reinforce this year is civility.  When I say that, I don’t just mean civility to each other but, more importantly, civility to the litigants and attorneys that appear before us.  To many litigants, their interaction with us is likely going to be their only interaction.  Even the most seasoned professional attorneys that appear before us take their matters seriously and have invested a lot of themselves in the case.  They deserve to be treated with courtesy, respect and genuine appreciation for the matter at hand.  While I’m sure that rudeness, inappropriate humor, or callousness is not a wide-spread problem with the membership of NCALJ, I want us to be the hallmarks of civility and exemplify the appropriate way to lead a courtroom.

I look forward to working with our committees and the Executive Committee of NCALJ.  I have marveled at the focus and desire of past Executive Committees to enhance our profession and hope that I can keep that ball rolling.  To that end, please look through our committees and choose one (or two) to join that peak your interest.  My experience has been the more involved you become in NCALJ, in the JD and in the ABA, the more rewarded you feel and the more optimistic you become about the legal profession and our role as judges.

And PLEASE encourage your colleagues to join the ABA and join us!