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January 31, 2022 Appellate Judges Conference

Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys Chair's Column

By Mr. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  I’m finally appreciating Ferris Bueller’s wisdom.

In 2019, I departed North Carolina and a career in state government for a staff attorney position in Denver at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. If you had told me then that I would be elected the Chair of the ABA JD’s CASA in November 2021, I never would have believed you. But life indeed moves fast, and much as I took a chance on relocating across the country and pivoting in my career, CASA took a chance on me following my stints as a First-Year Member-at-Large and Chair-Elect.

As I now stop and look around, I know I have big shoes to fill, and I am tremendously grateful for the support I’ve received from CASA’s Immediate Past-Chair William “Tray” Owen (Tenn. Ct. App.) and previous chairs Elizabeth Ryan (Tenn. Ct. App.), Joe Merrick (Ind. Ct. App.), and Frank Gibbard (10th Cir.). I hope to continue their legacy and to further CASA’s contributions to the Judicial Division (JD) and the Appellate Judges Conference (AJC), echoing Ferris’s ambitious sentiment that “the question isn’t what are we going to do, the question is what aren’t we going to do.”

My term as Chair began at the 2021 Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI) Summit, held in Austin, Texas, from November 11 to 14. With the 2019 Summit in Washington, D.C. having included a keynote speech from Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a reception at the Supreme Court, and with the 2020 Summit having been postponed due to the pandemic, expectations were high for 2021. AJEI and AJC leadership certainly did not disappoint. Over 300 judges, practitioners, court attorneys, and executives attended this outstanding conference.  CASA members, in particular, were actively involved, working behind the scenes on several notable sessions. These included Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s ever-popular Supreme Court Updates and the engaging panels on the Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, the intersection of religious issues and the government’s response to the pandemic, and ethical considerations with emerging technologies.

Aside from contributing to the substantive work of the Summit, CASA also gathered at a popular brewery for a social outing, complete with live music and food trucks (what could be more Austin than that?) as well as CASA’s annual tradition of a white elephant t-shirt exchange. Our business meeting the following day included a lively discussion over lunch (no Ben Stein-esque “Anyone? Anyone?” moments here!) and culminated with the election of our new Board, including Chair-Elect Cliffie Wesson (Tex. Ct. App.), Secretary Tricia Howard (S.C.), Second-Year Members-at-Large Christina Cooley Smith (Ga. Ct. App.) and Jessica Ballard-Barnett (Ind. Ct. App.), and First-Year Members-at-Large Robin McMillan (Tenn. Ct. App.), Danielle Teagarden (Ind. Ct. App.), and Jennifer Williams (S.D.).

The 2021 AJEI Summit was a huge sucess and CASA intends to be actively involved in the 2022 AJEI Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, from November 10 to 13. The AJEI Education Committee, which presently includes three CASA members, has begun reviewing proposals for presentations at the next Summit. As with prior Summits, CASA members will assist with planning several of the presentations ultimately selected for the program. In addition, while in Scottdale, CASA intends to hold a meet-and-greet on November 9 with law students from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. CASA representatives will provide information and answer questions concerning career opportunities at state and federal appellate courts as well as membership and leadership opportunities with the ABA.

CASA's next business meeting will be held on February 12 during the ABA Midyear Meeting, which will be conducted virtually. In the meantime, I am committed to expanding CASA's membership ranks and opportunities for member engagement. I invite all members to become more active in the organization, including assisting with (and attending!) the AJEI Summit and proposing ideas for programming throughout the year. And if you are a staff attorney, law clerk, or any other attorney employed by an appellate court, I encourage you to join CASA.

I look forward to serving as CASA’s Chair in 2022 and collaborating with other members of the JD and AJC. Feel free to email me with any questions, concerns, or suggestions. I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2022!

(And as Ferris Bueller cheekily remarked after the film’s closing credits, “You’re still here? It’s over.”)

Mr. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

Mr. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

2021-2022 Chair, AJC Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys

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