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January 31, 2022 National Conference of State Trial Judges

NCSTJ Chair's Column

By Hon. David M. Connors, Farmington, UT

As I write this column we are in the middle of the holiday season, but by the time this is published we will be in January, so I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable holiday season. The ABA’s Midyear Meeting is just a few weeks away and I hope some of you will be able to join us. For those who are not on our Executive Committee, let me give you a brief outline of the meetings and activities we’ll be participating in at Midyear. 

For many of us, the activities start with the Judicial Outreach programs planned by the ABA Judicial Division’s Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary. A group of us will be meeting with high school students in the Seattle area as part of our “pipeline” efforts to promote interest in the rule of law, legal studies, possible career paths as lawyers and, ultimately, the potential for service as a judge. This outreach activity will start around noon on Wednesday, February 9. Later that afternoon, the Standing Committee will hold a business meeting (to which anyone interested is invited) and, finally, that evening there will be a Pathways-to-the-Bench type program for law students and lawyers from traditionally under-represented groups to highlight the process through which one might become a judge.  Anyone who would like to participate or would like to know more about what we do in these outreach efforts should contact me or any officer of the NCSTJ, or contact staff member [email protected]. We repeat a similar outreach program at the outset of every one of the ABA’s Annual Meetings (usually held in August of every year) and Midyear Meetings (usually held in late January or early February). So if you can’t join us this year in Seattle, think about joining us at a future meeting!

Next, on Thursday, February 10, we begin the Judicial Clerkship Program (“JCP”), which proceeds from roughly lunchtime on Thursday until late morning on Saturday.  The JCP hosts law students from under-represented groups who are sponsored by their law schools to attend what amounts to a “mock” judicial clerkship exercise.  Two or three judges are grouped with sets of five or six law students and given a challenging research assignment based on a hypothetical case that mirrors the facts of a currently pending U.S. Supreme Court case.  Through the next two days, students interact with each other and are supervised by the volunteer judges as they research and prepare outlines for opinion memorandums as if they were law clerks in the judges’ chambers. Generally 80 or more law students from around the country attend, so we usually have thirty or forty judges assisting us in the mock clerkship program. Again, anyone with an interest in participating could contact anyone of us or our primary staff support person, [email protected]. We repeat this program during every Midyear Meeting.

Our NCSTJ business meetings are held generally on Friday and Saturday mornings during the Midyear Meeting, and you are all welcome to attend those meetings. There are also other meetings of the broader JD, as well as great CLE programs to attend. And, of course, all of this occurs while the broader ABA meetings are taking place, so there are lots of other activities to participate in and programs to attend.

Looking back briefly, our NCSTJ Executive Committee held its first “in-person” planning meeting since before the pandemic in late October in Salt Lake City. We were able to hold the meetings in Utah’s flagship courthouse, the Scott Matheson Courthouse, in downtown Salt Lake City. That building houses several dozen district court judges (Utah’s primary statewide trial court) as well as the Utah Court of Appeals and the Utah Supreme Court.  One of our Supreme Court justices hosted a presentation showcasing access to justice initiatives in Utah, including our online dispute resolution program, our “My Case” suite of online tools for pro se litigants to be able to access their own case materials, and our “regulatory sandbox,” which reviews and encourages experimentation with other forms of improving access to the justice system. (I say “our” here because I am a judge in Utah’s Second District, with my chambers just 20 minutes north of Salt Lake City). Of course, we did a lot of other planning as well!

Members of the NCSTJ Executive Committee gather for dinner during the Planning Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah

Members of the NCSTJ Executive Committee gather for dinner during the Planning Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah

Courtesy of Hon. David Connors

We continue to encourage the contribution of our NCSTJ members to your own local efforts, and to the efforts of the ABA’s JD, to promote the goals of diversity, equity, inclusion, respect, and the delivery of fair and impartial justice to all in our judicial system. Our leadership team looks forward to working with all of you.

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