July 15, 2022 Appellate Judges Conference

Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys Chair's Column

By Hon. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

“Summer, summer, summertime. Time to kick back and unwind.” Alas, no unwinding here, as the Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys (CASA) recently held a summer Executive Board meeting on June 29. In addition to bridging the long gap between Board meetings—from the ABA Midyear Meeting in February to the Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI) Summit in November—the summer meeting enabled Board members to catch up with each other and discuss their efforts in helping plan various panels for the upcoming Summit.

CASA also is moving closer to having a social media presence, so stay tuned for an announcement (perhaps in the next JD Record) when our accounts go live: “@CASA_ABA” on Twitter and “ABA Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys” on LinkedIn! (I don’t think we’re quite ready for the world of TikTok, though.) Posts will include information on ABA programming, links to notable articles and decisions, and commentary on appellate practice and court administration, thus bolstering member engagement and fostering collaboration with other conferences and committees within the Judicial Division. 

Our social media posts also will highlight individual CASA members, who work tirelessly behind the scenes. To kick things off, it is my great honor to profile long-time CASA member, Frank Gibbard. Frank is a supervising staff attorney at the Tenth Circuit in Denver and a prolific writer and contributor to the Colorado Lawyer (including these three gems). On a personal level, Frank was a tremendous mentor to me during my three years in the Byron White Courthouse, and he, along with Taye Sanford (who recently retired as the Tenth Circuit’s Chief Deputy Staff Attorney), is the reason I joined CASA. With shared interests that include habeas corpus law and esoteric films, I’m truly fortunate to count Frank as a friend.

So, without further ado, here’s my brief Q&A with CASA member, Frank Gibbard:

  1. What is your experience working in the judiciary?

    I was a law clerk at the Wyoming Supreme Court from 1990 to 1992. The first year of my clerkship, I rotated among three justices, and the second year, I clerked for Justice G. Joseph Cardine. I have been a staff attorney at the Tenth Circuit since 1995. In 2019, I became a supervising staff attorney.
  2. Tell me about your time with CASA. When did you join, and what positions have you held? Which AJEI Summits have you attended, and do you have any favorite moments?

    I attended my first CASA conference in 1991, when I was still a law clerk at the Wyoming Supreme Court. It was held in Vail, Colorado. One of the nice features in those days was that you had a “free day” in the middle of the conference, when people could just spend the day hiking, golfing, or whatever. It made the conference longer but more relaxed. Erwin Chemerinsky, who has been a regular feature at AJEI Summits and is slated to speak at the 2022 Summit in Scottsdale, gave an outstanding presentation at that 1991 conference. I bought a mountain bike while we were in Vail, and my wife and I (no kids yet at that point) just had a great time overall. I thought the CASA folks were very friendly and fun to be around, but I didn’t figure I’d ever attend a conference again given my plans to work as a government lawyer. Well, we make our plans and life goes on, as the saying goes. Four years later, I was a refugee from private practice, hired as a staff attorney at the Tenth Circuit by the formidable Jack Kleinheksel, doyen of the CASA universe! I attended the 2002 CASA conference in Flagstaff, and I might have attended another along the way, but I didn’t get seriously involved again until Taye Sanford recruited me around 2011.

    In the decade since, I completed a full rotation on CASA’s Executive Board—member at-large for two years, secretary, chair-elect, chair, and immediate past chair. And I have been to a dozen or more AJEI summits. I have lots of favorite memories from these summits, from checking out the Ghirardelli chocolate shop in San Francisco with Lee Ramsey (former staff attorney with the Tennessee Supreme Court), to visiting Disney World with my kids when we were in Orlando, to walking around Bourbon Street in New Orleans, to having Colonel Linda Murnane drop in a couple of times at our dinner and t-shirt exchanges, to hosting the hospitality suite when I was chair. Oh, yeah, and I might have learned a few things along the way from the programs that I attended as well! My favorite summit was probably in San Diego; it’s just a great place to be. Overall, I always enjoy seeing my CASA friends again every year I attend. And I have enjoyed meeting, working with, and getting to know an amazing group of judges and appellate lawyers.
  3. What advice would you give to young lawyers today, especially staff attorneys/law clerks?

    Here are a few random observations. If you have a bunch of cases to knock out by a deadline, do the easy ones first. Find a good mentor, then be a good mentor. Always pay attention to the standard of review. Look for ways to cut the Gordian knot by avoiding unnecessary issues. Listen carefully to the feedback you get from colleagues. Avoid excessive use of the word “that” (but use it when it’s needed). Keep criticism of litigants’ arguments to a minimum. Pay attention to street names when you park at a garage in a strange city; there may be more than one identical structure within close proximity. Always carry some cash and change when traveling in the southern USA; some toll plazas and parking structures don’t take credit cards. And be sure and ask people what they did before they became a lawyer; the answers can be amazing.

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Big thanks to Frank for this interview and for his decade-plus of service to CASA, and be sure to keep an eye out for similar profiles on CASA’s social media, which we hope to roll out soon!

    Hon. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

    Hon. Jess D. Mekeel, Denver, CO

    2021-2022 Chair, AJC Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys

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