chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
October 07, 2022 National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

NCFTJ Chair's Column

The NCFTJ at 50

By Hon. Willie J. Epps, Jr., Jefferson City, MO

The National Conference of Federal Trial Judges was established 50 years ago during the 1972 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. NCFTJ was founded to provide a forum for federal trial judges and to improve the administration of justice in federal courts through conferences, seminars, educational programs, and recommendations for solutions to these courts’ problems.

U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr. was elected NCFTJ’s first-ever Chair in August 1973. He was a trailblazer within the ABA and federal judiciary. Nominated for the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1966, Judge Robinson became only the ninth Black with life tenure on a federal court of general jurisdiction, and the third Black to ever serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition to 16 years as a judge on the Court and 10 years as the Court’s chief judge, he was also an adjunct professor at American University, a board member for the Federal Judicial Center, and a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States (JCUS) for a decade.

The first woman to serve as NCFTJ Chair was U.S. District Judge Cornelia G. Kennedy, beginning in August 1974. She, too, blazed many paths. She was the first woman to serve as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1970, President Richard Nixon appointed her to a federal judgeship. She became the first and only woman appointed by him, and the first woman to serve on the federal trial court in Detroit. In 1977, she became the first woman in the nation to serve as chief judge of a federal district court, and later the first woman to serve as a director of the Detroit Bar. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter elevated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Three presidents had her on their short-list for U.S. Supreme Court.

Fifty men and women have served as NCFTJ Chair. While the first 27 chairs were district judges, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Scott Sledge (Northern District of Alabama) was the first Article I judge to serve as NCFTJ Chair, during the 2000-01 bar year, and later served as chair of the ABA Judicial Division. Judge James G. Glazebrook, a U.S. magistrate judge in Orlando, Florida, followed Judge Sledge as Chair, becoming the first magistrate judge to lead the conference. In 2009, Judge Delissa A. Ridgway, U.S. Court of International Trade, became the first on her Court to serve as NCFTJ Chair. In the fifty years, thirty-six district judges, ten magistrate judges, three bankruptcy judges, and one court of international trade judge have led NCFTJ.

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina (the newest member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) served as Chair when I was appointed to the NCFTJ Executive Committee five years ago. Since the end of Judge Child’s term, five magistrate judges have followed as Chair: Judges Barbara A. McAuliffe (Eastern District of California), Leo I. Brisbois (District of Minnesota), Miguel “Mike” A. Torres (Western District of Texas), Diana Song Quiroga (Southern District of Texas), and the author (Western District of Missouri). The magistrate judge streak is projected to be broken next year by Chair-Elect and U.S. District Judge Richard F. Boulware, II of Nevada.

For years, NCFTJ has acted as the federal judiciary’s voice on issues affecting the federal courts. I marvel at how U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green of Washington, D.C., as NCFTJ Chair (1997-98), teamed up with U.S. District Judge H. Barefoot Sanders, Jr. of Texas, then chairman of the JCUS Committee on the Judicial Branch, and others, to fight for a judicial cost-of-living adjustment. I salute the more recent work of NCFTJ Chairs U.S. Magistrate Judge Nannette A. Baker (Chair, 2015-16) and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey (Chair, 2016-17) for their leadership in laying the groundwork for what has become a nationwide JCUS program that exposes law students and young lawyers to federal trial court clerkship opportunities.

This year’s NCFTJ Executive Committee is comprised of energetic and motivated district judges, bankruptcy judges, magistrate judges, and tax court judges. We plan to continue the work of Chief U.S. District Judge Nannette V. Jolivette Brown of Louisiana, chair of the Ethics and Professionalism Committee, to shine a spotlight on improving judicial security in the wake of the tragic death of Judge Esther Salas’ son. We also plan more judicial outreach activities than ever before, including Zoom and in-person programs with law students to discuss the clerkship application process, best practices when applying for clerkships, and the benefits of clerking. Happy 50th Birthday, NCFTJ!

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.