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April 07, 2023 Appellate Judges Conference

Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys Chair's Column

By Ms. Cliffie J. Wesson, Dallas, TX

Outside this morning, I took a deep breath of air and felt springtime in the air. The warm sunshine, fresh grass, and the promise of summer days ahead stir us to become more active. As Chair of your Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys (CASA), I was fortunate to get going since early February when members of the Executive Board met in person and by telephone in New Orleans at the ABA Midyear Meeting. Among other things, we discussed outreach opportunities, including hosting a Zoom meeting with law students to introduce them to the different roles staff attorneys occupy at state and federal courts across the county. We talked about efforts to increase membership in CASA, including scholarship opportunities for CASA members to attend the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit. We believe that coming to the Summit once is enough to convince many new attendees to return year after year. And, I am thrilled to report that this year, in addition to the continued opportunities for tuition scholarships, the AJEI generously contributed for the first time some funds for CASA members’ travel and lodging expenses!! We hope that we can offer some help with travel and lodging for a new member or two, and that once they attend the Summit in Washington, D.C., they will be as impressed as I have been by what CASA and the Summit have to offer to staff attorneys. We are confident they will be so impressed that they will continue to attend the Summit year after year. More details on that to follow.

CASA members continue to help with planning the 2023 Summit.  Based on early discussions and ideas, I think you are in for a real treat this year.  Check out the AJEI webpage from time to time as more information becomes available. In the meantime, please plan to attend.  Washington, D.C., has much to offer both in terms of distinguished local speakers and so many things to see and do while you are there.

As I shared in my last column, I became more engaged in CASA because of the connections and friendships I have made with other staff attorneys across the country.  I promised to share some of those connections with you.  As the next installment of meeting CASA members, I would like to introduce you to CASA Chair-Elect Jessica Ballard-Barnett with a brief Q & A we exchanged:

What is your experience working in the judiciary?

A: I have been a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Melissa S. May of the Indiana Court of Appeals since May 2010. In my position, I research legal issues and draft memoranda which become the bases for appellate opinions. However, prior to becoming an attorney, I was the IT Coordinator for the Indiana Court of Appeals. In that role, I worked with the entire court to implement new IT-related processes and provide assistance with IT needs. That experience within the legal community exposed me to one of the lesser-known paths as an attorney—a judicial clerkship. I found out early in my law school career that courtroom litigation was not my forte, and had I not had the prior experience at the court, I may not have considered a judicial clerkship.

Tell me about your time with CASA. What positions have you held? Which AJEI Summits have you attended, and do you have any favorite moments?

I have been on the CASA Board since 2020, serving as a first- and second-year Board member. I have attended several AJEI conferences. I think my most memorable conference was my first in Dallas, Texas, because it was when I met Justice Antonin Scalia. I also enjoyed the multiple sessions in Washington, D.C., concerning the legal rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

What advice would you give to young lawyers today, especially staff attorneys and law clerks?

I would advise young law clerks to make the most out of their experience at their respective courts, especially if they are only at that court for a certain term of years. In addition to researching and writing cases, ask other attorneys at that court about their experiences. A term clerk has a finite amount of time to drink in the knowledge of more experienced law clerks and staff attorneys. They should use it to learn from some of the experts in the appellate profession!

If you are interested in connecting with fellow colleagues or becoming more involved with the work of CASA, please contact me. CASA is always looking for new members and for new opportunities for current members to get involved. The ABA will be having its Annual Meeting this summer in Denver, Colorado. I hope to see some old friends and meet some new ones there.

Ms. Cliffie J. Wesson

2022-2023 Chair, AJC Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys

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