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July 14, 2023 National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

NCFTJ Chair's Column

NCFTJ and Roadways to the Bench

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

I am so proud that dozens of members of the NCFTJ, during our 50th anniversary as a Conference, participated in “Roadways to the Bench: Who Me? A Bankruptcy or Magistrate Judge?” This event on April 3rd was sponsored by the Judicial Conference Committees on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System and the Administration of the Magistrate Judges System. Across the country, close to 2,000 lawyers and law students met with federal judges about the many paths to becoming a bankruptcy judge or magistrate judge. Judges shared their paths to the bench with lawyers and law students to encourage them to pursue career opportunities on the federal bench, with the goal of expanding the pipeline of diverse candidates for Article I judgeships. 

The day’s event began with a simulcast broadcast in 38 cities. A panel of federal judges at the District of Columbia Bar headquarters kicked off the event by explaining the application process, how to succeed as a judge, and the importance of diversity on the bench. The panelists were: Circuit Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; Bankruptcy Judge Kesha L. Tanabe, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Minnesota; Magistrate Judge Mustafa T. Kasubhai, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon; and Circuit Judge Carl E. Stewart, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who moderated. Following the panel discussion, each of the 38 locations hosted local roundtable discussions with over 600 federal judges participating. I participated in the program in Kansas City, Missouri, where about 100 law students, lawyers, and judges gathered in the jury assembly room at the Charles E. Whittaker U.S. Courthouse.

It was a real treat to see one of my law clerks, Kaitlin Minkler, participate at the Kansas City gathering. Kaitlin was raised on a small farm in Buckner, Missouri, just outside of Kansas City. She graduated with honors from Cornell University in just three years, and then Washington University School of Law, where she served on law review and was a member of OUTlaw. She has clerked for me for two years and will next clerk for U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough for a year before heading into private practice. After working with Kaitlin, and sometimes for Kaitlin, I am convinced that she would one day make a terrific federal trial judge (or Justice!). I pray that programs like “Roadways to the Bench” inspire and motivate talented young lawyers like Kaitlin to consider joining our ranks in the not-so-distant future.

This was the second time NCFTJ members have contributed to this national diversity event. The inaugural program, held in 2019, informed law students and attorneys about federal judgeships, with a spotlight on the bankruptcy bench and bar. It is my understanding that numerous attendees subsequently applied for bankruptcy judgeships, and at least 10 have since joined the bench including NCFTJ executive committee member Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Gunn, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. I was fortunate to participate in the 2019 program in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, gathering with others at Washington University School of Law.

In closing, I continue to enjoy serving with the energetic and motivated district judges, bankruptcy judges, magistrate judges, and tax court judges who comprise our current Executive Committee. I welcome you to join in our work and hope to see many of you at the Annual Meeting of the ABA in Denver, Colorado this August.

Happy 50th Birthday (again), NCFTJ!

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

Willie J. Epps, Jr, Jefferson City, MO

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of Federal Trial Judges

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