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July 14, 2023 National Conference of State Trial Judges

NCSTJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

Last August was terrible. As I write this final column, I reflect on my first day as Chair of the NCSTJ at last year’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. It was there that I learned my mother’s cancer worsened and I headed home to be with her. She died soon after; my father joined her fifty days later. Although the year was personally difficult, my parents taught me to look forward. So, I do here. And though it was a sad year, it was also a professionally productive one, and I am grateful that the good work of the NCSTJ kept me focused and motivated. Thus, it is with great enthusiasm that I look forward.

First, I look forward to seeing many of you at our Annual Meeting in Denver. Please register at Welcome - 2023 ABA Annual Meeting, where the word-count in this article precludes me from listing everything there is to offer.

Second, I look forward to turning over the reins to the Hon. Marcella Holland (ret.) of Maryland as our new Chair, with the Hon. Denise Langford-Morris (ret.) of Michigan as our new Chair-Elect. With almost a century of combined leadership skills, the NCSTJ is in excellent hands, indeed! Please congratulate our new leaders when you see them in Denver!

Third, I look forward to the following events and hope you will accept our invitations:

Please join us as murder and defamation come together for a special event at NCSTJ’s Town Hall Meeting: The Art of Handling Key Complexities in High Profile Cases—August 3, 2023 at 10 am.

Our two special guests include two of the nation’s top state trial judges in the highest profile cases of 2023. Who is this dynamic duo? The Hon. Clifton Newman from South Carolina who presided over State of South Carolina v. Richard Alexander Murdaugh, in which the once-prominent lawyer was found guilty of killing his wife and son, and the Hon. Eric Davis from Delaware who presided over the most notable defamation case in U.S. history, Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News Network.

As the media frenzy engulfed their South Carolina and Delaware courts, the nation looked on as they aptly led both matters to resolution. Hear about their experiences as they managed security, the media, the jury, and handled the emotional tolls on them, their staff, and families. Their exceptional judicial service under the extreme personal moments reads like a Hollywood movie—bring the popcorn!

This dovetails with another successful effort by our NCSTJ team on the topic of wellness. As we know too well, our courtrooms hear and resolve high-stakes, traumatic—and heartbreaking—situations every day. Resolution is never a win-win, and the judges and staff are at the center of the frustration, disappointment, and anger experienced by at least one side of the “v.” For example, last summer, an individual, armed with a handgun and ammunition intended to end Justice Kavanaugh’s life.  Unfortunately, some have carried out their threats, ending the lives of judges and their family members. The attack on a federal judge, Judge Esther Salas of the District of New Jersey is just one horrific example. Of course, this attack led to legislation restricting publication of judges’ personal information (Daniel’s Law), followed by the “Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act” (“DAJSPA”) in Congress, and the ABA continues to provide resources to help pass similar legislation in other states.

To continue our efforts, NCSTJ is proud to be the lead sponsor for Resolution 200 that urges our courts to study the impact that violent or traumatic incidents have on judicial security and the mental or emotional health and wellness of judges, their staff, and their families. The resolution further urges courts to develop a process which includes training that allows for them to seek professional and confidential treatment. We hope that through our submission, we can help our own as we continue to help others.

The second invitation is for our NCSTJ’s Showcase CLE Program on Friday, August 4 from 2:00-3:30pm. Autism Awareness: How courts can improve access to justice for a vulnerable and neuro-diverse population.

From Pennsylvania to Nevada, judges, experts, lawyers will speak about adapting to the spectrum and bust the myths about what has previously been improperly labeled a disorder. Learn from the experts about Autism—what it is and what it isn’t—and how to identify persons in your courtroom on the spectrum, including the parties, witnesses, staff, attorneys, etc. Walk away with effective awareness protocols for safety and communication purposes and learn how to bring innovative programming into your courtroom. Find out how courts are collecting data and the specialty courts that divert individuals with autism out of our justice systems.

I am honored to have served with such a great leadership team and encourage you to be a part of the continued good work under J. Holland’s leadership. Please consider membership or serving on our Executive Committee as a director or officer. You, too, will look forward…to the experience, the collegiality, and the fulfilling service.

    Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

    Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

    2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of State Trial Judges

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