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October 06, 2023 Appellate Judges Conference

Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys Chair's Column

By Ms. Cliffie J. Wesson, Dallas, TX

My feelings are a bit bittersweet as I am writing this column because it is my last column as Chair of the ABA’s Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys (CASA). As you may know, unlike other committees and divisions of the ABA, CASA’s leadership change takes place in November at the Appellate Judges Education Institute (AJEI) Summit. I am so glad to have served as the CASA Chair this past year. Meeting and planning with staff attorneys, judges, and practitioners from across the country reminds me of what an honor it is to serve in our court system. I look forward to the AJEI each year and am particularly excited about this year’s AJEI Summit. I always enjoy going to Washington, D.C., and the speakers and topics this year are exceptional. If you have not already registered, it is not too late! 

If you are planning on attending the AJEI Summit this year, please be on the lookout for new members of CASA. In an earlier column, I wrote about scholarship opportunities for new CASA members to help them attend the AJEI Summit for the first time. Happily, there will be some brand new CASA members coming to the AJEI Summit and I hope those of us who have “been around” CASA for a while will make the effort to reach out to the new members. CASA will host a hospitality suite. If you are new to the AJEI Summit, be sure to stop by the hospitality suite in the evening for some casual conversation and snacks. And of course we will be having our annual CASA dinner and T-shirt exchange. This year we will be having the dinner at Fat Pete’s Barbecue. We will be exchanging L/XL T-shirts from an intramural, high school, collegiate, or professional sports team from our states. For more information and to purchase tickets, please see the Eventbrite page.

In addition to the Summit, I am looking forward to the ABA Midyear Meeting in early February 2024. The ABA Judicial Clerkship Program (JCP) takes place at the mid-year meeting, and if you have not participated in that program, please consider doing so. The JCP is a joint program of the ABA Judicial Division and the ABA Council for Diversity in the Education Pipeline. JCP is a three-day program for law students that gives the students an opportunity to explore legal issues, do research, and draft an opinion. It is a great opportunity for students who are considering a judicial clerkship to learn about clerkships and make connections. CASA members are encouraged to participate, and I think as court attorneys, we are particularly well-suited to assist in the program. I am planning to participate this year and hope to see you in Louisville, KY at the Midyear and the JCP!

As I was considering which CASA member to introduce in this column, I realized I had not introduced myself. So, for this last column, my answers to the same questions I have asked of other CASA members:

What is your experience working in the judiciary?

I have been a staff attorney in various positions with the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals for almost 30 years. I started as an in-chambers law clerk, but for the last several years, I have been Chief Staff Attorney/General Counsel. In that capacity, I serve in an administrative capacity, managing various dockets and supervising central staff which includes motions and writ practice. I also serve as in-house counsel advising the Court in various matters as needed.

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 joined CASA about 12 years ago, after I attended an AJEI Summit that was held in Dallas. I have been on the CASA board as a member-at-large, secretary, chair-elect, chair, and soon to be past-chair. I have attended almost all of the AJEI Summits since that first one, and it is really hard to identify a particular favorite. I think the AJEI Summits that take me to new places are among my favorites. For example, I very much enjoyed the AJEI Summit in Philadelphia, what great history. San Diego was another new place for me, and how beautiful. And, of course, I am still star struck each time we hear Supreme Court Justices, current and former, speak.

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

If you have the privilege of serving with a Court, enjoy every minute, it may will be the best job of your career! I would also echo Elizabeth Ryan’s comments in the last column, to consider a career in public service. Like Elizabeth, I have spent my entire career in public service, and what a privilege it has been. I am honored to have worked with many exceptional lawyers and jurists and I think having a job that lets me work other lawyers and jurists to get to what we think is the correct opinion is about as good as it can get.

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. I hope to see some old friends and meet some new ones in November at the 2023 AJEI Summit. I will be looking for you at the hospitality suite.

Ms. Cliffie J. Wesson

2022-2023 Chair, AJC Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys

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