The FBA’s Efforts to Assist Our Military Veterans
This special issue of TFL celebrates veterans—and rightfully so. The FBA, through its Veterans & Military Law Section and via its membership as a whole, is very supportive of our military veterans. The first Federal Veterans Court in the United States—affording needed medical and psychological treatment to veterans in lieu of criminal prosecution—was started in Salt Lake City by an FBA member, Judge Paul Warner. Judge Warner traveled the country advocating for additional Federal Veterans Courts, and I am proud to say that I now preside over a Federal Veterans Court in the Southern District of Ohio—the first such federal effort in the Southern District and, I understand, in the state of Ohio as well. Presiding over this treatment court and ensuring that veterans receive needed medical treatment—along with a safe place to live—is one of the most rewarding things I do as a federal judge. I am dispensing justice and helping our military veterans, each of whom has given so much for our country.
In Dayton, we have also started a lawyer referral program for active duty military personnel stationed at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base, thus affording those in the military an opportunity to meet with counsel on a reduced-fee basis.
The FBA is taking the lead nationally on a number of access-to-justice initiatives for veterans. I am proud to announce that this coming November, on Veterans Day 2017, the FBA plans to hold a nationwide Wills for Veterans Day whereby FBA members around the country will write wills on a pro bono basis and at no cost to any veteran. If your chapter would like to participate in this national day of service, please contact the FBA’s executive director, Stacy King. We encourage all chapters to assist in this very worthwhile and most important effort.
The FBA is also looking into several other access-to-justice issues involving veterans, including the difficulty many veterans have in finding counsel and applying for disability benefits; the difficulty veterans face when trying to amend their discharge status (so a veteran can qualify for treatment at a Veterans Affairs facility); and the need for a website or other “collection point” to list all of the many local resources available to veterans on an individual basis. To that end, I have formed a Veterans Assistance Task Force, and we are working to tackle these most important concerns. I take this opportunity to thank the members of the task force: Kermit Lowery; Judge Peter Silvain; Jim Richardson; Bob DeSousa; Bridget Findley; Scott Kane; Scott McIntyre; Alise Pilson; and Upendra Patel.
I will keep the FBA membership posted as we make progress on these most worthwhile access-to-justice efforts to assist the veterans community.
Idaho & Judicial Learning Centers
I recently returned from FBA trips to Idaho and St. Louis.
The 12th Annual Tri-State Seminar—run by FBA chapters in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming—was very successful, and I am honored to have been asked to speak at the conference. The conference rotates annually among locations in the three states and, this year, was held in Sun Valley, Idaho. Federal judges and practitioners from all three states participated and heard presentations on a wide range of topics including, among others, proportionality and the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure discovery protocols; effective and ethical trial behavior; and a review of recent Federal Land Management conflicts in the West. The three-day conference ended on Saturday morning with a judges’ panel discussion moderated by Idaho Chapter President Walt Sinclair. Susie Headlee, executive director of the Idaho Chapter, did an excellent job running the conference.
In St. Louis, I had the pleasure of touring the Judicial Learning Center located in the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse. It is an impressive facility—a “civics museum for children,” if you will—that draws more than 4,000 St. Louis schoolchildren each year. The students tour the Judicial Learning Center; meet with federal judges and court personnel; talk about the importance of further education; learn about becoming a lawyer or judge; and study basic civics concepts including the role of the courts in resolving disputes, the difference between civil and criminal cases, and the importance of jury service. The students also learn about the Bill of Rights and review landmark cases interpreting the Constitution.
As of the time of this writing, there are three such Judicial Learning Centers in U.S. courthouses—in St. Louis, Sacramento, and Oklahoma City. Judicial Learning Centers are in the planning stages at federal courthouses in Manhattan and Cincinnati, among other sites.
I was very impressed by what I saw in St. Louis. A great deal of credit goes to Chief Judge Rodney Sippel, who is a civics advocate and who serves as chair of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on the Judicial Branch, which is charged with civics education in the federal courts. Credit also goes to Rachel Marshall, the public education and community outreach director of the St. Louis Judicial Learning Center. Prior to touring the Judicial Learning Center, Chief Judge Sippel and I spoke to a large group of elementary school students from the Sigel Elementary School in downtown St. Louis. We talked about the important role that lawyers, judges, and the federal courts play in our society, and we encouraged the students to stay in school and further their education. That afternoon, I had the honor of presiding over a mock criminal trial—concerning littering—held in one of the St. Louis federal courtrooms. A Sigel Elementary student (with the aid of Tom Albus, assistant U.S. attorney and St. Louis chapter president) served as the prosecutor, and another Sigel Elementary student (with the aid of Brocca Morrison, assistant federal public defender and St. Louis chapter member) served as defense counsel. At issue was whether the defendant (played by a Sigel Elementary student) was guilty of littering in the first degree. Other students played witnesses and, following cross examination and jury instructions, the remaining 25 or so students deliberated the case and then explained to the packed courtroom the basis of their verdict.
This experience was very meaningful to me and, I believe, quite instructive to the Sigel Elementary students. I thank Chief Judge Sippel, Rachel, Tom, Brocca, and the St. Louis Chapter for inviting me to participate and judge this mock trial. I applaud the St. Louis Chapter and all of the many other FBA chapters around the country who are meeting with students, talking about the Third Branch of government, and helping the FBA and Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) to make the federal courts—and our system of justice—better understood by young people.
Civics & SOLACE
The FBA’s national civics initiative and SOLACE program are both doing quite well, and I thank the many FBA members around the country who are helping to make our Civics & Service to Others initiative so successful. I take this opportunity to personally thank the many federal judges, all of whom are very busy judicial officers, who have volunteered their time to meet with students—in classrooms and in courtrooms—to teach about the Third Branch of government. Judges, I thank you.
By the time this issue of the magazine goes to print, the FBA will have selected the winners for our middle and high school national civics essay contests. The FBA takes this opportunity to thank not only all of the students across the country who entered the essay contests, but also all of the judges who selected the winners. The selection committee included, among many others, U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose from the Southern District of Ohio; U.S. District Judge (and former national FBA president) Gustavo Gelpi from the District of Puerto Rico; and Maricopa County, Ariz., Superior Court Judge (and Circuit Vice President chair) Alison Bachus. A special thanks goes to Maria Vathis, chair of both the essay contests and the FBA’s national civics teacher recognition program. Thank you, Maria. Thanks goes, as well, to Joan Brady, the FBA’s national civics coordinator, who coordinates all of the judges and other civics volunteers throughout the country. Thank you, Joan.
If your chapter has not appointed a civics liaison, please reach out to Joan and she will help you to do so. Likewise, if you have any SOLACE questions or need help appointing a SOLACE liaison for your chapter, please contact Steve Justice. Steve is doing a great job running the national SOLACE program, and I thank him.
We encourage all FBA chapters to undertake similar efforts in their local communities. To make this civics effort easy for chapters and for judges, the FBA has worked with the AO to create a website of civics materials. Importantly, these materials are grouped by how much time a judge has available to spend with students—as little as 15 minutes to as long as three hours. These materials can be found at www.fedbar.org/civics. I encourage you to take a few minutes and review them.
National Community Outreach Project
Each month in the President’s Message, we focus on chapters throughout the country who participate in the April FBA National Community Outreach Project and year-round national civics program. This month, we hear from two chapters: New Orleans and Chicago. Their reports follow.
New Orleans Chapter
The Younger Lawyers Division of the New Orleans Chapter undertook an ambitious partnership with the Crescent Leadership Academy. Crescent Leadership Academy is a public charter high school in New Orleans that offers an alternative education to its students. For many of the city’s youth, Crescent Leadership Academy is the last hope for a high school diploma. The Younger Lawyers Division-Crescent Leadership Academy partnership was borne out of younger lawyers’ desire to build relationships with the school’s students and to share with them, for use in their own lives and communities, the kinds of conflict resolution skills that lawyers use every day.
This semester-long program began in January 2016 with members of the Younger Lawyers Division hosting a series of workshops at the school, during which time students took a crash course on being a lawyer, followed by a mock bar exam. Students were assigned a real legal case involving the First Amendment rights of students and were tasked with crafting their own closing arguments. Communication is an essential part of conflict resolution, yet many students struggled to articulate their ideas. To assist the students, two young assistant U.S. attorneys volunteered as “speaking coaches,” demonstrating how to make an oral argument and offering basic advice on presentation. The workshops culminated in a day-long field trip to the federal courthouse during which students had the unique opportunity to meet privately with U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite and his staff, representatives from the Federal Defender’s office, Deputy Chief Probation Officer Lawrence Martin, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Roby. Students also observed real lawyers represent real clients in motion hearings.
In addition, students separately met Calvin Duncan, a former inmate of the Angola Louisiana State Prison and project director for the Light of Justice Project. Duncan shared with students his experiences as an inmate and as an exoneree. His story served as a preface to a field trip to the Angola prison. At Angola, students met with inmate trustees, toured the facility, and discussed weighty issues including sentencing reform and the death penalty.
The Younger Lawyers Division-Crescent Leadership Academy partnership is ongoing, and its participants look forward to building on their programming in the coming school year. The meaningful relationships that were formed have the potential to grow into great things. Indeed, one of the program’s very own “speaking coaches” will be the Crescent Leadership Academy’s graduation speaker this May.
Twenty-five students and their chaperones from Legal Prep Charter Academy on Chicago’s west side joined FBA members at the Chicago Federal Courthouse for the fifth annual William J. Hibbler Schoolhouse to Courthouse Program, named after one of the Chicago judges who was a key motivator in starting this program just weeks before he passed away.
Over continental breakfast, the students asked questions about being a lawyer and were particularly interested in how we “choose a side.” Marshals from the U.S. Marshals Service then showed the students how they operate and explained what they do. Thereafter, the students watched courtroom proceedings before Judge Matthew Kennelly, president of the Chicago FBA Chapter, where they learned that “real life” federal court proceedings are very different from those dramatized on television.
Next, the students moved on to the ceremonial courtroom where they met with Chief Judge Ruben Castillo, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, Judge Manish Shah, Judge Jorge Alonzo, and Judge Jacqueline Cox. The students learned an important lesson—that judges come from all walks of life.
Thereafter, the students convened in the formal dining room of the Chicago Bar Association Building, where they ate lunch and heard from Judge Arlander Keys (retired), who told them about growing up in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era and stressed to the students the importance of education.
I take this opportunity to thank each of the 18,000-plus members of the FBA for all you do each day to help others. Our membership ranks, both professional and law student, are growing on a daily basis. I am also honored to report that our Civics and Service to Others initiative is proving to be quite successful: we are helping to educate elementary, middle, and high school students via our civics work, as well as helping those in need via the SOLACE program.
It is my honor to lead the FBA in these important efforts. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Hon. Michael J. Newman is FBA president and the first U.S. magistrate judge to hold this
role. Judge Newman can be reached at Michael_Newman@ohsd.uscourts.gov.