What I Learned From the FBA’s National Civics Program

I have spent the last two years devoted full-time to the FBA’s national civics initiative. The first year, before I was sworn in as FBA president, was spent working with Jim Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), and Rebecca Fanning, the AO’s outreach manager for civics, getting ready to launch our civics website (www.fedbar.org/civcs), and making sure we had a national plan in place. The second year, while serving as president, I have been coordinating with FBA national civics liaison coordinator Joan Brady to ensure we have a civics liaison in every chapter; meeting with federal judges and students around the country to help implement the civics initiative; and working with FBA Treasurer Maria Vathis, whom I placed in charge of the FBA’s inaugural civics essay contest and civics teacher recognition program.

I am grateful to, and appreciative of, the many federal judges across the country who have volunteered their time to meet with students in classrooms and courtrooms this year to talk about the Third Branch of government. So many federal judges have done so, in fact—and have liked the experience meeting with students, and want to do it again—that I believe there is a genuine civics movement occurring in the federal courts. My hope is that this civics movement will continue to strengthen and grow in the years to come. The FBA is pleased to help lead this civics movement and, to that end, we intend to work collaboratively with the AO and the federal judiciary long into the future.

I learned a great deal in launching and leading the civics initiative: that it is possible, if you care enough and work hard enough, to build a national program from scratch; that elementary school, middle school, and high school students really do want to learn about the federal courts, how the courts work, and what judges do every day; that these students have a very real and very significant interest in the dispute resolution process (both civil and criminal); and that students, no matter their age, rightfully take seriously the need for judges to be free from bias, to follow the law, and to be fair and impartial.

This experience has given me great hope that the legal community has nothing to fear going forward. Having now met with far more than 1,000 young people all across the country, and having engaged with them in serious civics discussions, it is my firm belief that the next generation cares about the federal courts, cares about case resolution, and has a serious, abiding interest in the rule of law. I am very proud that, with the FBA’s help and as a result of our national civics initiative done in conjunction with the AO, we are raising a generation of young people who will want to attend law school and will want to become involved with the federal legal community and the federal courts. Based on my personal experience these past two years, I know we are in good hands.

Essay Contest Winners

This spring, the FBA announced its six winners of its inaugural civics essay contest—three winners from middle schools across the country, and three winners from high school. The first-place winning essayists—Alexander Ashman, a seventh grade student at the Phoenix, Arizona Country Day School; and Isabelle Scott, a senior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, N.Y.—were both flown (with a parent) to Washington, D.C. to meet with the FBA board of directors, be honored by the FBA National Council, and tour the U.S. Supreme Court. As part of their Washington trip, Alexander and Isabelle also met with Jim Duff and Rebecca Fanning.

I was very impressed with Alexander and Isabelle, and found their essays inspiring. Both discussed the rule of law and the importance of the federal courts to right wrongs and apply the law fairly and impartially. Although just in his early teenage years, Alexander speaks multiple languages, has already accomplished a great deal, and clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Isabelle has, rather amazingly, already published a book of poetry. In the fall, she will be attending Brown University as an undergraduate. These are remarkable students and future leaders, and I am honored to know them.

I take this opportunity to thank the many individuals who helped make the FBA’s inaugural civics essay contest such a great success. This list includes, among many others, Maria Vathis, who chaired the selection committee and spent many hours reading the nearly 200 essays we received; all of the selection committee members (Judge Alison Bachus, Brett Barfield, Geoff Cheshire, Judge Gustavo Gelpi, Judge Diane Marcus, Matthew McGhie, Judge Thomas Rose, and Judge Peter Silvain, Jr.); Sharon O’Grady, president of the FBA Foundation, who supported the idea of the essay contest and who championed its financial support within the Foundation; and Stacy King, the FBA’s executive director, who worked for many months with Maria and me to ensure the essay contest’s success.

I hope this is just the beginning of many successful FBA civics essay contests in the years to come.

Civics Teacher Recognition 

In conjunction with the FBA’s national civics initiative, we invited students and schools to nominate civics teachers around the country—civics teachers who are the very best at what they do. I am honored to report that Maria Vathis and her committee selected 21 civics teachers deserving of this high honor.1 Each teacher received a proclamation from the FBA, and each teacher’s school will was notified of this significant accomplishment.

The civics teachers meriting recognition are as follows:

 

Second Circuit

David A. Scott, Northport-East Northport School District

Douglas Elliot, Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School

 

Third Circuit

Lisa Carney, St. Bernadette of Lourdes School2

 

Fourth Circuit

Susan Boroughs, Granby High School

Nicholas McDaniels, Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School

Bob Knight, Bull Run Middle School

 

Fifth Circuit 

Christine McCrory, Lafayette High School

Dawn Blake, Allen High School

 

Sixth Circuit

Joe Foster, Hardin Northern High School

Erica Griggs, L&N STEM Academy

Jennifer Forshey, Rocky River High School

David Volkman, Loveland High School

Fred Cole, Marquette Senior High School

Eric Hanna, Olentangy Shanahan Middle School

Tyler Johnson, Ohio Connections Academy

 

Seventh Circuit

Shannon Arko, Jefferson Middle School

Rebecca Daen, Legal Prep Charter Academy

 

Eighth Circuit

Derek Bridges, John S. Clark Elementary School

 

Ninth Circuit

Dr. Homee F. Shroff, BASIS Tucson North High School

Jon Labrousse, Ridgeline Montessori

 

Eleventh Circuit 

Karen Wozniak, West Laurens High School

 

I congratulate all of the civics teachers, and take this opportunity to thank each teacher for the important work that you do in the classroom every day. On my own behalf, and on behalf of the 19,000-plus members of the FBA, thank you for your service.

Labor & Employment Law

This month’s issue of The Federal Lawyer concerns labor and employment law.  This area of the law is near and dear to me since I worked, for many years, as a law firm partner handling labor and employment matters on a daily basis.

My practice was unusual in that I had an opportunity to represent both plaintiffs and defendants. This permitted me to better see both sides of employment discrimination disputes, and was beneficial to me when I became a federal judge—as I now routinely hear, try, and mediate employment discrimination cases.

As I write this, I have just returned from San Antonio, where I had an opportunity to speak at the FBA’s Seventh Biennial Labor & Employment Law Conference. The Conference was well run, well attended, and a great success. I take this opportunity to thank Labor & Employment Law Section Chair Corie Tarara, who did a wonderful job, as well as the Conference Planning Committee Co-Chairs, Phillip Kitzer and Brian Rochel.

While at the Conference, I met and spoke with EEOC Commissioner Charlotte Burrows. Commissioner Burrows was very gracious in traveling to San Antonio to speak at the Conference, and the FBA is appreciative of her kind efforts on our behalf.

I salute all leaders of the Labor & Employment Law Section, and thank them for their service to the FBA. I also express gratitude to the many members of the Section who give their time and talent to the FBA.

San Antonio Chapter

As part of my Texas trip, I spoke to the San Antonio Chapter, of which I have been a big fan for many years because a large number of my long-standing FBA friends, each of whom has volunteered for many years on the national level, started their service locally in the San Antonio Chapter.

I think, in particular, of Hon. Craig Gargotta, now a U.S. bankruptcy judge in the Western District of Texas. Judge Gargotta—then an assistant U.S. attorney—was The Federal Lawyer editor in chief for many years, and he ran the magazine well. (I served under him on the editorial board.) I will never forget one of our monthly editorial board conference calls, in July, with Judge Gargotta taking the call despite being on vacation at a Texas Boy Scout camp with his sons. He told us the temperature was 100 degrees, and he was standing under a tree looking for shade. We volunteered to end the call early but, being dedicated to the FBA, Judge Gargotta insisted that we continue and address all of the scheduled items on the call’s agenda.

Susan Kilgore has spent years volunteering with the FBA, with the Pentagon Chapter when she lived in D.C.; the San Antonio Chapter when she moved to Texas; and on the national level, when she and I co-chaired the FBA’s Professional Ethics Committee more than 10 years ago. I have always admired Susan for her can-do attitude and her devotion to the FBA.

Another good friend from San Antonio, Beth Smith, worked with me on the FBA board of directors for many years and in her role as chair of Constitution and Bylaws Committee. Beth and her husband, David, frequently travel together to FBA conventions every fall. When I was sworn in as a magistrate judge many years ago, and learned that the “baby judge’s school” would be held in San Antonio, Beth and David called me immediately to offer to be my tour guides of the city. Their mutual love of San Antonio (and love for each other) is contagious, and my wife Rachel and I have been fortunate for many years to call them both friends.

Matt and Kelle Acock, both members of the San Antonio Chapter, have served on the FBA’s national board of directors with distinction. I value their service and dedication to the FBA.

While in San Antonio, AUSA Gary Anderson graciously served as my host, introduced me to everyone at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and arranged a dinner so I could get to know the current chapter leaders. Gary was kind to do so, and I thank him.

Mentoring

As part of our “Civics and Service to Others” initiative this year, the FBA has done a lot of work around the country to promote the SOLACE program, pro bono work, assistance to veterans, and mentoring. I have previously written in these President’s Messages about the importance of mentoring, particularly when a federal judge has an opportunity to mentor law students and those seeking to enter law school.

I frequently mentor local law students, and I consider it an honor to do so.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to mentor, and take on as a summer extern, a University of Dayton Law School (UDSL) student, Michael Sivore, who was in the two-year accelerated program at UDSL. I have stayed in touch with Michael, as I do many students, and on my recent trip to Texas, I had a chance to catch up with him in Austin, where he now lives.

I am very proud of Michael. After completing his J.D. studies and graduating at the top of his class, he went on to the University of Texas School of Law (Texas Law) where he received an L.L.M. with a specialty in oil and gas law. He now works for an energy company in Austin.

As a law student at UDSL, Michael held multiple leadership roles in the FBA’s law student division and, at Texas Law, he worked diligently with the school’s administration to lay the groundwork for a law student division there.

I am sure I played, at most, a small part in Michael’s success. Nevertheless, I take great pride in the fact that he has done so well, and I know the time that he spent with me in federal court in Ohio—watching hearings and trials, sitting in on mediations, and talking to me about cases once they were concluded—was meaningful and helped him formulate a better understanding of how federal judges work, how difficult our work is, and how cases are fairly and properly decided. Michael has a great future ahead of him, and I look forward to being updated on the next chapter of his life.

I encourage all members of the FBA—and, in particular, all fellow federal judges—to take one person “under your wing” this year and mentor him or her. Trust me: you will get back far more than you will give.

Sixth Circuit Vice President Tom McNeill 

Tom McNeill, a newly elected Sixth Circuit vice president (CVP) and partner at the Dickinson Wright firm in Detroit, is, quite frankly, a dynamo. Like many CVPs, Tom loves what he does for the FBA—and he is passionate about increasing membership and growing chapters.

This winter, Tom traveled from Detroit to Dayton, Ohio, to arrange a group dinner with all of the Ohio-based chapter presidents and presidents-elect. Attendees included Tony Vegh from the Northern District of Ohio Chapter; Steve Justice and Erin Rhinehart from the Dayton Chapter; Sommer Sheely from the Columbus Chapter; and Scott McIntyre and Dan Donnellon from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Chapter. Tom is now scheduling similar events in Knoxille, Nashville, and Cincinnati. Knowing Tom as I do, all three events will be equally successful.

Tom is a busy law firm partner, but finds the time to do meaningful work on behalf of the FBA. I am honored to know Tom, and I greatly appreciate the passion and energy he shows for the Association. Thank you, Tom.

Conclusion

I take this opportunity to again thank each of the 19,000-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. As noted, our “Civics and Service to Others” initiative is proving to be quite successful: we are helping to educate students all over the United States via our civics work, helping those in need via the SOLACE program, increasing access to justice, and promoting the importance of mentoring and diversity/inclusion.

It is my honor to lead the FBA in these important efforts. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

 

Endnotes

1. Professor Jonathan Entin, from Case Western Law School, was also recognized as deserving special recognition on account of his long-standing, national civics work.

2. Ms. Carney was honored by a Philadelphia news station when receiving her award. See Local Teacher Gets National Recognition, ABC 6 (Mar. 28, 2017), http://6abc.com/society/local-teacher-gets-national-recognition/1822757.


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.