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Superior Court Chief Judge Candidates Discuss Current Crises in Virtual Forum

By Jeremy Conrad

June 10, 2020


Social justice was a common thread in remarks at the “Meet the Next Chief Judge” forum on June 9, a virtual event hosted by the D.C. Bar via Zoom introducing the three judges who have applied to be the new chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court. 

More than 500 people tuned in to hear from Superior Judges Anita Josey-Herring, Milton Lee Jr., and Lynn Leibovitz about their priorities if selected as the next chief judge. Current Chief Judge Robert E. Morin is retiring this fall after 24 years of service on the court.  

The forum, a presentation by the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), took place on the day of George Floyd’s funeral and against the backdrop of continued nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism. 

In his welcome remarks Patrick McGlone, president of CCE and former president of the D.C. Bar, reminded the audience that CCE does not endorse a particular candidate and that the event was held to foster participation in the selection of judges by increasing public awareness of the candidates and the selection process. 

Judge Josey-Herring said the country is living through an ominous time, during which the bench is facing multiple crises. She expressed optimism about the future of the court despite the challenges. “Although some of these crises could really cause us to unravel, we’re very fortunate that we have a very strong bench, bar, other organizations, and a community that have a shared history of working together and getting things done,” she said. The answers to these problems, in her view, lay within collaboration and a commitment to the court’s ideal of “open to all, trusted by all, and justice for all.” 

Judge Lee applauded the court’s transition to remote operations, which he said helped to ensure that core services remained available. “This is the new normal,” he said. “We need to embrace it together.” Lee also addressed the rising issue of equal justice. He sees solutions in determination and collaboration. “We need to recognize that we are in this together. We need to take advantage of this opportunity, and we have to do it in a way that produces a safe process for everyone.” 

Judge Leibovitz acknowledged the challenges facing the court. “Our community is in a lot of pain. The pandemic has exposed cruel disparities in access to housing, to jobs, and to health care for the litigants that come to our court. The murder of George Floyd has ignited anger and grief arising from longstanding injustice. Our community asked for change. Three months ago, the D.C. Courts showed that we can change,” Leibovitz said. 

During the question-and-answer segment, discussion covered racial disparity in policing, implicit bias, and access to justice issues. Judge Leibovitz said that racial justice requires multiple viewpoints and an awareness of implicit bias. She called for a culture of racial equity and ongoing education efforts within the court system, which should increase its involvement with communities of color. Judge Lee, on the other hand, emphasized that the court needs to internalize fairness and be race-neutral in everything it does. He said that the court’s self-examination should be data-driven and open to criticism. 

Judge Josey-Herring agreed with her fellow candidates and referred to her work as chair of the Judicial Training and Education Committee, which had planned an event on implicit bias prior to the COVID-19 crisis. If appointed, Josey-Herring said she plans to hold a listening tour to survey the court to learn more about how improvements can be made. “What we’re really talking about, even though we noted a few incidents, is 400 years of discrimination supported by law, which cannot be fixed in one training session,” she said.  

Answering questions about court operations, the candidates were uniform in their support of expanding alternative representation models and pro bono services, although none of the candidates supported the implementation of compulsory pro bono requirements for attorneys. 

The candidates also largely agreed that remote hearings can and should continue after the COVID-19 crisis passes. Judge Lee outlined a plan to rework the traditional calendaring methodology of the court, promising to think outside of the box to provide citizens greater access. 

Judge Josey-Herring suggested that libraries could play a role in expanding access by providing the technology and environment needed for those without a computer or telephone. However, she also cautioned that virtual proceedings may be inappropriate substitute for in-person proceedings in criminal cases. 

Judge Leibovitz, who helped coordinate the Superior Court’s transition to remote proceedings, acknowledged that there are limitations in criminal cases on the proper application of remote proceedings, but added that all proceedings should receive consideration for virtual appearance.  

The District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission will select one of the candidates for a four-year term as chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court, set to begin October 1, 2020. The candidates’ statements of interest and other documentation can be found on the commission’s website. The commission is inviting public comment on the candidates, either by completing online survey or filing a paper copy of the survey or a letter with the commission’s office, 515 5th Street, NW, Suite 235, Washington, DC 20001, by 5 p.m. on June 19, 2020.