You became a DC Superior Court judge in 1984, and CCE was founded just two years earlier in 1982. How have you seen CCE make an impact these thirty years?
DC’s courts are among the best in the country. But in any institution with a high volume of work, it’s easy for things to go unchecked. Here, it’s not. CCE is independent, but collaborative. At the outset, CCE was seen around the Court as a possible nuisance. But over time, that has evolved.
CCE can engage on issues involving the Court, either to make suggestions on how we can improve or to take the Court’s ideas and help impact other parts of the justice system. As judicial officers, we have a resource we can go to in CCE.
I got many ideas in my work at the Court from [CCE’s founder Charles A.] Horsky. For example, when we implemented individual calendars for the civil division, the Court was somewhat interested in this initiative, but CCE helped a lot with the work to get us there.
You held two terms as Chief Judge of the Superior Court. How did you find this work to be different from your experience on the bench?
As Chief Judge, I used to say that my job was to get interrupted and to go to meetings. [The role of Chief Judge] is more political because you’re a public figure. And a good judge isn’t political at all. As Chief, you are the presence of the Court at DC Council hearings, for example. An important part of the job is building these relationships across the District. It was a very satisfying experience.
Tell us about your new position with The McCammon Group. What skills are you finding most important in providing private dispute resolution services?
The Court provides good mediation service, but a Court in its large program usually allows only two hours for the mediation. And with those two hours, you get a better than 40-45 percent settlement rate – which is a good rate.
With The McCammon Group, in a complete independent and unrelated effort, mediators spend the time that we need to resolve a dispute. They spend time getting to know everyone, finding out where the parties are, where the dispute stands, and developing trust. Doing that is very important. When you do have the time, the settlement rate for us becomes more like 85%.
Mediation can be even more cost effective when the effort is made earlier in the process, which the Court is experimenting with, I believe, stopping the dispute from escalating before costs run up. Mediation is the right thing to do, even if time is limited. It’s very effective and important.
How do these ADR services help the Court?
I have always been very interested in mediation and arbitration as simply a good thing to do; it gives litigants an alternative. Over the years, the use of mediation has evolved tremendously.
First, you have to consider that less than ten percent of civil cases will ever go to trial, and even those that are scheduled for trial are often settled at the last minute.
ADR makes a huge difference because the effort to resolve the case is made earlier, before the trial is set. You’re not taking the Court’s time. And then when a trial date is set, you know that it’s the real date.
You recently served a rotation in Superior Court as the Judge in Chambers. Tell us about this unique and very important office.
When you’re sitting as Judge in Chambers, you have a unique opportunity to solve disputes, and usually you are solving more than the matter at hand. Sometimes judges can get frustrated because many of the issues brought before the Judge in Chambers aren’t heavy legal issues; you’re really addressing neighborhood disputes. As a judge, you must be patient. If you’re willing to spend some time with admittedly non-legal squabbles, you can solve the whole problem.
CCE is examining the Judge in Chambers office and helping it serve the community more effectively. What should CCE consider about the Judge in Chambers function?
Remember that lawyers used to wander the halls looking for a judge to issue Temporary Restraining Orders or warrants. The office grew from there, trying to make a judge available in a consistent location for these undocketed needs.
CCE’s project should look for the potential to be a “street judge.” We think of the term “street lawyer” as meaning someone who resolves local disputes, usually for the poor or disenfranchised. The Judge in Chambers can be a kind of “street judge” to our community.
What books are you reading now?
My wife and I are about to take a trip to Iceland, so I’m reading some mysteries by Icelandic authors.
If you weren’t a judge, what career would you have chosen?
I thought for a while as an undergraduate that I wanted to go into medicine or psychiatry.
But I started working in the Clerk’s Office back in DC’s Court of General Sessions. When Judge [William C.] Pryor was appointed, he called for a clerk, and I lucked into working with him. I was running the courtroom and doing legal research, and going to law school at night. We worked very well together. I thought, ‘If I could do what the judge is doing, then that’s for me.’