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Remembering Gordon Forester

Reflections on J. Gordon Forester, Jr.
By Sam Harahan and Jim Mercurio

J. Gordon Forester, Jr., known to all as Gordon, passed away on March 23, 2013 after a long illness. Gordon fully participated in the Council for Court Excellence from the late 1980’s until his death. The following reflection was written by Sam Harahan, Founding Executive Director (1982-2002), and Jim Mercurio, former CCE Vice President.

I had the privilege and pleasure of working closely with Gordon Forester for nearly twenty years through his service as an active member of the Council’s Board of Directors. In that time Gordon became a close professional colleague and personal friend.

Gordon played pivotal roles in several of the Council’s principal civil justice reforms involving the DC Superior Court in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. He gave particular passion and focus to CCE’s successful work to introduce much needed updated case management methods in the local trial court’s civil division. The so-called single judge case assignment systems initially proposed by Gordon, and later adopted by CCE and the Superior Court for civil cases has been a very well received change the bar and court alike embraced.

Gordon’s legal practice was that of a traditionally small firm vantage point; his own client base included civil, probate and even some criminal defense representation. Gordon also practiced in the Maryland and North Carolina state courts and in the federal courts on occasion. Too often the voice and perspective of the small firm lawyer gets lost in the court reform soufflé; Gordon’s ideas and his follow through were very beneficial to CCE over time.

A second example of Gordon’s highly productive work with the Council for Court Excellence concerned the probate court area. Here Gordon and a committee of CCE directors initially worked to identify specific procedural, statutory, and public informational proposals to improve the functioning of that important unit of the DC Superior Court. Subsequently, Gordon and his CCE committee worked with the bench, other bar, AARP, and local civic and legislative leaders to frame and successfully advance DC Council legislation to streamline the District’s probate processes. The resulting reforms helped reduce the cost of probating estates for countless citizens in DC every year, and facilitated more prompt court review of such cases.

Gordon never lacked energy or enthusiasm when it came to helping advance an idea in which he believed. I recall well his helpful direct contributions when CCE was beginning work on an educational video to teach high school students and civic audiences about jury duty. We had an ad hoc group developing a script and approach to the task when in walks Gordon to an early committee meeting with a detailed –two hour plus—full length draft script of an actual criminal trial. While it took considerable effort to whittle down Gordon’s initial script to video that could be shown and considered in a single 50 minute class period, Gordon’s early contributions were essential to our success. Today, some twenty years later I’d estimate well over 25,000 students have seen the CCE jury video. In so doing the students learned about what service on a jury is really like by participating in a “mock” jury deliberation deciding the case based on Gordon’s early contributions.

Fellow CCE Board member James Mercurio shared some of his perspectives with me about Gordon’s service when he wrote: “My recollections of him are mostly his continual, sound contributions as a member of the Executive Committee. He was always willing to share the value of his experience and wisdom regarding the DC court system and the bar. He always said that he liked the Council because one could 'get worthwhile things done' working through the Council’s support, without the bureaucratic road blocks often found in the bar and other organizations. And he worked to keep the Council willing to undertake projects that were needed, regardless of the popularity of the project in other segments of the legal community.

Gordon was a man who would do wonderful things for the public and help others do wonderful thing solely for the joy he felt in seeing improvements happen. People like him, and there are very sadly too few of them, don’t get headlines or pile up fortunes, but I think they enjoy their lives and spread that joy to others.”

In closing, I have absolutely no doubt that Gordon Forester’s work and voice as an active, long-time member of the Court for Court Excellence Board contributed directly to improving access to our courts for many citizens and litigants. His voice also helped make the Council for Court Excellence a vital and effective supporter of the administration of justice in the District of Columbia and beyond.

I also think Gordon would be proud to have that said about him!


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