July 29, 2021
I am pleased to report in as the new President of the FMJA, and resolve to do my best to fill the shoes of our Immediate Past President, Deborah Smith. As you know, the executive officers of the FMJA work closely together to keep the organization running smoothly, and Deb’s leadership over the past year has been steadfast and strong. The pandemic took a toll on many of us, and for those who lost loved ones, please accept my heartfelt condolences. To me, the silver lining of this intense global experience has been the opportunity to learn a few things about collaborative working relationships despite the inability to meet in person, as well as how to try to look better on video (an ongoing challenge, I’m sorry to say). Our executive team remains dedicated to addressing needs and concerns of Magistrate Judges around the country, so please reach out if we can help you. By way of reminder, Nicole Mitchell (E.D. Texas) is our President-Elect, Nancy Joseph (D. Wisconsin) is our Vice President, Shiva Hodges (D. South Carolina) is our Treasurer, and Ignacio Torteya (S.D. Texas) is our Secretary. Shari Bedker, our amazing Executive Director, makes sure that the FMJA keeps growing and thriving, and we could not keep all the balls in the air without her.
As I mentioned at the annual meeting on July 26, in addition to continuing Deb’s and other previous Presidents’ work to strengthen support for us in our role as federal judicial officers, I hope to focus on my “ADR” agenda for the year: Accountability, Diversity and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Starting with accountability, I believe that the FMJA has a responsibility to help ensure the integrity of the federal judicial system, which means in part assuring that limited magistrate judge resources are fairly allocated based on the workloads of magistrate judges, not other judicial officers, and based on an equitable comparison of those workloads. In order to address the massive and challenging issue of MJ workloads across the 94 districts of the United States, the MJStar Committee was formed last year to attempt to capture data about workloads and propose solutions to any measurement issues identified as a result of an intensive review of the MJStar software platform. Three task forces of the MJStar Committee are working on developing a nationwide survey of magistrate judges to collect data about workloads on a district-by-district basis (headed by Shiva Hodges), understanding the strengths and weaknesses of MJStar and addressing adequate training, in part by preparation of a Guidebook to MJStar (headed by Karoline Mehalchik), and recommending methods for appropriate measurement of magistrate judge duties regardless of the capabilities of MJStar (headed by Kimberly Priest Johnson). This is not an easy lift and the work will be on-going. If you would like to get involved, please let me know.
The FMJA has been a proud leader in efforts to ensure a diverse judiciary and equality of opportunity among judicial applicants. Our Diversity Committee, chaired by Ignacio Torteya and Nancy Joseph, took the lead last year in creating a stipend for four diverse law students to serve as summer externs in magistrate judge chambers around the country, with the help of the Just the Beginning Foundation. Our first group of fellows is in place and we hope to be able to expand the program in future years. Considering that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it is worth noting that our program has been copied and implemented by the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation, and it will be fun to watch for and assist other followers as well. As the federal judges who most often interact with litigants, doing what we can to promote a diverse roster of United States Magistrate Judges is an important priority for me.
The FMJA also has opportunities for those of us who are interested in other aspects of our work as judges, like international judicial relationships (or travel!), the Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, and legislative efforts, to name a few. Please check out the website (www.fmja.org) or feel free to contact me if you’d like to get involved. In closing, I could not be more excited and proud to take the reins of the FMJA, and I am eager to continue to move the organization forward in our mission to support the vital role of Magistrate Judges as an integral part of our federal judicial system.
With great R-E-S-P-E-C-T,