If you are reading this, you probably have a pretty serious Jones for appellate law and practice. Assuming I’ve got you pegged correctly, the Appellate Judges Conference of the ABA lets you get in even deeper.

Here’s a secret: You don’t have to be a judge to join the Appellate Judges Conference (AJC).  The AJC includes the Council of Appellate Lawyers and the Council of Appellate Staff Attorneys.  So if you practice appellate law or just like the idea, and are a member of the ABA, you’ll love AJC.  It’s my supremely (cough) good fortune to be the AJC’s chair this year.  Let me tell you about it.

North Carolinians have long been involved in the AJC. Prior AJC chairs include former N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sid Eagles, Fourth Circuit Judge Jim Wynn, and N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin.  Both Judge Wynn and Chief Justice Martin went on later to chair the ABA’s entire Judicial Division.  Justice Martin managed the latter the same year he was appointed Chief and while running in a contested election to keep his seat for a full term, a feat of multi-tasking that I still find hard to believe.

In addition, Justice Timmons-Goodson served on the AJC’s Executive Committee and Fourth Circuit Judge Al Diaz is in the rotation to become AJC chair in a couple of years, assuming continued good behavior. Just to prove it isn’t all judges, Chris Browning, North Carolina’s former Solicitor General who now practices with Troutman Sanders in Raleigh, is a major player in the Council of Appellate Lawyers.  So if you join, expect to see lots of familiar faces.

What does the Appellate Judges Conference do? Most importantly, the Conference makes sure that the voice of the appellate bench and bar is heard within the ABA.  As an example, during Chief Justice Martin’s tenure, the ABA reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc. by considering an amendment to the Model Code of Judicial Conduct that would have given elected judges the ethical responsibility to investigate each campaign contribution and determine whether it required the judge to recuse from any case.  As any judicial candidate who has been in the arena of elective politics could immediately see, this proposal was unworkable for many reasons.  For instance, someone interested in a case who felt that a judge was likely to be hostile could cause that judge to recuse by the simple expedient of contributing to the judge’s campaign.

Under the leadership of then-Justice Martin, the AJC went to work within the ABA and the proposal was rejected, ensuring that each state could set and enforce its own disqualification procedures.

Members of the AJC’s Executive Board are also on the Board of the Appellate Judges Education Institute, which is run under the auspices of Duke Law School’s Bolch Judicial Institute (yet another North Carolina connection). AJEI is an annual multi-day program aimed squarely at appellate practitioners and judges.  The presentations are universally top-notch.  I had the pleasure of being program chair in 2014 and, as the photo shows, it wasn’t all drudgery.  BTW, that’s Mike Scodro with me, former Solicitor General for the State of Illinois, current representative for the Council of Appellate Lawyers on the AJC’s Executive Board, and practitioner with Mayer Brown LLP in Chicago.  This year, AJEI is being held in Atlanta not long before Thanksgiving.  Check it out here: https://judicialstudies.duke.edu/ajei/2018-summit/

I have great memories of various AJEI presentations. I’ve long been fascinated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Solicitor General and even wrote my master’s thesis on the decision-making process there.  I’ll never forget sharing a cab at an AJEI with then-Solicitor General Donald Verrilli; Lincoln Caplan, author of the book The Tenth Justice; and Scott Bales, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and former law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  Quite a ride; the apotheosis of geekdom.

Or the AJEI dinner where the conversation turned to the case then pending before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. In a scene reminiscent of Babe Ruth’s famous called home run, Chris Browning predicted that the Affordable Care Act would be upheld 6-3 on the basis of the Constitution’s taxing authority.  Off by one vote but dead on as to the basis for decision; not bad, Chris.

But wait! There’s more!  The Judicial Division publishes Judges Journal, a quarterly magazine in which lawyers and judges write for each other.  Recent issues have focused on such themes as bench-bar communications, addiction, and veterans’ matters.  AJC members routinely contribute to the Journal and serve on its Editorial Board.  Here’s a link: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/publications/judges_journal/2018/winter.html

AJC members also participate in the ABA’s Minority Clerkship Program, during which judges and practitioners work with law students to discuss what judicial clerks do and how best to land a position. The AJC works with other Conferences in the Judicial Division ( including state trial judges, federal trial judges, specialized court judges, and administrative law judges) to iron out common problems and issues.  The list goes ever on.

If you’re still reading, you belong in the Appellate Judge’s Conference. Take a look:  https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/conferences/appellate_judges.html.  C’mon in; the water’s fine!

-Bob Edmunds