This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
An Interview with Judge Norma L. Shapiro
Judge Norma L. Shapiro was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1978. She is presently chair of the American Bar Association's Judicial Division.
Q: As chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Judicial Division (JD), what role do you see the division playing? What would you like to accomplish during your tenure as chair?
A: The Judicial division (it used to be the Judicial Administration Division, but we feel the JD more properly describes our role) is an organization where judges, lawyers and academic persons concerned with the courts, provide assistance in improving the administration of justice and offer educational and social activities for its members. The ABA is a place where judges and lawyers can work together and with other entities on issues of common interest, within the ethical constraints imposed on judges by their special roles. My particular goal is shared by the ABA itself: it is to show special concern for the independence of the Judiciary, to determine what judges can do to understand their proper role, and to protect and defend that role.
Q: Judicial independence has been under fire in recent months. What are your views on this?
A: My views mirror those of Chief Justice Rehnquist when he called an independent Judiciary one of the "crown jewels" of our system of government. I believe that independent state and federal Judiciaries are fundamental to preserving the rule of law. We have to make clear that judges do not oppose informed criticism of their decisions. The occasionally improper conduct of judges is a proper area of concern. However, there should not be improper personal attacks. I took heart during the budget crisis when Congress responded to Chief Justice Rehnquist's communication to keep the Judiciary budget independent and not permit the courts to be closed even though other government agencies were closing. Congress also recognized the importance of the Judiciary by funding education efforts for judges through the Federal Judicial Center, the State Justice Institute, and law enforcement agencies. Judicial independence is generally recognized by both federal and state legislatures, but sometimes in times of stress or frustration, we lose sight of it.
I'm hoping to form an ABA committee to help judges understand what is the proper and improper response to criticism--a sort of judicial support group. Under former ABA President Roberta Cooper Ramo's leadership, there was a similar mentor program, chaired by Judge William M. Hoeveler (S.D. Fla.), to help judges assigned to high profile cases deal with their management and the media. I hope this committee will be a group judges can turn to when they don't know what to do about criticism perceived as unjust.
Q: In what ways and on what issues do you see federal and state courts working together for their mutual benefit? What is the JD's relationship with the Judicial Conference of the United States?
A: The JD is a splendid example of groups of federal and state appellate, trial, administrative, and special court judges (together with the lawyers who practice in, manage, and study these diverse courts) working together to explore common views and consider common projects. I value the JD and my role in the ABA because I am able to meet so many judges and learn so much. I think we have common problems, and in seeking common solutions we achieve mutual understanding. Federal-state judicial councils are a good initiative and should be supported.
The JD relationship with the Judicial Conference is, first of all, one of great respect. Many of our members are committee chairs or members of committees of the Judicial Conference. I think the ABA hopes for a strengthened relationship with the Judicial Conference, and I'm hopeful the JD will be involved in those efforts.
Q: The Civil Justice Reform Act, an increased emphasis on innovative case management, and greater use of automation are changing the lives of federal judges. Are these positive developments?
A: Yes, as long as you don't crunch numbers and pressure court personnel to achieve dispositions regardless of their merit. As a judge, your goal must be first and foremost the just determination of litigation. Speed and efficiency contribute to that just determination, so we should investigate the proper uses of automation and technology with an open mind and an experimental attitude, and accept automation where it is an improvement. But we should reject change for the sake of change, or if it threatens cherished values. We should be conscious that increased automation can sometimes inadvertently remove the human element. Anyone who has contacted a computerized telephone system with voice mail understands the frustration involved! Also, we have to be concerned that technology may further isolate the Judiciary from the community; there are pros and cons in terms of court access. At any rate, we shouldn't be ashamed or hesitant to seek resources for judges and the justice system where necessary for the proper administration of justice.
Q: Is there a danger that judges are becoming administrators rather than arbiters of justice?
A: There is a danger, but I don't believe that the courts of this country have sacrificed justice. Our courts are the envy of the free world. You need some administration to have justice. It's a question of balancing, and judges balance every day of their lives. We should be sensitive to the danger, but as long as persons of ability and integrity are our judges, they will resist becoming administrators rather than arbiters of justice.
Q: The JD is involved in education seminars for judges. Can you tell us more about this work?
A: We especially are proud of our involvement with educational programs for judges and lawyers. The ABA's Annual and Midyear meetings provide opportunities for important educational programs covering substantive and administrative topics. We also offer educational programs apart from these meetings, including those of the Appellate Judges Conference for appellate judges generally, and chief judges of intermediate appellate and appellate staff attorneys, specifically. The conference offers at least seven seminars annually for appellate judges and nonjudicial staff to discuss critical issues facing the courts with colleagues, leading scholars, and active practitioners. In addition to our fine relationships with the Federal Judicial Center and National Center for State Courts, our Traffic Court Program provides a nationally recognized annual seminar.
We have a close relationship with the National Judicial College (NJC), formed in 1963 by the ABA joint Committee for Effective Administration of Justice, chaired by Justice Tom C. Clark of the U.S. Supreme Court. The ABA Board of Governors elects the 15-member NJC Board of Trustees. Currently, three trustees are nominated by the Council. The NJC provides numerous courses (over 50 this year alone) and conferences at its campus in Reno, Nevada and other satellite sites for judges of all jurisdictions and levels.
Q: What has, or could be, done to foster better relationships between the Judiciary and lawyers?
A: Bar associations offer an ideal opportunity for this. Bar association activities provide an ethical way for judges to interact with lawyers and understand their problems and to help them understand our problems. I was active in the Philadelphia Bar Association before I became a judge.
There's a decline in civility between lawyers, although I have not observed a lessened respect for judges. But law practice is no longer like living in a small town where everyone knows everyone; it is more depersonalized now and that creates tensions. Judges are under a great deal of pressure. Even if we didn't have criticism derived from our public exposure, we would criticize ourselves in order to seek self-improvement. The opportunity for personal contact and interaction in a bar association helps avoid undesirable attacks on judges and lawyers and leads us to constructive activities.
Each of us has to continue the mutual effort to form a more perfect union. Those who are privileged to be elected or appointed judges, whether state or federal, have a special obligation to protect our Constitution. Acting together, through a professional association, helps us to meet our responsibilities. We can educate ourselves to mange our work better, and educate others to understand the importance of a independent Judiciary. We can work with lawyers to encourage respect for the rule of law locally, nationally, and even internationally. Also, you can't underestimate the importance of the socialization, the friendships that we form, that nourish our spirit, and add to the joy of judicial life.