Courtroom Experience

This is third in a series of posts highlighting my experience in each of the ten factors in evaluating a judicial candidate, as suggested by C. Dale McClain, a former President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in a 2009 blog post:

1. Legal ability. 

2. Trial or other similar experience that ensures knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures.

3. A record and reputation for excellent character and integrity. 

4. Financial responsibility. 

5. Judicial temperament. 

6. Mental and physical capacity to fulfill the duties of judicial office. 

7. Record of community involvement. 

8. Administrative ability. 

9. Devotion to improvement of the quality of justice. 

10. Demonstrated sound judgment in professional life. 

 Ashley Athey Photography

Ashley Athey Photography

Courtroom experience is one important factor in selecting a judge.  In McClain's post, he goes on to describe what he means by it in more detail:

2. Trial or other similar experience that ensures knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures. A judicial candidate's professional experience should be long enough so that the voter can evaluate the candidate's performance in dealing with legal problems and the judicial process.

While substantial trial experience can be a "plus," other types of legal experience also should be considered, such as negotiation and mediation skills. Lawyers in private practice, law teachers or corporate, government or public interest lawyers or others who are not frequently in the courtroom might have experience that would make them successful judges.

I am in the courtroom at least two to three times per week and have been litigating most of my twenty years as a lawyer.  I handle everything from short pre-trial conferences to multi-day hearings involving multiple parties.  I've handled depositions with unruly parties and court hearings so acrimonious that the presiding judge has had to send the bailiff to return a party to the courtroom.  As a frequent Judge Pro Tempore (substitute judge) I've managed a courtroom with people who are confused, scared, angry, and frustrated.  It's always my hope as a Judge Pro Tempore to make court as calm as possible, to ensure that every party present has access to a lawyer whenever possible, and to ensure that the courtroom remains neutral, fair, and transparent.  

In addition to courtroom experience, I also have other types of legal experience, including more than ten years as a Domestic Relations Mediator, where I work as a neutral to help the parties reach a mutual agreement, more than eight years as a Collaborative Lawyer, where both sides and their attorneys meet around a conference table instead of in a courtroom to solve the problem, and more than four years as an Adjunct Professor at the IU Maurer School of Law, teaching law students how to work toward compromise and take their clients through a mediation. These alternate ways of resolving disputes are often preferable to court and as Judge I would encourage mediation and alternative forms of dispute resolution whenever appropriate.


Catherine Stafford