In October, the Center for Judicial Events and Clerkships (CJEC) welcomed three distinguished federal judges to the Law School for its fall 2020 Judges Week. The Judges Week initiative is designed to engage participating judges in all aspects of the life of the law school. The CJEC launched its Judges Week initiative last academic year in March, welcoming 18 federal judges to campus. During that event—hosted immediately prior to the COVID-19 shutdown—judges were engaged throughout the school, including hosting small discussions with students, co-teaching classes, and attending lunches and receptions.
Given the ongoing pandemic, the fall 2020 Judges Week was hosted virtually and welcomed Judge Amy St. Eve, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; Judge Richard Gergel, U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina; and Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
“It was an honor and a privilege to have such distinguished judges speak to our community, and especially to have them engage with our students on cutting edge issues,” said Reed Professor Daniel J. Capra, faculty director CJEC.
Judges Week kicked off on October 20, featuring a lecture from Judge St. Eve based on her 2018 Cornell Law Review Online article, “What Juries Really Think: Practical Guidance for Trial Lawyers.” Judge St. Eve’s lecture provided attendees with thoughtful advice and guidance based on the extensive research she conducted on the experiences of jurors in Chicago District Courts.
Judge St. Eve’s article is part of the curriculum taught in Fordham’s trial advocacy classes.
“The work Judge Amy St. Eve has done with jurors is essential reading for any trial lawyer,” said Adam Shlahet, director of the Moore Advocacy Center. “By pulling tangible data from over 500 of her jury members, she at once confirmed and upended conventional wisdom. What a gift it was to share that wisdom with our students.”
After Judge St. Eve’s formal Jurist in Residence lecture, she graciously hosted two virtual roundtables with students—one with Fordham Law Women members and another with a cohort of students considering clerkships as part of their career paths.
“For me, it was particularly meaningful to get time with Judge Amy St. Eve—someone who didn’t have any lawyers in her family—and Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., who is a person of color and has worked on important issues of police reform,” said Fordham Law Review‘s Editor-in-Chief Saniya Suri ’23. “Hearing their authentic experiences reassures me that I can also have a meaningful career in the law.”
Judges Week, Suri added, provides students with additional time to have personal conversations with the participating judges.
“Judge St. Eve addressed the importance of leadership and uplifting those we work with in building successful teams,” Suri said. “I found that to be extremely meaningful and something to bear in mind as I graduate and may find myself in leadership positions in the future.”
The following day, the CJEC hosted Judge Gergel who authored Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waites Waring. Judge Gergel’s book recounts an important and pivotal moment in civil rights history. Of significance, his book spotlights the work of distinguished Fordham Law alumnus Franklin Williams ’45. As special counsel with the NAACP, Williams represented Isaac Woodard, an African American World War II veteran who was attacked and blinded by police while in military uniform. Although no conviction was secured, Williams’ and the NAACP’s actions still served to bring national attention to the case, and thus helped shape Williams as a civil rights pioneer.
“The story behind Judge Gergel’s book and Franklin Williams’ advocacy are truly inspiring and touch on so many contemporary issues of racial justice,” said Dean Matthew Diller, who moderated the conversation with Judge Gergel. “We were truly honored to have Judge Gergel speak with our students this Judges Week and so grateful for his support of our graduates.”
Judges Week concluded on October 27, with a Jurist in Residence Lecture by Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. titled, “Race and Policing: Some Thoughts and Suggestions for Reform.” In 2015, Judge Oliver was appointed to preside over the U.S. Department of Justice Consent Decree with the City of Cleveland to overhaul policies that promoted excessive force in policing. Additionally, Judge Oliver presided over the civil rights lawsuit Tamir Rice filed against the City of Cleveland and its police force.
After Judge Oliver’s lecture, he graciously hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with diverse students touching on a wide array of topics from a further dialogue on points raised in his lecture to his early roots and career path.
Black Law Students Association President Abdulai Turay ’22 said it was important to see Judge Oliver. Turay noted that he was especially looking forward to hearing the judge’s journey from the segregated South to the federal bench.
“Representation matters. Only 10 percent of sitting federal judges and 13 percent of active judges are African American,” he said. “It was great to see someone who looks like me speak about issues like policing, which disproportionately affect our communities.”
Given the rise of protests for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, Judge Oliver’s lecture was particularly timely and important.
“In the context of this time in history and seeing how the law affects us, his topic was definitely a hot-button issue that you want to see a federal judge talking about,” Turay added. “Because, at the end of the day, he’s the one who presides over these cases on a regular basis.”
As the CJEC kicks off its second year, it continues to build upon the efforts of its inaugural year to develop initiatives that engage members of the judiciary with the law school community. “Our Judges Week initiative is truly representative of our overarching goal to seamlessly blend the mandates of the Center: welcoming esteemed members of the judiciary to present formal lectures on timely and important legal topics commingled with highly interactive and informal events to benefit the development of our students,” said Suzanne M. Endrizzi ’96, CJEC assistant dean.
The Jurist in Residence Lectures by Judges St. Eve and Oliver will be reproduced in the May 2021 volume of the Fordham Law Review.