Federal judges to recharge at Vanderbilt Law School

Federal judges will reflect and learn at a seminar designed to help them meet the extraordinary demands, both personal and professional, of their work.

The first Mid-Career Seminar for U.S. District Judges is set for the fall of 2014. The product of a partnership between the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) and Vanderbilt Law School, it will be led by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, director of the FJC, and Terry Maroney, professor of law and professor of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt. It is the latest evidence of the law school’s expanding role as a center for the study of judges and judging.

“This seminar will provide a reflection and training opportunity for federal district court judges who have been on the job for between five and 10 years,” Maroney said. “These judges have been on the bench long enough to know their strengths and weaknesses, and to have developed their own judicial philosophies and personalities. This is a perfect moment to reengage with their aspirations in becoming judges. We aim to create space for them to reflect and recharge in a deep way, something their daily work pressures can make difficult.”

Three-phase training as judges

The seminar is part of a three-phase program the Federal Judicial Center conducts for federal judges based on where they are in their careers. Brand-new federal judges are trained by FJC on the basics of the job, followed shortly by a second phase of training on the knowledge, skills and attributes needed by judges at the beginning of their careers. Maroney and Fogel, along with appellate Judge David Hamilton of the Seventh Circuit, already participate in the second phase by talking with new judges about coping with emotional challenges, particularly at criminal sentencing.

Building on the success of that collaboration, the Mid-Career Seminar will for the first time offer judges a third phase of training. Admission to the seminar will be exclusive: about 30 judges will be accepted through an application process. The seminar will be offered annually.

For Fogel, the idea for such a seminar was born during his more than 30 years as a sitting judge, first in the California state courts and later as federal judge in the Northern District of California. Drawing on his experience of the daily challenges of judging and his skills as a teacher and mediator, he designed a series of programs aiming to enhance excellence in judging. His leadership of FJC has provided Fogel an opportunity to enact that vision on a much broader scale.

“Being a judge requires so much more than a strong intellect and mastery of the law,” Fogel said. “It requires a deep understanding of the philosophy of judging, the human interests at stake, and our unique role in a democracy. To be a great judge requires a sense of both humility and wonder.”

Judge as leader

In addition to encouraging judges to reconnect with that sense, Fogel noted, the seminar also will focus on “the role of the judge as a leader,” and will offer substantive training on the “sources of complexity that make judging in the 21st century uniquely challenging,” such as scientific complexity.

Research focus on judges and judging

For Dean Chris Guthrie, this unique collaboration solidifies Vanderbilt Law School’s position as a center for the study of judges and judging.

With several scholars who research judicial decision making, the Vanderbilt Law School is home to the Branstetter Program in Litigation and Dispute Resolution; the American Judicature Society, a 100-year-old organization dedicated to protecting judicial integrity, which moved its headquarters to Nashville this past summer; and a unique Law and Neuroscience program, headed by Professor Owen Jones, that is partnering with the judiciary to provide training on law and the brain.

“On any given day at Vanderbilt Law School, we might have a state-court judge teaching Trial Advocacy, a federal judge leading an intensive short course or judging the Moot Court competition, or a visit from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” said Guthrie, citing the actual lineup for February alone.

“And on that same day, our faculty will be working on better understanding judges’ emotions, observing their brain activity while in a scanner, analyzing their voting patterns, or examining different models for judicial selection and retention.”

Given this strong academic focus on judging, Guthrie said, “we are thrilled that FJC has chosen Vanderbilt as its partner in this important new vehicle for supporting judicial excellence.”

Theory and practice together

Maroney echoed the theme. “This collaboration brings theory and practice together,” she said. “It’s a space within which academics and judges will work together to help actual humans better meet a set of job expectations that can border on the superhuman.”

The FJC is the education and research agency for the federal courts. Congress created the FJC in 1967 to promote improvements in judicial administration in the courts of the United States.

Terry Maroney specializes in the role of emotion in law, drawing heavily on interdisciplinary scholarship. Her current work examines the impact of emotion on judicial decision making.