President’s Message: February/March 2016

Getting to know your Judges in the digital age

OVERBERG_Nathan -cropped

PCBA President Nathan Overberg

The state court’s electronic filing (EDMS) system is an impressive technological accomplishment that has revolutionized the pleading/motion practice in our state courts much in the way that e-mail and then texting have revolutionized our communication practices in all aspects of our life. These technological advances undoubtedly make us more productive and efficient.

One downside to all of this technology, however, is the reduction in the amount of time we all spend actually talking to one another. When I started at the firm only 16 years ago, associates would actually walk pleadings to the courthouse for an opportunity to interact with the courthouse staff, hearings were regularly held in chambers (seldom by phone), and we would not think of e-mailing a judge. Especially when handling matters in “rural” courthouses, we were advised to get to the courthouse early on motion day so we could join the local attorneys and judges for their morning cup of coffee. Frankly, I found these informal, pre-hearing conversations with opposing counsel and the judge to be not only enjoyable, but quite productive. Our system seems to work best when all of the participants know each other and act with a mutual respect and humanistic understanding. In-person interactions help to build that level of trust and cooperation.

I acknowledge that these types of in-person interactions continue to occur to some degree in the regular course of handling cases, but they are happening less frequently. As such, attorneys need to make a little extra effort to get to know their judges, and vice versa. One of the roles the Polk County Bar Association plays in our legal community is to attempt to facilitate that process. In that vein, I want to take the opportunity to remind you of several upcoming events which give our judges and lawyers opportunities to work, learn, and socialize together:

  • On February 9 the PCBA will be hosting our annual Bench and Bar Luncheon at the downtown Marriott. Chief Justice Mark Cady from the Iowa Supreme Court and Chief Judge Arthur Gamble, 5th Judicial District of Iowa, will provide us updates on the State of the Judiciary and the status of the construction on Polk County Courthouse complex.
  • On March 3, the PCBA Bench/Bar Committee will host its Bench & Bar Spring Seminar at the ISBA Headquarters. The agenda includes updates from lawyers, judges and justices regarding implementation of the ECA, Business Court & discovery rules, the use of proposed orders, and more.
  • On April 21, the PCBA Bench/Bar Committee will be hosting a New/Retiring Judges’ Reception at the ISBA Headquarters.

I encourage you to take advantage of all of these opportunities.

Finally, I wanted to point out another opportunity to get to know your judges that I was relatively unfamiliar with until this past year. As President of the Polk County Bar Association I am given the honor of speaking briefly at our new judges’ investiture ceremonies which are held at the Polk County Courthouse. Over the last ten months, I have spoken at or attended four such ceremonies. Not only are these events impressive and moving, but I promise you will learn more about your new judges at these ceremonies then you will through any other means. Where else will you learn about a judge’s ability to whip up a mean bar-b-que dish or hit sweet left-handed homers on the softball diamond. More importantly, you will leave with an unwaivering conviction that our selection process is providing us with thoughtful, hardworking, grounded, compassionate, service-minded judges. As you can imagine, Judge Gamble runs a tight ship and so the ceremony is over in an hour or less, and the ceremony is followed by a cake and punch reception sponsored by the PCBA. When the opportunity arises in the future, I would encourage you to attend one or more of these ceremonies. I can assure you that you will benefit more by attending the ceremonies in person along with your colleagues from the bench and bar, than you would by reading about the ceremonies on Twitter.