Wednesday, November 30, 2022 8:07 pm

MARICOPA LAWYER cover story: What I have gained being a judge pro tempore, featuring Andrew Turk, Rose Law Group litigation department chair

By Maricopa County Superior Court Civil Pro Tempore Settlement Conference Innovation Workgroup | Maricopa Lawyer

If you have litigated any civil cases in the Maricopa County Superior Court, you have probably worked with a civil settlement judge pro tempore (JPT). If you have, you have probably appreciated the time and service your JPT(s) has provided to you and your client. But have you ever stopped to consider the benefits that service has for the JPT? The benefits are numerous. Below, some experienced JPTs, and a pair of sitting judges, share their thoughts on what they have gained by serving as a JPT.

1. Insight into Judicial Process—Echo Reynolds

Serving as a JPT has allowed me, as a practicing attorney, to participate in the Court in a meaningful and unique way.

Engaging with various factions of the Court and with parties provides significant insight into the flow of cases, the issues our judges face, and takes some mystery out of the judicial process.

As a JPT, I have become aware of certain challenges, and many of the rewards, that serving the Court provides both personally and to our community. My pro bono service provides me the opportunity to gain insight into the judicial process, offering my time and assistance by working with the Court and the parties towards resolving matters before trial, all of which helps the Court and the community by providing these services free of charge.

2. Exposure to Legal Issues Outside My Normal Practice—David Sandweiss

An invaluable benefit of serving as a JPT is that it has immersed me in legal issues outside my daily practice. As a State Bar lawyer, I regularly deal with ethics and professionalism issues but almost every case has a unique subject-matter context. Gaining knowledge from JPT activities I would not otherwise obtain through CLE not only scratches that inquisitive itch to know more law, which is a benefit in itself; it also enables me to be a more effective, knowledgeable, and credible bar counsel.

3. Insight into Whether a Judicial Career is for Me—Hon. Timothy J. Thomason

I served as a JPT for almost 20 years when I practiced law. Most of the JPT work I did was conducting civil settlement conferences. Without the participation of JPTs in the settlement conference process, we would have dramatically fewer settlements and far more cases going to trial.

Lawyers who conduct civil settlement conferences are also learning and improving a valuable skill. Being a good mediator is an art that takes many years of experience to master. Lawyers who are considering a future as a mediator or as a judge would greatly benefit by serving as a settlement conference JPT. I conduct many settlement conferences in my Court. My background as a JPT helped me hone the skills needed to be an effective settlement conference judge.

The lawyers who devote their time and energies to conducting civil settlement conferences as JPTs are providing a huge benefit to our system of civil justice. Lawyers who are presently not serving as a JPT should seriously consider doing so. You won’t regret it!!

4. Opportunities to Develop New Relationships—Hon. Danielle Viola

Relationships are a key component of any successful practice. As a practitioner, you likely receive client referrals from friends, family, community contacts, and other lawyers. Volunteering as a JPT offers a unique opportunity to build relationships with lawyers in the community.

While not every settlement conference involves lawyers, most involve individual parties or corporate representatives. The people participating in the conference often develop a rapport with the JPT or an appreciation of the JPT’s efforts during the conference. The JPT typically has time during the conference to talk with the participants to learn more about them and the dispute. In doing so, the JPT may identify common interests, the potential for collaborating on a future matter, a referral source, or source of expertise. By serving as a JPT, you can provide a valuable service to the court and the profession while also opening the door to developing relationships that may benefit you personally, professionally, or both.

5. Experience with ADR—Echo Reynolds

Serving as a JPT, I have been afforded the opportunity to develop and hone my ADR skill set as a neutral, in addition to helping the Court and parties involved in civil litigation resolve pending cases without the need for trial. Although my practice is dedicated solely to civil litigation, as a JPT I have expanded my knowledge of various civil matters that are not in the typical purview of my practice. This has allowed me to use and develop

my legal skills in a rewarding way that expands my own ADR practice and provide greater insight into a wider variety of civil matters.

6. Opportunities to Watch Other Attorneys in Action—Jason Kelly

Fresh out of law school, I had the opportunity to be mentored by a retired Court of Appeals judge who was of counsel at my new firm. He spent a great deal of time mentoring me as to how to be a credit to our profession through civil and proper interactions with attorneys and judges.

He would often say, “This is the type of attorney you want to be,” and then go on to describe that attorney to me. I listened but being just out of law school and in my mid-twenties I failed to fully digest the sage advice.

As a JPT, I have conducted short trials, covered Commissioners’ calendars, and conducted settlement conferences. These experiences drove home, and continue to drive home, the lessons I was taught two decades ago, and I firmly believe this has helped me become a better attorney.

7. Using My Experience to Give Back to the Profession – Andrew Turk

Sometimes it is difficult to remember that practicing law is a privilege. As civil litigators, we cannot do our jobs without judges, commissioners, and everyone else who works at the courthouses in which we practice. Service as a JPT is a tacit recognition of all the courts do for us and allows us to reciprocate. Additionally, as JPTs, we assist our colleagues in the service of their clients. As a JPT, I am able to bring my experience to bear to help lighten the load (just a bit) for the Court and help parties reach resolution of cases short of trial. Service as a JPT is as personally rewarding as it is vital to the system.

8. A Chance to Help People Solve Problems—Brett Johnson

Sometimes, in the hustle to consciously advocate for a client’s position or get hung up on abstract legal theories, we as lawyers become desensitized to the reality that at the end of every legal dispute are real people that need closure and support to move on. Whether they are heads of large corporations or involved in a car accident, I appreciate that, as a JPT, we are seeking to help to solve real problems in other people’s lives. In my experience as a JPT, I have had the privilege of working with people through a difficult point in their lives and trying to solve problems that should never need to be resolved in a courtroom. I have greatly enjoyed my role at helping people get beyond a troubling period in their lives, expediting a resolution that is equitable, and allowing people to move on.

9. Improved My Advocacy and Negotiation Skills—Hope Kirsch

As lawyers, we are presented with a side for which to advocate, and for some of us, we do get to choose our clients and thus the position with which we feel comfortable and want to advocate. As JPTs, we don’t have the “luxury” of picking and choosing the cases and issues assigned to us, and so, rather than advocating a position, we must move to the middle, to a neutral and unbiased place and seek a balance and common ground for the parties to find resolution. It then involves skill in pushing each side toward that middle, advancing counter-arguments. It’s a whole lot different than advocacy, and that much more challenging. I use these skills for my own clients. I fully prepare my clients for the arguments the mediator will advance, while also counseling them to move toward a common ground and resolution with which they are comfortable.

10. Valuable Training and Continuing Education Credits—Andrew Turk

The Court relies on JPTs to get cases settled. It wants and needs JPTs to be well-prepared. To do this, the Court makes sure that every JPT gets initial training, including some great materials, to help them get the job done. Nor is it just a “one and done” type deal. To the contrary, the Court provides training on developing areas and topics, most recently on how to conduct a virtual settlement conference. The training classes are some of the best I have ever attended and usually qualify for continuing education credit. The training sessions also provide an opportunity to meet and get to know other JPTs and to learn directly from judges and court staff. Best of all, the training is often applicable to your daily practice. As an education experience, it is hard to beat.

You Can Gain Your Own Experiences—Volunteer!

What a great list of reasons to serve as a JPT! The Maricopa County Superior Court thanks all our JPT volunteers. With the support of our JPTs, the Court provided settlement conferences in 648 cases during fiscal year 2022 resulting in 301 full settlements.

Now, you may be asking yourself if you are qualified to become a JPT. To be a Superior Court Judge Pro Tempore, you must be: 1) at least 30 years old; 2) of good moral character; and 3) admitted to the practice of law in Arizona for not less than five years preceding your appointment.

If you are interested in serving as a Judge Pro Tempore, apply online at https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/judge-pro-tempore/. The application process opens on January 1, 2023, so mark your calendar!

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