– February Newsletter –
Celebrating Black History Month
Every February, citizens across the United States honor the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. Black History Month highlights and celebrates these contributions. Our FBA chapter joins the rest of the nation in honoring our African American members and history-makers.
A Message From Our President
Judge Teresa J. James
Somehow, it seems fitting that I sit down to write this note for our February (Black History Month) newsletter in the wake of the first nomination of an African American woman for a seat on the Highest Court of our land, the U.S. Supreme Court. Closer to home, the first African American woman to serve as Chief Judge for the District of Kansas, The Honorable Julie Robinson, recently completed her tenure as Chief. These are monumental historic “firsts.” I know, personally, that all of the judges in the District of Kansas have benefited greatly through the wisdom and grace of Judge Robinson’s leadership. Across the country, we all benefit from the leadership and example provided by so many outstanding African Americans.
Did you know that the NAACP was founded February 12, 1909, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln? Or that February was established as Black History Month because the second week of February coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas (Lincoln obviously influential in the emancipation of slaves and Douglas a former slave who became a leader in the abolitionist movement)? Or that Black History Month was first officially recognized in the United States by President Gerald Ford in 1976? We’ve come a long way over the years, but we have so, so much further to go….
I challenge each and every one of us to reflect on what we can do to promote diversity and inclusiveness, in the Bar and beyond. I invite you to get involved in the FBA Diversity Committee under the steady hand and leadership of Magistrate Judge Counts. Sign up for the Implicit Bias and Diversity CLE that Committee is sponsoring on March 29th at 12:00 (noon). Get involved in the the FBA Civics and Outreach Committee which is partnering with the Diversity Committee on a number of projects. There are a multitude of opportunities out there for you to be involved.
As lawyers, we like to fix things and we’re pretty good at that. I think, though, it‘ s not just what we do professionally that matters – it’s how we live our lives every day. In the words of Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (July 4, 1992, acceptance speech for the Liberty Award):
“The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me.”
So, both personally and professionally, Let’s Do It!
Judge Julie Robinson
By Eric Weslander
Judge Julie Robinson
When she was appointed to the bench in 2001 by President George W. Bush, Judge Julie Robinson became the first African American judge in the history of the District of Kansas. A fourth-generation Kansan, Judge Robinson is the great-granddaughter of an “Exoduster” who journeyed from Kentucky westward with other freed slaves and eventually settled in Hiawatha, Kansas in 1878.
In a prior interview with the U.S. Courts, Judge Robinson has described the overwhelming feeling she had while walking up the circle drive of the White House to meet with the White House Counsel during her judicial appointment process. At that time, she recalled a story her late grandmother used to tell about civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune being invited to the White House to meet Eleanor Roosevelt. “At least in my grandmother’s thinking, an African-American woman had never been invited to the White House as a guest, and she was invited there to have tea with Eleanor Roosevelt, and [my grandmother described] how special that was, and how great that was, and how proud the African American community was that Mary McLeod Bethune got invited to the White House,” Robinson told the U.S. Courts. “As I was walking up that circle drive, all I could think of was my grandmother, and I how I wish my grandmother could be with me and holding my hand and walking up to the White House with me.”
We caught up with Judge Robinson, who took senior status earlier this year after more than 20 years on the bench, to talk about her experiences on the bench, the state of the courts today, and the importance of Black History Month.
Q: What do you consider the signature Judge Julie Robinson approach to a problem or issue?
A: Be very well prepared. That’s what my signature approach was as a lawyer, really, this idea that I needed to be as prepared or hopefully better prepared than the next person. It’s that way now, too. No matter the kind of case or issues there’s always more than what’s going on on the paper.
Q: You have described wanting to be an attorney from the age of 5. What made you think that?
A: Growing up I didn’t know lawyers, my family didn’t know lawyers… It’s interesting because we were overseas [with her father stationed in the military]. I’d watch all this old stuff. I came upon Perry Mason at a pretty young age and was just fascinated with it. It was the mystery part of it. I don’t know why, it just got in my head… It was just sort of that ‘I can do that.’
Q: How has the federal judiciary evolved since you first took the bench?
A: It some ways it hasn’t changed at all but in other ways I think we do see some trends. For example, when I became a judge, our discretion in criminal cases was cabined by the sentencing guidelines. I know I feel a whole lot better about that aspect of the work which is very difficult work. Because I can use discretion, I think I’m far more comfortable now than I was 20 years ago… Things have been consistent in terms of discrimination cases, although I don’t’ see as many. In the Kansas City division we see a lot of commercial cases. Over time I think I’ve seen more intellectual property cases in my caseload than I did at the outset. In general, things are so much faster because we’re in a digital world, with filings coming in 24/7.
Q: What about changes you have seen happening in our society and our system of government during that time?
A: Just for example the appointment process, I think we viewed it as contentious back in 2001, but it was far more functional and far less contentious than it is now. Twenty years ago lawyers and judges alike were grieving that civics education was being under-taught. That’s only gotten worse; it’s not gotten better… Now we’ve got a greater task because we have to get past the misinformation. Before maybe it was a lack of information; now it’s misinformation. People think they know but they really don’t, and that’s troubling.
Q: Judge John Lungstrum said at time of your appointment to the bench said he regarded you as one of the finest attorneys who had practiced in front of him. For attorneys practicing in federal court, what would increase their chances of a judge thinking the same thing about them?
A: Here’s an advantage I had: I appeared regularly in court. We were trying a lot of cases… One of the things I grieve is that we don’t’ get to see lawyers in court that much anymore… People don’t tend to ask for [oral argument] because they just think they’re going to be turned down because it’s kind of a long-standing culture. But I think one of the ways we move out of that is to have lawyers ask for it more. Frankly as the decision maker, if you don’t think it’s going to advance the cause or help you, there’s some reluctance, particularly when you’re really busy… but on the other hand I think we’re all aware that particularly younger lawyers need more opportunity to come into court and to make oral arguments. I think if we start getting more motions, and particularly if it looks like it’s an effort that the younger lawyers get a chance, we may be more inclined to do it.
Q: What’s the best thing and the most challenging thing about being a federal District Court judge?
A: The best thing is the variety of cases. Although we are courts of limited jurisdiction, we see such a wide variety of types of cases, and I’m always having to learn new things, always having to learn new law. It’s what makes the job so interesting… The most difficult aspect of the job is sentencing people in criminal cases… That’s the most difficult and stressful.
Q: What advice would you give to law students and attorneys starting out in the practice?
A: The things I was told that still resonate with me are, first of all, don’t let anyone make you feel insecure, make you feel like you don’t belong where you are. Second of all, your relationships in the legal community begin the day you walk into law school. The people you’re in class with, they’re going to be your colleagues, perhaps your Governor, Senator, Justice on the Supreme Court. You want to engage with people. You want to leave law school with a good reputation and with friends and no enemies. You want to carry that into practice… When you encounter difficult people, you still don’t want them to be your enemies. Which sometimes means you have to bite your tongue and take it– but without being walked on –but don’t engage in a tit for tat with somebody who’s misbehaving.
Q: You’ve been involved in a lot of judicial leadership roles in your time on the bench. What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the federal judiciary today?
A: Well, money. That’s always been an ongoing thing. Just having the budget to administer services. We’ve got, for example, a legacy electronic filing system. It’s not going to be around forever if we don’t get a new system in place…. And I think we have an ongoing issue in terms of not just the public but our elected officials not truly understanding what we do, how we work, that we don’t get to control our caseloads. We don’t get to control the volume of our work. Sometimes that’s a function of things that they do in fact, but we are often squeezed in terms of something major happening and workload going up, and we have to make do with the same resources.
Q: I love the image of you walking up the White House circle drive and thinking about your grandmother, and her stories about Mary McLeod Bethune’s historic visit to the White House. What does Black History Month mean to you?
A: We think of history sometimes as being in the distant past, but I’m 65 years old. I’ve seen a lot of Black history unfold in my lifetime, significant history. There’s a lot of important things that happened long before my lifetime, but when you think of all the things that have happened since say 1957, it’s been an amazing period to be an African American in this country, and I say that in a positive way. History has always been important to me. Family history has always been important to me. I feel like it strengthens me, it gives me confidence to be able to know that I’ve been able to do what I’ve done because of all of the people before me who really had it tough and worked hard, but still had a dream that the next generation would be better. And that’s what happened… I think it’s encouraging and inspiring.
Q: What are your favorite ways to unwind and relax?
A: I read. I play with my dog. [miniature Schnauzer mix]. My husband and I watch a lot of series [e.g.,. Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, the Wire]. We’re big KU basketball fans, but mostly watching on TV and not attending in person, and big Chiefs fans. I also like to travel. My bucket list is to go to all seven continents. I still have Australia and Antarctica to go.
Q: What does the transition to senior status involve?
It doesn’t feel like a reduced caseload for quite a while. I don’t’ have a replacement so I’m not able to give away cases without causing strife to my colleagues. I still have a full criminal caseload. It’ll take a couple years before it feels like it is being reduced …I want to ultimately end up at about a 50 percent caseload. That doesn’t mean you show up for work only 2-1/2 days a week.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from your time on the bench?
A: Most of them are trials. I came to the bench because I wanted to preside over trials. I was a trial lawyer. After doing this 20 years, with thousands of cases, most of that’s not going to stick … The ones I remember best are the ones were I can put names with faces, not only for lawyers but for parties and witnesses. Those are my fondest memories.
Q: What are some of the most common mistakes you see experienced attorneys make?
A: I think some people aren’t as well versed in the rules as they need to be. … Know the local rules because it’s interesting how many times something will come up and there’s a local rule that really addresses it, and lawyers may not be aware of that. It’s hard to stay on top of the Rules of Evidence and all of that, but if you’re going to have an evidentiary hearing, you need to be prepared and need to bone up on the Rules of Evidence. That can really derail you if you don’t know how to get something admitted or whatever. The other thing is to just know your case inside and out. If you are going to trial and you know that an associate, or someone whose name is not at the top of the signature block, knows that case, but they’re not the ones that get to examine the witnesses… It’s obvious a lot of times that the person doing that work doesn’t know the case the way they should. If they’re going to come in at the ninth hour, they better know the case. Better yet, the person working on it from day one should have a significant role in the trial.
Q: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to leave readers with?
A: We live in such contentious and polarized times. I think it’s becoming more and more important that we engage with people that are unlike us– across all spheres, socioeconomic groups, race, age, geographic origin, religion, whatever. We’ve got to do that. We’ve got to hear other people’s stories. We’ve got to all fight the implicit bias that dwells within us. We all have that… [At the time of her appointment] people were much more willing to embrace one another and care about one another. Lawyers and judges, we’re all leaders in our communities. So we’re just going to need to model that for others.
Eric Weslander is a litigator and former journalist who has used his investigative and storytelling skills to advocate for clients in a variety of lawsuits involving personal injury/tort, business disputes, media law, and governmental regulation with Stevens & Brand, LLP.
A Profile on Chester Lewis Jr.
By Diana Stanley
A few weeks ago, I found myself—like many Wichitans over the last few months—getting a COVID test at the Chester I. Lewis Learning Center. The Chester Lewis school is imposing in the way that most public-school buildings of a certain age are—all stone, hard tile, and echoes that whisper that you shouldn’t run in the halls. I was intrigued by this school, bounded as it is by historically Black neighborhoods such as Fairmount and Matlock Heights. Or more specifically, I was curious about its namesake.
Chester I. Lewis, Jr. was a Kansas civil rights activist. Born in Hutchinson in 1928, Chester Lewis Sr. was the head of a Black newspaper, The Hutchinson Blade. His father encouraged him to become a lawyer so that Lewis Jr. could fight in the courts what Lewis Sr. had fought in the press. And so, Lewis attended the University of Kansas, where he would graduate with a law degree in 1953 near the top of his class.
Lewis then moved south to Wichita and immediately began to shake up the local establishment. His first piece of litigation began with the birth of his first child in July 1953. Lewis’s wife, Jacqueline, had lighter skin. After the birth, a nurse asked Jacqueline her race. Upon learning that she was Black, the nurse required Jacqueline to move to another room because Wesley Hospital only gave private rooms to white women. The nurses then moved Lewis’s newborn son to a segregated area of the nursery ward.
Lewis confronted the hospital staff and threatened to sue them under an obscure 1874 Kansas statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. The hospital quickly changed its policy. Two months later, Lewis initiated his next civil rights lawsuit using the same 1874 law—this time successfully desegregating the city’s public swimming pool. Lewis was only 25.
What I found interesting about the various accounts of Lewis’s life is that historians seem to disagree on what exactly his greatest accomplishment was. For some, it was his large class action on behalf of Black train porters. For others, it was his successful defense of 110 civil rights protestors at the University of Kansas in 1965. For still other historians, it was his role as a national leader in the Young Turks movement within the NAACP.
In recent years, historians have focused on Lewis’s actions during the Wichita Dockum sit-in. In 1958, a group of Wichita youth approached Lewis with the idea of staging a protest at a local segregated lunch spot. At the time, Lewis was the President of the local NAACP chapter and had previously mentored the students on nonviolent protest tactics. When the students approached Lewis, the idea of a lunch counter sit-in was unheard of. Lewis and his officers called the national NAACP office to ask what to do. The national office told them to dissuade the teenagers—or at least not support them openly—as the organization was focused on litigation efforts rather than direct protests.
Under Lewis’s leadership, the Wichita chapter defied the directive and supported the students. Lewis personally offered free legal help should anyone be arrested. And the protest worked. After three weeks, the store’s owner agreed to desegregate Dockum’s lunch counter. The store’s parent company followed soon after and desegregated stores across Kansas. Today, Wichita can point to the Wichita Dockum Sit-In as one of the first lunch counter protests in the United States.
Lewis died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 68. He had a colorful career which was not without its struggles. His law office was firebombed. Crosses were burned in his yard. But he left behind an importance legacy of progress which I think more Kansas attorneys should know about.
Diana Stanley is a 2020 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, where she was an Articles Editor for the Kansas Law Review. She is a member of the FBA Media & Marketing Sub-Committee and practices at Depew, Gillen, Rathbun, & McInteer LC in Wichita. Stanley can be reached at email@example.com
LAW DAY 2022
Our FBA Chapter is proud of our commitment to sharing resources and learning opportunities on civic education with students in our communities. We participate in Law Day celebrations (See ABA Law Day information here: LINK) each year on May 1.
We are going to be presenting in Kansas and Western Missouri classrooms on the Law Day theme “Toward a More Perfect Union” this year during the week of May 2, 2022.
What we need from you:
Volunteer Presenters! Please sign up to speak during this week. We need volunteers to go into schools and speak to the children (classroom assignments may be elementary through high school). We will provide you with a presentation and training on that presentation. All we need is your time! Please complete this survey to sign up to speak: LINK
School Contacts! We need contacts to more schools/teachers who may want an attorney or judge presenter to come to their school (in-person or virtually). Please send those contacts this LINK or you may also send that information directly to Civic Education and Outreach committee chair, Danielle Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Membership Committee – Growth and In-Person Events!
The Membership Committee is excited about the prospect of returning to in-person events this year! Our goal is to have a social event this year which would allow for our members to interact face-to-face and allow for prospective members to attend. We have a goal to add to our membership to ensure practitioners in the District of Kansas and Western District of Missouri access the benefits of the FBA. Thank you for being a member and please be on the lookout for our upcoming events! If you know someone that would benefit from being a member, please have them contact our membership chair Abby McClellan: email@example.com.
Our Limited Time Offer Has Been Extended!
For the first time we will be offering 25% off national membership dues for new members when you join by March 31, 2022. The FBA has never offered membership at such an amazing rate so take advantage of this tremendous value today!
We are convinced that the Federal Bar Association is the Perfect Match for your career. Use code MATCH at checkout to receive 25% off your national membership dues.
This offer is now available through March 31, 2022 so don’t wait!
P.S. It’s FBA Conference season! Members receive a significant cost benefit on registration fees – click HERE to view our calendar and see the savings!
Implicit Bias and Diversity CLE Sponsored by the Diversity Committee and tentatively set for March 29th at 12:00 noon. Keep an eye on your email for more information about this CLE coming soon.
Constitution Day Public Readings (Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City (KCK), and Kansas City (MO) on September 16, 2022 Our Chapter of FBA hosts readings of the U.S. Constitution in observance of Constitution Day (9/17 each year) by students/classes on the steps of the Federal Courthouses in Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City (KCK), and Kansas City (MO). If you want to join in this program, check back here for a sign up link closer to the date of the program.