The Official Newsletter of the Federal Bar Association
Chapter for the Districts of Kansas and Western Missouri
President’s Spotlight: Thank you
for strong year of continued growth
Judge Stephen R. Bough, Chapter President
My time as serving as the President of this great Federal Bar Association chapter is almost complete; thank you for giving me this opportunity. During this last year we have experienced amazing growth in both membership and activities. That growth is due to strong past presidents, new leaders, and committed members.
This chapter has been fortunate to have had some great presidents. Dean Arturo Thompson, Judge Eric Melgren, John Shaw, and Jere Sellers built a great, stable organization. All four continue to be involved and provide support. Those past presidents have recruited leaders of the bar to participate in the FBA, including your president-elect, Kate Simpson. Kate was recruited, placed into leadership, attended national meetings, and has replicated that successful cycle by establishing new committees and recruiting the next generation of attorneys. Whitney Novak is another example of a strong leader, but she has achieved so much success that she is now off to D.C. to work for the Library of Congress. The FBA chapter in D.C. will benefit from her excellent experience in KC. The next round of leaders demonstrate the strength of our roster. Assistant US Attorney Tony Mattivi is our President-Elect after a great year as Treasurer. Judge Teresa James will be our Vice-President and she demonstrates the judiciary’s strong support of the FBA. Ethan Lange moves over from his highly successful year as membership chair to continue on as Treasurer. Finally, Blake Shuart rounds out the officers as Secretary. Neither Blake nor Judge Melgren (who will serve as our National Delegate) will let us lose our strong relationship with Wichita.
The Districts of Kansas and Western Missouri are not only great places to live and practice law, they are great places to get involved. The FBA understands that we are a proud profession with a legacy of service. Whether your interest is Media & Marketing, Newsletter, Diversity, Civics, Pro Bono, Wellness, Membership, Law Schools & Mentorship, Social, or CLE, we have a committee for you. Let Kate or me know if you are interested. Thanks for allowing me to have this opportunity, and I look forward to many more years of service with you in the FBA.
Chapter selected to host 2023
FBA Annual Meeting in Kansas City
Kate Marples Simpson, Chapter President-Elect
Our chapter has been selected by the Federal Bar Association national organization to host the 2023 annual meeting in Kansas City. We are responsible for hosting the convention reception and can’t wait to show off the city and all it has to offer. If you are interested in serving on a fundraising committee or the reception planning committee, please contact Kate Marples Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the bid process and especially to the executive committee for supporting the dream of bringing the national convention home. This is a great time to be a member of our growing chapter. Help spread the word by forwarding this newsletter on to your friends and colleagues. First time members can currently save 20 percent on their membership with the code FBASAVE20.
FBA national annual meeting takes place in Tampa
Thanks to our chapter for the opportunity to be our delegate at the annual meeting Sept. 5-7 in Tampa, Florida. The meeting itself took place in the Hilton Tampa Downtown and featured a presentation by Shon Hopwood, associate professor of law at Georgetown University and author of Law Man: A Memoir of a Jailhouse Lawyer, as well as a presentation by Bob Mazur, whose work as an undercover money launderer for the Medellin Cartel is the basis for the film “The Infiltrator.” The meeting provided excellent CLE on federal law topics including: bankruptcy basics in federal court; topical issues in FLSA litigation; witness preparation; advocacy in immigration proceedings; federal equity receiverships; issues surrounding marijuana legalization; cryptocurrency; a SCOTUS update; diversity in the workplace; cybersecurity; class action appeals; and congressional investigations, among others.
The Tampa Bay chapter hosted a variety of fun networking opportunities, including a happy hour at the offices of Holland & Knight LLP overlooking the bay and the official convention reception at the Florida Aquarium, which was closed to the public for the event. The convention reception featured a live band, signature cocktails, flamenco dancers, walking tacos and other fabulous fare, and various aquarium residents who mingled with guests, including a South African penguin, an iguana, and of course the sting ray petting pool. The meeting was a great opportunity to network and expand national contacts. I would highly recommend attending in the future to anyone interested in involvement with a national section and division. Next year’s meeting will be hosted in Charleston, South Carolina. These meetings are also a great way to get involved with national sections and divisions if you are interested in or specialize in a specific federal practice area.
Please also save the date for the midyear meeting in Washington, D.C., which will begin with Capitol Hill Day on March 19. Information about the meeting, which will feature a reception at the Supreme Court with a Supreme Court justice, the Centennial Gala at the National Portrait Gallery, and a luncheon at the Watergate featuring former White House counsel for President Nixon, John Dean. It would be fun to have a strong delegation from our Chapter to attend this event.
Judge Counts completes first year
as magistrate judge in Western District
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lajuana M. Counts
Magistrate Judge Lajuana M. Counts celebrated the one-year anniversary of her appointment to the bench Sept. 2. Judge Counts is the first African-American woman to serve as a magistrate judge in the Western District of Missouri, where she sits in Kansas City. As Judge Counts remarked at her 2018 investiture ceremony at the Charles Evans Whittaker Courthouse, “In preparing for this day, I found myself reflecting on the path I’ve taken to be here and the number of firsts that I have achieved. I am keenly aware of the historical significance that today holds and what my place in history means, and the responsibility that comes along with it.”
Judge Counts was born in Jackson, Tennessee, and grew up in St. Charles, Missouri. After receiving an undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1982, she moved to Kansas City to work at the Federal Reserve Bank. She then attended the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law and received her law degree in 1988.
Judge Counts began her legal career as a law clerk for The Hon. Fernando J. Gaitan Jr., who then served on the Missouri Court of Appeals. In 1989, Judge Counts joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri. As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, she served in the General Crimes Unit and in the Narcotics Unit. Judge Counts later helped establish the office’s Appellate Unit and served as its Chief. With the Appellate Unit, where she worked most recently before her appointment to the bench, Judge Counts briefed or argued more than 400 cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. She was also appointed to serve on the Department of Justice’s Appellate Chiefs Working Group.
Throughout her career, Judge Counts has been actively involved with local bar associations and the legal community. She served as vice-president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s Board of Directors and president of the UMKC Law Foundation. She has also served on the Missouri Supreme Court Disciplinary Hearing Panel, the Missouri Bar Gender and Justice Committee, and the Missouri Supreme Court Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness. Judge Counts is also a member of the Kansas and Western District of Missouri chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and she is a supporter of the affiliated student group at UMKC School of Law.
Judge Counts also has volunteered her time to the Kansas City community at large. She has served on various committees and boards of organizations designed to promote and protect the interests of women and the underserved members of the community.
Over the years, Judge Counts has been recognized for her work and contributions to the community:
In 2012, Judge Counts received the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s Distinguished Counselor Award, the UMKC Bill French Award, and the University of Missouri System Presidential Citation Award.
In 2013, she was the recipient of the Women’s Justice Award as a Public Service Practitioner given by Missouri Lawyers Media.
In 2016, the Missouri Bar Foundation honored her with a Spurgeon Smithson Award, which recognizes judges, lawyers, and teachers of law who have “rendered outstanding service toward the increase and diffusion of justice.”
In 2018, she received the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s President’s Award, the Jackson County Bar Association’s Judge Lewis W. Clymer Award, and the NAACP Kansas City, Missouri Branch’s Lucile H. Bluford Special Achievement Award.
In 2019, Judge Counts was presented with the UMKC Law Foundation’s President’s Award.
Judge Counts’ career has been distinguished by a dedication to public service, which she continues in her role as a magistrate judge. “My promise to each of you is that I will be true to what I have tried to live my entire life, that is to treat everyone, every lawyer, every civil litigant, and every person charged with a crime that appears before me as a judge, with great respect, kindness, and fairness,” said Judge Counts at her investiture ceremony. “And that I will be an example to whoever needs a little encouragement that they can achieve anything when they believe.”
Diversity necessary component
for future of justice system
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gwynne Birzer
Judge Gwynne Birzer is a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Wichita. Before joining the bench in 2015, she was a partner at Hite, Fanning & Honeyman L.L.P. and previously worked as an assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general, a solo practitioner, and a public defender. She has also been an active member of regional and national bar associations, including the Federal Bar Association, where she serves on the diversity subcommittee. The following is a Q&A with Judge Birzer. Hi, Judge Birzer. From your perspective, why is it important to have diversity in the judiciary? We have people from all walks of life that appear before the court. It’s not so much important as it is necessary that the bench reflect a good cross-section of the litigants that appear before them. That doesn’t only include parties, that also includes lawyers. Even though we as judges are fair and impartial, the appearance of that is difficult to grasp if parties don’t see diversity on the bench. The federal courts are, historically, leaders in implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives. So it is equally important that lawyers from different cross-sections see a diverse pool of judges so they can not only feel free to aspire but also feel confident enough that if they choose to engage in the judicial selection process, they will be given fair consideration. Diversity is also necessary because it allows the court process to embrace different perspectives. What’s an underrated personality trait necessary to being a successful lawyer? Letting go. Succession. That’s also in line with diversity, which, does not always refer to racial diversity, I mean a good cross-section. I mean young lawyers, too. The minute a young lawyer is hired into a firm, succession should begin. Younger lawyers should have an opportunity to practice, particularly in federal court where it’s so rule-oriented. That’s a wonderful training ground for lawyers to learn courtroom etiquette. You get to really see the courtroom group at work, from the judge to the litigants to the witnesses. You get to see them work so that it’s not so theoretical, it’s more practical. Do you see that as an ongoing issue? Yes. I like to sometimes order more hearings if there’s a sense that the more traditional lawyer would let the associate argue the case. It’s unfortunate that an associate can be employed in a law firm for six or seven years and not have an opportunity to appear in court. Even if the associate is in a practice area where they are not in court, there may come a time where individuals find themselves thrust into court. It is certainly beneficial to know how and not have to rather than have to and not know how. What’s a skill you can look back on and see that you’ve really improved? Confidence in my legal writing and analysis. I started out as what I call a “trench lawyer,” as a prosecutor, solo practitioner, and public defender. There was not a lot of opportunity to be able to write as much as necessary in a scholarly way. There was too much court time, so the tradeoff was courtroom experience as opposed to scholarly writing. Once I joined a law firm, thankfully I had time to devote to improving my legal penmanship, and I had great partners who had no trouble editing my writing (red pen in hand). While I struggled with it at the time, I am most appreciative of it now. Because my practice area was medical malpractice defense, from a civil litigation standpoint, I was trained to pay attention to detail, and analyze issues and write around them in a way I had never been taught (take that, causation!). I also had the opportunity to learn about a broad breadth of law. Now, I am not afraid to delve into areas of law and issues that I have never encountered before. How can law schools or other employers work on recruiting and supporting diverse folks? It’s unfortunate that we’ve grown up in a world of standardized testing to prove our worth. Test scores and grades are important. But so are other factors about individuals I think that would bring a more diverse pool. Some people are just not good test takers. It was not until law school that I actually learned how to learn. Learning is a process. I’m probably not the only one. It may be equally beneficial to take the whole person into consideration. I had determination, I had the desire, I had the yearning to be a lawyer. That’s so intangible. If we could relax some of those tangibles in exchange for the things that we cannot see, but we know are there, then I think there’d be a lot more diversity in law schools, in law firms as lawyers and partners, and as judges. A few lighter questions: What does your perfect Saturday look like? Right now, college football, college football, college football. I like Kansas and K-State; I like Kansas sports, period. I wish Wichita State would revamp their football program. For his birthday, we got our 14-year-old son tickets for the KU K-State football game this year. While I like college football, I’m also getting my menu worked out for the NFL Sunday Ticket, mainly the Kansas City Chiefs. Did I mention I even have a box of the Mahomes cereal? Are there any conflicts from rooting for both Kansas football teams? That’s between my husband and my son. My husband likes K-State, and my son likes KU. I like them both. I stay out of it and feed both of them. Have you read any particularly good books that impacted you or that you really enjoyed? As a young lawyer, I read this book called Black Robes, White Justice (by Bruce Wright), and it talked about racial challenges in our American legal system. I always thought that was a compelling book. But I’ll admit, I’m all over John Grisham. I’m waiting anxiously for his new book to come out. As soon as they’re out, I read them. Does Grisham get it right about lawyers? Oh yes. Sometime in his career, somebody must have really ticked him off because he can call it like it is – or like it appears. He can describe lawyers and judges like nobody can! I’m all over Grisham.
Founding member reflects on chapter’s
origins, growth across state lines
Most Kansas City lawyers, regardless of their school affiliation, know Arturo Thompson, the Assistant Dean of Career Services for the University of Kansas School of Law. Many may not know, however, that Arturo founded our local FBA chapter and served as the chapter’s first president. I sat down with Arturo and asked him about his career and our local FBA chapter. Why did you decide to go to law school? I had a great career in marketing and communications. We were living in Chicago, and I was working for a subsidiary of one of the big global ad agencies when 9/11 happened. The market fell off a cliff, and I had started to want more of a challenge. So I finished my undergrad (after 13 years) and decided to go to grad school. In the end, I chose law because I thought it would offer a balance between the intellectual challenge of a Ph.D. and the practicality of an MBA. KU came into the picture because, while looking at law schools, I happened to be in Kansas for Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and so I decided to drive over. I loved the place, they accepted me early, and so I entered KU, graduating in 2006. Before law school, you worked as a marketing manager for a software company. Then, after law school, you went into private practice and later became the Assistant Dean of Career Services at KU Law School. What was your favorite job? Far and away the work I do in career services is the best job I have ever had. I have the extraordinary privilege of helping people launch their careers. I loved the other work I did, but none of them gave me the daily satisfaction and joy I experience directing the career office at the school of law. As I get ready to take on the same role at the University of Utah, the choice to move is driven by having another opportunity to fundamentally change how the school connects with and supports its students. I tell folks all the time, I have the best job in the world. What prompted you to launch this FBA chapter? So there are two versions of this story, and both are true. In the first version, not long after I returned to work at the law school, Elizabeth Kronk Warner, who is now the Dean at the University of Utah but was on KU’s faculty at the time, invited me to join a conference call with some other law school and non-law school folks to consider forming a chapter. During the meeting, I dropped my pen and, while reaching under the desk to retrieve it, they voted me president without my knowledge. In the second version, I thought it critical to remain as connected to the practice as possible even though I was no longer actively working as an attorney, and I needed to quickly make connections across the state. Serving as founding president gave me a platform to contribute to the legal community, make new connections beyond KU Law and its alumni, and establish my commitment to the region. Our local FBA chapter for the Districts of Kansas and Western Missouri is bustling. It has tripled in size over the last few years. Has it always been like this? When I was president it was just a Kansas chapter. Having said that, I started having conversations about founding a cross-border chapter almost immediately, and we had Missouri lawyers as members early on, like John Shaw (another former president). As we cultivated the judiciary and some other leaders in the District of Kansas, as well as founding the student division at KU Law, membership grew in small spurts, driven in large part by the events we sponsored and a little arm-twisting. As we grew it also became clear that the chapter needed to expand into the Western District of Missouri. That expansion to Missouri took time because there had never been a cross-state line chapter, much less one that also crossed the circuit lines. Judge Melgren, who succeeded me as president and held the office for two years, was ultimately able to drive it through and get approval from national. This change not only reflects practice norms in the region but opened up a much larger pool of potential members. It also let us bring in folks like Judge Bough, who despite protests early on about never taking a KU Law clerk, now has a KU Law clerk, and he actively presses me to schedule his visit to KU Law with Judge Crabtree every year. I think that the special thing about our chapter is that it has brought so many attorneys and judges together who may not have known one another. I am honored to call everyone I noted here, plus all the other exec committee members I did not get to mention, a genuine friend for life. Everyone is supposedly six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. I’m told all lawyers in Kansas City are only two degrees of separation from you. Is that true? This sounds like the start to a communicable disease joke from Judge Bough! But, yeah, I think that is right, if not even closer. But the thing to take away is that is has almost nothing to do with me, and almost everything to do with the community. Most attorneys in the region are simply fantastic people, and they give you the same respect and commitment you give them. What I will say about myself is that I have always wanted to be the guy to know when you are in need, no matter the problem at hand. The FBA, and the nature of the community in general, empowered me to be able to play that role. I also think that since I am almost certainly the only Arturo Thompson (read, Mexican-Swedish named lawyer) anyone has met, it helps me stand out a bit, so I guess we need to credit my parents, too.
Student Chapter Spotlight
Student chapters showcase government practitioners
Each of the four student chapters within the District of Kansas and Western District of Missouri coordinated a government practice panel in September at law schools at Kansas, Washburn, Missouri and UMKC. The events featured 20 panelists, including many FBA members, from a variety of agencies and backgrounds.
At Mizzou Law on Sept. 25, the six panelists comprised a vast array of legal experience and backgrounds: Andy Hirth (Principal at TGH Litigation), Traci Martin (Office of the Solicitor – Department of Labor), Steven Berry (Federal Public Defender), Larry Miller (Assistant U.S. Attorney), The Hon. Willie Epps Jr. (Magistrate Judge, Western District of Missouri), and Josh LeVasseur (Law Clerk for Judge Epps). Panelists presented to a room packed full of Mizzou Law students interested in a wide variety of practice areas and fielded all types of questions relating to personal and professional arenas. Law students heard about each panelist’s legal career path and gained a fuller appreciation for the tremendous diversity and flexibility in career choices available to attorneys and the pros and cons of many different types of jobs.
At UMKC on Sept. 26, the panel had a variety of legal professionals who shared their journey to government practice, what they like about their roles, and how their current work compares to other jobs or career paths they previously experienced. This panel provided insight into ways students can pursue careers in federal government. The panelists were The Hon. Teresa J. James (Magistrate Judge, District of Kansas), Michele Nelson (Law Clerk to a federal judge), Tom Bartee (Assistant Federal Public Defender), Scott Rask (United States Attorney’s Office, District of Kansas), Traci E. Martin (U.S. Department of Labor).
At Washburn on Sept. 24, more than 50 students showed up to hear about the many great opportunities that government practice has to offer. A great group of panelists enlightened the students about their respective career paths and what their day-to-day work lives entail. This event has driven a lot of students to become interested in FBA, and the chapter looks forward to hosting a similar event next semester. The panelists were The Hon. Eric F. Melgren (United States District Court Judge, District of Kansas), Brooke Hesler Ramsey (Law Clerk to The Hon. Angel D. Mitchell), Duston Slinkard (Assistant United States Attorney), Rich Federico (Federal Public Defender), Ambriel Renn-Scanlan (U.S. Department of Labor), Rebecca Proctor (National Labor Relations Board).
At the University of Kansas on Sept. 19, KU students enjoyed some pizza and new perspectives as four attorneys and a judge shared their experiences. The panel discussed how their careers got started and how they got to where they are now. Students engaged with the speakers as they learned new ways to enter the federal practice and the different directions that can take them. The panelists were Judge Robert Fairchild (retired chief judge, Douglas County District Court), Rich Federico (Federal Public Defender), Wendy Lynn (Assistant United States Attorney), Ambriel Renn-Scanlan (U.S. Department of Labor), Kate Marples Simpson (Stevens & Brand, LLP, former federal law clerk).
George Brand, Raj Patel, David Braun, Garrison Matthews
Federal Law Spotlight
National FBA advocates for independent immigration court
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)—often referred to by the shorthand phrase “immigration court”—is the government body that adjudicates all immigration cases in the United States. The EOIR operates within the Department of Justice and thus answers to the U.S. Attorney General, the same person charged with prosecuting these cases. Over the past 10 years, the EOIR’s caseload has increased exponentially. At the end of 2009, there were 223,768 cases pending before the EOIR. As of the third quarter of 2019, there are 930,311 pending cases. This backlog has received harsh criticism from opponents of the current system. To many of those same critics, including the FBA, this system also suffers from a more fundamental problem: it is too vulnerable to political influence and the shifting policy positions of successive presidential administrations. The FBA wants to change that.
The FBA has formally supported an independent Article I Immigration Court since 2013, when it published model legislation Congress could use to create such a court. This proposed legislation, modeled from the statute establishing the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., to replace the EOIR with a specialized Article I “United States Immigration Court.” This court would consist of two levels: (1) an appellate division of 15 judges appointed by the President—with Senate approval—to 15-year terms and (2) a trial level of judges appointed to 15-year terms by the circuit in which they would sit. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which oversees the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, would also administer the U.S. Immigration Court.
According to the FBA and other supporters, an Article I Immigration Court would provide “faster, more efficient adjudication” of the nearly one million immigration cases currently pending, “fairness in the administration of the immigration laws,” and “adjudication independent of political decision-making.” The FBA also claims that experts and stakeholders, along with history itself, support creating an Article I Immigration Court and that its proposed legislation would restore respect for the federal government’s handling of immigration cases.
In June, the FBA reiterated its support for an Article I Immigration Court by co-authoring a letter to Congress with the American Bar Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and The National Association of Immigration Judges. In the letter, these organizations emphasized the “inherent conflict of interest” that arises from the Attorney General “being both lead prosecutor and lead judge in immigration cases” and warned that the current system “requires a structural overhaul” because it “cannot meet the standards which justice demands.” Despite the political gridlock that has plagued Congress for years, the FBA remains diligent in its advocacy for what it deems a “system that can guarantee a fair day in court.”
Civics Spotlight: Constitution Day
Each of the three federal courthouses in the District of Kansas hosted a public reading of the Constitution on September 17, commemorated nationally as Constitution Day. The event was coordinated by the District of Kansas staff and our local chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Judges, attorneys, community members and students shared the reading of more than 100 parts of the Constitution, which took about 70 minutes, in Topeka, Kansas City and Wichita. Among the schools participating were Jay Shideler Elementary, Topeka Collegiate and Topeka High School in Topeka; Whitefield Academy in Kansas City; and Brooks Middle School, North High School and The Independent School in Wichita.
FBA CLE and reception for Judge Teeter, Judge Mitchell, 3-5 p.m., Frank Carlson Federal Building, Topeka November 8
Chapter board meeting, 4 p.m., Stevens & Brand, LLP, Lawrence April 22, 2020
FBA CLE: From Murder to Museums: Abraham Lincoln, Adolph Hitler, and the Hunt for Nazi Looted Art in America, 5:15-8 p.m., Spencer Museum of Art at University of Kansas, Lawrence April 30-May 1, 2020
Diversity and Civics Subcommittee Field Trip to Dodge City and Garden City schools