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Superior Court Chief Judge Candidates Lay Out Vision for Leadership and Service

June 06, 2024

By Jeremy Conrad

Superior Court Chief Judge Candidates

D.C. Superior Court Associate Judges Marisa Demeo and Milton Lee, the two candidates applying for the chief judge position at the court, met with members of the bar and public in a virtual event on June 4 to discuss their backgrounds, motivations, and perspectives on leadership. The two judges are seeking to fill the vacancy that will be created when Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring steps down from the bench in September.

Demeo, describing her commitment to public service, said she has “spent the last 30 years seeking opportunities where I could be a part of the process to create a fair society, whether it be through litigating in the courts, lobbying the legislature, petitioning the executive branch, or serving as a judge.” During her career Demeo has filled a variety of roles in different settings, including at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and at Georgetown University Law Center. She served as magistrate judge from 2007 to 2010 before being appointed associate judge of Superior Court.

“My interest in serving as chief judge is deeply rooted in my commitment to the community,” Demeo said. “I’m interested in continuing to pursue my passion for serving the residents of the District, and doing so with judges, administrators, and staff so that we can fulfill the [vision] of the court [to be] open to all, trusted by all, and [providing] justice for all.”

Lee’s credentials also reflect a long-standing dedication to serving the District. “If you examine my career, what I think you will see is a real commitment to the cause of justice,” he said. “A commitment to this courthouse, but also a commitment to the citizens of the District of Columbia. I have worked across the justice landscape to make sure that we are being consistent with our goals here in this courthouse, to make sure that we are delivering service at the very highest levels.”

Lee’s legal career has taken him from the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia to Georgetown University Law Center and the former District of Columbia School of Law, where he served many years as a professor, to D.C. Superior Court when he was appointed magistrate judge in 1998 and then associate judge in 2010. “That puts me at 26 years here at the Superior Court,” he said. “Over that time period, I have served as a hearing commissioner, a magistrate judge, and an associate judge. I’ve handled just about every assignment in the courthouse, except for service in the Probate Division.”

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to work on some of the most demanding and complex cases that are presented to our court, but I’m also honored to serve a phenomenal number of judges who work incredibly hard with branch managers and staff here to make sure that we provide justice at really the highest levels,” Lee added.
 
Both candidates described a court that has incorporated lessons learned over the pandemic to better serve the community and that struggles with staffing issues as a result of Senate delays in confirmation. They were also largely in agreement about the potential for an expansion in court-ordered mediation, saying that it could reduce caseload pressures in the courtroom and help parties reach a satisfactory resolution with a reduction in conflict and litigation expense.

When asked to describe how they would assess their performance after their first term as chief judge, Lee said he hopes that “when I get to four years … we have a full complement of judges.”

“I hope we are back to operating in a way that is efficient and fair to everyone, and that you folks have your expectations met. But I also hope that the relationships that we have developed over my four years are so rock solid that they’ll continue, [and no] matter what the issue is, we have a coalition available to us to work on that,” he added.

Lee also emphasized the importance of connecting with the community in a consistent way. “People come to the courthouse, ladies and gentlemen, not because they want to, but because they have to. So, we need to get out of the comfort zone, go out and meet those folks, let them understand what’s important to us, but we [also] need to understand what’s important to them,” Lee said. “We need to put in place processes that continue long after I am gone as chief judge that let us function at the highest possible level. It should not be dependent on a chief judge or an individual judge, but on a philosophy that I will instill in the courthouse that will outlive my service.”

Demeo, on the other hand, said she would like to build on recent innovations at the D.C. Courts, such as the Committee on Pro Bono and Affordable Counsel created by Chief Judge Josey-Herring and the Civil Legal Regulatory Reform Task Force of the District of Columbia Courts established by D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby.

Demeo pointed out that new critical positions have recently been created at the D.C. Courts, including that of pro bono program manager and director of the newly established Access to Justice Unit. “These are what I would call … seeds that have been planted that really create opportunities for the court to be more innovative so that, eventually, with the next chief judge, we can look back and have measurements where we could say we have made improvements in terms of how people access the court,” Demeo said.

The conversation with the two chief judge candidates was sponsored by the D.C. Bar Communities Office, District of Columbia Affairs Community, Early Career Lawyers Community (ECLC), and Anacostia Coordinating Council. Eric Tarosky, ECLC cochair and associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, served as moderator.

Members of the bench, bar, and public are invited to comment on the qualifications of Judges Demeo and Lee through a web-based survey; by paper copy of the survey, found here; or by letter to the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission.

Letters and hard copies should be sent to the commission by mail at 515 5th Street, NW, Suite 235, Washington, DC 20001 or email to [email protected]. The deadline to submit comments is Thursday, June 20, at 5 p.m.

For more information, contact the commission’s executive director, Tracy B. Nutall, at 202-879- 0478 or by email at [email protected].

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