The Federal Bar Association (FBA) held a successful national convention in San Juan from September 26-28, as Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico took over as president of the FBA, only the second Puerto Rican to ever lead the prestigious 15,000-member organization. Over 480 participants, amongst them justices and other legal practitioners, were registered at the event.
- Q & A: Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí
- View our Facebook Gallery of the FBA Convention
- Gelpí begins serving as president of the Federal Bar Association (Caribbean Business, September 23, 2013)
- An Interview with Leaders of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the FBA: Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí • Incoming FBA President / Andrés López • Chapter President-Elect / Manuel Pietrantoni • Immediate Past Chapter President / Carlos Valldejuly • 2013 Convention Committee Member – In The Federal Lawyer, September 2013 issue.
During the initial ceremonies before the CLE panels, former FBA president Robert J.”Bob” DeSousa, State Director for U.S. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, greeted the guests and handed over the baton to new president Judge Gelpí.
15 justices attended the convention, including Hon. Robert Castillo, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, who participated in the first panel “The Status and Future of Reentry Courts”, presented by the FBA Criminal Law Section, along with Hon. Ann Aiken, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, in which they discussed the history and current status of reentry courts in the federal system. Reentry courts are specialized courts that help reduce recidivism and improve public safety through the use of judicial oversight. Considered problem-solving courts, they are designed to help youths transition from out-of-home, residential placement back into the community. Prior to assuming the role of Chief Judge, Judge Aiken launched the District of Oregon’s Reentry Court—one of the first in the United States.
Reentry courts in numbers:
- 56 of 94 districts have reentry courts
- 8 districts have multiple reentry courts
- 6 districts have 2 reentry courts
Judge Aiken referred to reentry courts as providing “Leadership from the bench— not activism, just leading through working programs around the country”. The current Attorney General, Eric Holder, has a deep commitment to reentry courts. “We can change peoples lives. We love our civil work but this (Reentry courts and evidence based practices) is legacy for the next generation”, remarked Judge Aiken.
Judge Castillo added,”Employment is the hardest. Most people cannot find a job after prison. We need to be involved in this, especially in Chicago. The Chicago reentry program has been in existence for 3 years”.
He enumerated a series of statistics and information on reentry courts in Chicago:
- There are 12 participants per cycle.
- Intensive supervision (2 assigned probation officers), bimonthly meetings.
- There is a 50% graduation rate.
- Impact of violence and other social service challenges.
- Impact of employment.
- Impact of recently budgeting cutbacks.
- Recent expansion of program to add judicial resources: 1 district judge, 2 magistrate judges.
- Entry into program: initial contact with federal defenders, contract which establishes jurisdiction and final interview, as well a a need for a formal evaluation.
Of special interest to the Puerto Rican audience in attendance was the panel dealing with the DuPont Plaza Hotel Fire, “Taming a Mass Torts MDL Case: A Review of the Expert Handling of the 1986 San Juan DuPont Plaza Hotel Fire Case—Lessons to Draw in 2013”, presented by the FBA Federal Career Services Division. Set originally to be offered by Hon. Raymond L. Acosta, District Court Judge for the District of Puerto Rico (1982-2010), who presided over the multidistrict litigation of the Dupont Plaza Hotel arson, the judge could not attend, which did in no way make for a less exciting series of panelists which included one of his former law clerks during the case, Vilma Vilá, David Indiano of Indiano & Williams P.S.C., who at age 31 was appointment by the Federal Court to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the Dupont Plaza Fire Litigation and Arturo Díaz Angueira of Cancio, Nadal & Rivera, who was a defendant for ADT Sec. Systems, Inc. during the case.
On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1986, a fire was set by disgruntled employees of the DuPont Plaza Hotel who were in the middle of a labor dispute with the owners of the hotel. The subsequent, tort-based litigation resulted in the filing of 264 suits from over 2,400 plaintiffs in federal and state court for injuries and 97 deaths against more than 250 defendants. The January 11, 1988 edition of The National Law Journal described the litigation as “fast becoming the largest mass disaster litigation in United States history.” These cases were handled with historic efficiency by Judge Raymond L. Acosta of the District of Puerto Rico after consolidation by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”). The trial commenced on March 15, 1989, a mere 27 months after the fire. The panel reviewed the important procedural and logistical steps taken during this historic litigation. The presentation was focused on lessons MDL practitioners and tort attorneys could take away from the DuPont Plaza Hotel litigation.
The video “THE MODERN DAY COURTROOM” was shown to the audience and dealt with satellite transmissions and the complex logistical procedures in place, which was narrated by Hon. Raymond L. Acosta. Former law clerk to Judge Acosta, Vilma Vilá, commented that Judge Acosta prepared this video for attorneys to use in the future, where issues like there being no courtroom available where all attorneys could fit (nor plaintiffs and defendants), making sure that each attorney could speak and handling sidebars, could be addressed.
Some facts to consider regarding this massive litigation case:
- The fire took place in December 31, 1986.
- The trial began March 15, 1989.
- Final verdict: November 21, 1991.
- U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle approved a $100 million settlement.
- 264 suits were filed.
- 250 defendants
- Over 2,400 plaintiffs
- 230 attorneys
- 2,300 depositions
- Over 3 million pages of documents
- Over 18,000 docket entries in this case
Indiano, “This was a legal laboratory. In one year I billed 3,000 hours. Never again.”
Díaz Angueira, “The case worked very well procedurally considering the monster that was to be litigated”.
The second day of CLE, we also attended the panel “Women in the Law, Panel One: Lessons from Our Past and Judiciary” with Hon. Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner, Associate Professor and Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center, University of Kansas School of Law; Appellate Judge, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians; Hon. Michelle Burns, U.S. Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona; Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Puerto Rico and Prof. Danne Johnson, Oklahoma City University School of Law.
The panel explored the historical role women have played in the development of American law and discussed the role of women within the federal judiciary, as well as addressing the development of law related to sex equality.
Prior to Jimmy Carter’s presidency only 8 women had been confirmed to Article III judgeships. During Jimmy Carter’s term in office, 41 female judges were appointed to the federal judiciary.
Prof. Danne Johnson commented, “In 1980, 5% of law students were women– today women make up more than 40% of J.D. students, and as of 2013, 45% of women lawyers are associates at law firms.” Prof. Johnson also talked about the phenomenon of “clustering” of women in law as centered on public interest and federal courtships.
Other facts of interest given by Prof. Johnson:
- “57% Of counsel are held by women (no chance of making partner at firms).”
- “Women in law school are more likely to study Family Law as opposed to Tax or International Business.”
When asked if women judged differently than men, the panelists commented:
“There is no empirical evidence of this but there are studies that suggest in sex discrimination or harassment cases, if women are on the appellate panel, favor of plaintiff goes up.” – Hon. Michelle Burns
“Of course factors including sensitivity and different perspective (gendered) exist but part of our responsibility as judges is equality.” – Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón
“This doesn’t necessarily mean the outcome is different just the process.” – Prof. Danne Johnson
Another issue that was brought up was the recent changes in law and its disproportionate effect on women, to which Judge Delgado-Colón used the Equal Pay Act as an example, “Women lawyers are still making 77 cents of a dollar in comparison to men, states in the 1st Circuit in particular. There is still a glass ceiling faced by women in public service, the federal government and law firms.”
On women judges and lawyers as facilitators in access to justice, Judge Delgado-Colón clarified, “Women judges and lawyers (not excluding men!) should promote awareness and understanding… this is not only about women’s rights but about human rights.”
The panel “Social Media in Our Courts: Discovery, Trial, and Practice Considerations” was offered by Attorney Joel P. Schroeder of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. Emphasis was made in that social media in litigation comes up in practically all areas of the law but especially in Criminal, Labor, Personal Injury, Family, Intellectual Property, Commercial and Family Law. “Social media is becoming an increasingly common source of evidence in criminal cases and there is little expectation of privacy (See US v. Meregildo & Rosario v. Clark Co. Sch. Dist.).”, explained Schroeder.
Regarding social media and ethics, Schroeder shared the following:
- Lawyers are free to troll the publicly available portions of social media sites for helpful evidence.
- Lawyers may not friend represented parties.
- Lawyers may not act deceptively in friending third parties.
- May not use social media to communicate with jurors.
On advising clients:
Social media is like any other type of evidence. It needs to be preserved and costs money to capture (format, metadata). While e-mail and corporate defendants have traditionally been a problem, social media is now a problem for plaintiffs and individuals. “It’s fine to advise clients to lock up their privacy settings but it’s another thing to clean up a social page or spoliate evidence (see Compare Gatto v. United Air Lines Inc. and Katiroll Co. v. Kati Roll & Platters Inc.)”, stated Schroeder. This is why courts were initially skeptical of information obtained from the Internet (see St. Clair v. Johnny’s Oyster & Shrimp, Inc). Schroeder also discussed other judicial opinions addressing authentication in social media: Tienda v. State (Texas), Ohio v. Bell (Ohio) and Rodríguez v. State (Nevada).
The convention ended on Friday with an elegant reception at the Antiguo Casino de Puerto Rico, sponsored by the Hon. Raymond L. Acosta Puerto Rico FBA Chapter, in which Governor Alejandro García Padilla was the guest of honor: this is the first time in the 94 year history of the FBA that a Governor has been present at this ceremony. The FBA made the governor’s statement available to us here. The new Board of Directors of the FBA were sworn in, including the new Puerto Rico FBA Chapter President, Andrés López, by Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Puerto Rico and by Hon. Federico Hernández Denton, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, the Presidential Installation Banquet was going to be attended by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, who has himself been a federal court litigator and who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which is also a first in the history of the FBA. Unfortunately, because of the Congressional government shutdown, he had to fly back to Washington DC that same day. The Resident Commissioner made his statement available to us, which you may download here.