Saturday, November 19, 2022
Many years ago, I was a lucky law clerk working for a wonderful judge at the Ninth Circuit’s Pasadena courthouse. One early morning, as I was admiring the flowers growing at the entrance to the gorgeous courthouse, I saw Judge Dorothy Nelson tending to the roses. She took a moment to chat with me about the roses and litigation, and I have always remembered her kindness and wit. During my year in Pasadena, I became friendly with Judge Nelson’s law clerks, and learned how much they admired her work for justice and dispute resolution. See generally Selma Moidel Smith, Oral History of Judge Dorothy Nelson (1988) (interesting interview of Judge Nelson for the Ninth Circuit Historical Society).
Therefore, I was not surprised to see the Ninth Circuit’s recent press release announcing that the Western Justice Center (WJC) honored Judge Nelson “for her vision and dedication in founding the center and decades of visionary work in conflict resolution.” October 23, 2022 Press Release. The WJC works to “find innovative ways to handle conflict” by using alternative dispute resolution techniques in and beyond the court system. The WJC especially focuses on “development of conflict resolution skills and capacity of youth, educators, schools and community partners,” and has trained over “1,000 students, educators and volunteers with the conflict resolution skills they need to transform” schools and “impact . . . youth across” the Los Angeles area. Id.
As the press release explained, Judge Nelson believes “[e]ighty-five percent of cases could be mediated,” saving the time and money of traditional litigation. She explained she “want[s] to bring people together, in a collaborative, unifying system,” and she “find[s] there are a lot of people open to that.” Id.
Before her nomination to the bench, Judge Nelson served as the Dean of USC’s Gould School of Law. She was the “first woman dean of a major American law school,” where she “focused on training future lawyers in restorative justice and mediation as an alternative to litigation.” Id. Once she joined the Ninth Circuit, she “initiat[ed] one of the first mediation programs for a federal appellate court,” which we use in many circuits today. See id.
As a past mediator for the Second District of the California Court of Appeal, I know mediating appeals can seem hopeless. The parties I met with had already invested so much time, energy, and money into their cases that they often saw little reason to settle before oral argument. However, I did help some parties reach a non-court resolution, and I often thought of Judge Nelson and the roses when I did so.