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Professionalism program on gender empowerment explores the roles of women judges in the 11th Circuit

Senior Editor Top Stories

Center for Professionalism logoThe Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism is releasing a new program exploring the work of women judges in one of the country’s largest circuits.

Titled, Professionalism and Gender Empowerment, this new CLE course focuses on seven women judges in the 11th Circuit. Located in Miami-Dade County, the circuit is the largest in the state and the fourth largest trial court in the United States, serving over 2 million people in a 2,000 square mile area.

More than half of the circuit’s 123 judges are women, including Chief Judge Nushin G. Sayfie.

Professionalism Center Director Rebecca Bandy was brainstorming new CLE ideas with her mentor, Paul Lipton, the host of the popular CLE series, “Your Honor,” and they wanted to explore professionalism and gender with a focus on empowerment instead of bias.

Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie

Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie

“So often these programs are very similar,” Lipton said. “We wanted different ideas to break the mold and see if we could create programs that are different and creative. We wanted candid opinions.”

Lipton and Sayfie were bouncing ideas off one another when it struck him.

“I thought here’s one of the busiest circuits in the country and I just realized that most of the administrative judges are women,” Lipton said.

Judge Carol J. Kelly

Judge Carol J. Kelly

That is where the idea for the program began. Sayfie convinced her fellow 11th Circuit judges, including Judge Carol J. Kelly, Judge Andrea Wolfson, Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen, Judge Chiaka Ihekwaba, Judge Michelle Delancy, and Judge Jennifer Bailey, to participate.

“I didn’t want to do individual interviews; I wanted to have them all in the same room and the judges talking to each; bouncing ideas off each other,” Lipton said.

“Gender empowerment is a positive way to look at legal professionalism — Rule 4-8.4(d), specifically — and, in this case, what a diverse group of women jurists are doing extremely well at a very high level,” Bandy said. “That is why this program is both inspiring and moving.” Bandy said.

Judge Andrea Wolfson

Judge Andrea Wolfson

While getting seven busy jurists in a room together proved difficult, Lipton and Bandy were able to get each of the judges in their chambers at the same time. Bandy conducted the interviews virtually and Lipton said it was important to have all women talking.

“It was a candid round robin discussion,” Lipton said. “All of them were wonderful, sincere, and smart.”

Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen

Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen

Bandy opened the program by framing the question: “How do these women make the impossible look routine?”

Lipton said each of the judges talked about how they were always trying to get it right.

“I think people of good intentions would like the opportunity to say don’t believe the stories let us tell you who we are and how we do our work,” Lipton said. “They are all service oriented and see the bigger picture.”

Lipton believes the CLE sends a strong message that will impact Florida Bar members in a positive way.

Judge Chiaka Ihekwaba

Judge Chiaka Ihekwaba

“These judges are under incredible burdens and the caseloads are crazy,” Lipton said. “I always am concerned that sometimes process overtakes purpose and yet these judges make sure the purpose is paramount.”

Lipton said he was impressed with how all the judges involved balance their personal and professional lives.

Judge Michelle Delancy

Judge Michelle Delancy

“Several judges would say, ‘When I got home my high school kid would come to me and tell me a project is due. Now I must go to the store and get what they need and still read all these cases before a hearing tomorrow,’” Lipton said. “How they balance everything personally and professionally really stood out.”

Judge Jennifer Bailey

Lipton says he wants Bar members to understand who these women are and the pressures they are under to get the job done and get the right results.

“I’m so delighted about this project,” Lipton said. “It’s unique and personal and opens a window letting people see what’s really going on.”

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