Please provide a snapshot of your legal career prior to joining JAMS.
I’ve had a somewhat diverse legal journey. I practiced law for four years after graduating law school and thereafter became an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Three years after that, I became a federal immigration judge. And 10 years after graduating law school, I became a judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County.
What inspired you to pursue a career in ADR, and how did you first become interested in the field?
I spent the last 31 years of my judicial career in the Domestic Relations Division. It did not take me long to realize how beneficial mediation would be in that area of the law. This is particularly true in family cases because, unlike in other areas, the parties continue to have to coexist. To have to litigate a case and have a clear winner and a clear loser is not conducive to peaceful communications in the future. In Illinois, mediation was mandated in conflicts regarding custody and parenting time, but a judge could not order parties to mediation on financial issues unless they agreed. When I became the presiding judge, I contacted other jurisdictions and realized how behind the times we were. In some jurisdictions, one cannot litigate unless they first mediate. I composed a committee to draft a mediation rule, and we were successful in being the first county in Illinois to pass a rule allowing a judge to order mediation in financial issues, even absent the parties’ agreement. I am hoping that eventually litigation in family cases will be very much the exception to the rule.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
I have been blessed with an extraordinary career, where I have been afforded the opportunity to help people while engaging in fulfilling areas of the law. My career started as an attorney with the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation, representing those that could not afford legal representation. Thereafter, given my own immigrant background, I subsequently worked for Travelers and Immigrants Aid, representing petitioners who were seeking to stay in this country for various reasons, including fear of persecution and even death if they returned to their home country. When I became an ALJ, I was able to adjudicate cases where there were allegations of discriminatory practices in many areas, including employment and housing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as an immigration judge, being one of the first, if not the first, judge who was not previously a prosecutor for the immigration service. Finally, my career in the circuit court has been extremely satisfying. I have had the opportunity to participate in the conception and implementation of many programs in the areas of domestic violence, access to justice, limited English proficiency and domestic relations that I really believe have improved accessibility to the court for all.
How would you describe your mediation and arbitration style?
While my style is still evolving, I can confidently say that I am as a mediator who I am as a person. I love being with people and interacting with them. I love learning about them. I’m a good listener. I like asking questions that make people think and come to their own conclusions. I also know people are there for my expertise as well, so I am not afraid to give suggestions and options if warranted.
What do you enjoy the most about mediating/arbitrating?
Interacting with people, thinking creatively, helping people solve problems.
Are there any practice areas that you are particularly interested in developing at JAMS?
I am quite busy with family law, but I certainly believe that I could be very helpful in other areas, such as probate and closely held corporation and partnership dissolutions. Also, due to my background, I feel I could be helpful in employment and discrimination law as well.
What do you think ADR professionals can do to support DE&I efforts?
I think it is important to volunteer, to be cognizant that we have a long way to go, to provide pro bono mediation where needed to help those who cannot afford it. My career has involved helping implement programs for those who have limited English proficiency (LEPs). I chaired the Illinois Supreme Court Committee for Language Access for 10 years. While I was chair, we enacted rules that govern interpreter services in Illinois, ensuring the competency of interpreters and making interpreters more accessible all around the state. We promoted the use of remote interpreting so that all courts in the state had access to interpreters. We promoted the interpretation of forms and pleadings into the foreign languages most prevalent in the state. We put signage in the courthouses in multiple languages so that LEPs are not lost when they arrive at the courthouse. Overall, it is a much more inclusive system today than it was a decade ago.
Who was your role model growing up?
My mother. My mother was brilliant, gorgeous and a successful attorney in Cuba at a time when there were not many women lawyers. In 1961, because of the political situation, she and my dad had to leave the country with literally the clothes on their backs and not a penny in their pockets. They came to the U.S. in their 40s without being able to speak English. Even though she was a lawyer in Cuba, my mom’s first job in the U.S. was on an assembly line in a factory. I never heard her complain. She worked hard, did the best she could, put her kids through college, made sure I went to law school and maintained her style and elegance throughout her life.
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