The Ottumwa Courier

December 5, 2011

‘Back to school’ for judges

Court Calls


OTTUMWA — Most judges spend a majority of their time in the courthouse, but not all judicial education occurs there. Like all lawyers, judges must update their knowledge and skills through at least 15 hours of continuing education every year. There are also requirements for ongoing professional ethics training.

In addition, all new judges spend two weeks at the National Judicial College on the University of Nevada campus in Reno. Established in 1963, the College has been educating judges for almost 50 years. Since taking the district court bench one year ago, I recently had the opportunity to be “re-schooled” in Reno on the rigors of being a judge.

Some parts of my National Judicial College session were as familiar as elementary school: the tardy bell rings at 8 a.m., we receive regular recess, and lunchtime means a carton of milk and cookies for dessert. Other aspects were new to me: the instructors are all top-notch jurists or law professors, with PowerPoints at the ready, and sporting catchy clip art or movie excerpts to strike an educational point about a rule of evidence or a twist in criminal procedure.

Over a period of two weeks, these instructors covered an awesome array of topics: from the role of the judge and judicial discretion, to the latest constitutional cases involving search-and-seizure law and an accused’s right to counsel, to courtroom security and interactions with media. When not absorbing new material, we judges spent our time discussing in small groups about what we had just learned. In addition, we had some unique opportunities: we got to quiz a panel of citizens who had served on juries, and we examined a group of criminal defendants about what judges said to them in sentencing that made a difference.

Any judge will tell you that a Reno education is a career-transforming experience, setting the stage for one’s entire service on the bench. Just as important as the classroom exposure is the opportunity to debate points with colleagues from across the nation, drawing from their experiences. I learned that despite our differing accents, statutes, and courtroom customs, judges are united in our dedication to do our jobs well, to administer justice impartially, and to keep our knowledge and skills current.

Judge Gamon was appointed to the district court in 2010 after serving 17 years as a district associate judge. Her official chambers are in the Wapello County Courthouse in Ottumwa. She may be reached at