The FBA-WDWA had its genesis in a discussion among Judge Walter McGovern and Seattle lawyers William Ferguson and Albert R. Malanca. Judge McGovern had experience sitting in both state and federal courts, and his experience highlighted the differences between the two systems. He saw the need for a federally-oriented bar association in this District. These accomplished lawyers, along with leaders of the King County and Washington State Bar Associations (including future Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty B. Fletcher and U.S. District Judge William L. Dwyer) joined forces to support a federal bar association that would assist the federal bench and local federal practitioners. On December 7, 1977, incorporation papers were signed and the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Washington was officially formed.
For the first several years, the FBA-WDWA coalesced around the ideas that had led to its founding – primarily service to the bench and bar, including the provision of mediators to reduce the court’s overwhelming backlog of civil cases. It was 1979 and the federal caseload in this District had risen to approximately 500 cases per judge. The FBA-WDWA and the judges devised a solution – an alternative dispute resolution program, which found its focus in Civil Rule 39.1. Though originally implemented as an emergency relief mechanism, it became one of the country’s earliest efforts to routinely incorporate mediation and other alternate dispute resolution options into the federal litigation process. With the new rule in place, the Western District became one of the top districts in the country for speedy disposition of cases – this despite the fact that our judges reportedly carried one of the largest caseloads per judge of any district in the nation. Rule 39.1’s mediation-based system was so successful that it has since been used to develop similar programs in a number of other districts. Today, the FBA-WDWA continues to promote and maintain the ADR program by certifying mediators for participation in the Rule 39.1 program.
The FBA-WDWA’s Pro Bono Committee is yet another example of how the bench and bar have worked cooperatively since the Association’s inception. According to Judge Richard C. Tallman, In the mid-1990’s our District’s judges requested assistance in handling civil pro bono cases. A pro bono panel of attorneys was loosely constructed, and several years later the FBA-WDWA institutionalized that volunteer effort. Today, the Committee’s Pro Bono Panel screens pro se cases and, if the referring court agrees that appointment of counsel is warranted, helps find volunteer attorneys for appointment. The result is that pro se litigants, otherwise faced with the daunting challenge of litigating claims in federal court without a lawyer, have the assistance of able counsel.
In 2006, the Pro Bono Committee also began a Federal Civil Rights Legal Clinic in collaboration with the King County Bar Association’s Neighborhood Legal Clinic program. Volunteer attorneys staff the Federal Legal Clinic for two hours every other week. Advice and resources are readily provided to all pro se federal litigants who need assistance. The clinic assists both federal litigants and the courts. As the Honorable John L. Weinberg notes, “Such efforts continue to contribute immeasurably to the fair and efficient functioning of our court, and to the availability and quality of representation afforded to those who litigate before us.”
The Pro Bono and ADR Committees also recently joined forces to design a program that will offer the appointment of pro bono counsel for pro se litigants in selected cases, for the limited purpose of assisting with early ADR. Other FBA-WDWA responsibilities include the following: gathering information and providing input on revisions to the local rules; offering screening and input to U.S. Senators regarding the selection of proposed judicial nominees; assisting the courts in selecting qualified Ninth Circuit Lawyer Representatives; and working on special projects, such as support for the renovation of the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma, and the U.S. District and Ninth Circuit Courthouses in Seattle. Bruce Rifkin, Clerk of the Court, observes that the FBA-WDWA provided a mechanism for the court to obtain insights from practicing lawyers about what lawyers needed in the new courthouse in Seattle. Rifkin says, “That goes to the heart of the relationship between the court and the Association. When we want broad insight into something that we in the courthouse don’t do every day, we go immediately to the Association.”
Throughout its history, the FBA-WDWA has contributed to the bench, the bar, and the public. As former Chief Judge John C. Coughenour says, “It was always in our mind that if we needed some assistance, it was a phone call away. We got a lot of support from the Association on funding for the new Seattle courthouse, relations with members of Congress during difficult times” for that project, and other issues. The FBA-WDWA’s activities have expanded over the years to include hosting numerous CLEs and other events (in Seattle and Tacoma) covering topics such as federal practice, ethics, criminal law, technology in the courtroom, appellate law, admiralty law, and a myriad of bankruptcy issues. In addition, the FBA-WDWA has strived to recognize the accomplishments of judges, lawyers, and members of the public, who contribute greatly to the federal legal community. To this day, Judge Fletcher sees the FBA-WDWA as a great resource for the courts, one that well represents the positions of the judges of this District and the Ninth Circuit. Judge Tallman, a former FBA-WDWA president, notes that the Association’s work on issues of concern to the bar has always been and continues to be of great assistance to the courts.
For more than thirty years, the FBA-WDWA has worked closely with federal practitioners and local federal judges who collectively contribute to the rule of law. The FBA-WDWA owes its success to the cooperative efforts of our esteemed federal bench and motivated practitioners. As Chief Judge Robert S. Lasnik recently reflected, “Whenever we embark on another innovative program, we always do so in conjunction with our Federal Bar Association colleagues. Their advice and support has proved invaluable in every instance.” We look forward to many more productive years together.