US District Judge Staci M. Yandle of the US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois talks about her role as a federal judge and experiences during her time on the bench, and offers practical advice to litigators.
Education: 1987: J.D., Vanderbilt University Law School; 1983: B.S., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Career in Brief: 2014–present: US District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, US District Judge; 2007–2014: The Law Offices of Staci M. Yandle, LLC, Attorney; 2003–2007: The Rex Carr Law Firm, LLC, Partner; 1987–2003: Carr, Korein, Tillery, Kunin, Montroy & Glass, Associate.
What do you enjoy most about your role as a federal judge? I enjoy being able to apply the passion I had for the law in private practice to public service. Instead of working to ensure justice for individual clients, I now serve the entire community.
What do you wish counsel explained to their clients about federal civil litigation? Counsel should take the time to explain the pretrial process to their clients, such as the mechanics of discovery and motion practice, in a way the clients can understand. That would facilitate reasonable client expectations.
How should counsel prepare for a Rule 26(f) meet and confer and a Rule 16 pretrial conference? Counsel should engage in meaningful good faith conversations designed to reach agreement on as many issues as possible and to streamline the pretrial process, rather than being solely motivated by strategic advantage.
What do you think is currently the biggest challenge facing litigation attorneys? I believe young attorneys and those from underrepresented communities face the biggest challenge, which is the lack of opportunity to gain meaningful courtroom experience. Many times, they are relegated to a "second chair" role in which their primary responsibilities are drafting written submissions and assisting the senior attorney during motion hearings and trial. Without more independent experience in the courtroom, these attorneys cannot significantly advance their trial skills.
How have your background and experiences shaped your views on the need for diversity on the bench and the role federal courts play in ensuring justice for marginalized groups? My background and life experiences as an openly gay African American woman have undeniably shaped my views on the need for diversity on the bench and in society in general. The legal profession remains one of the least diverse and most conservative professions in this country. A judiciary that better reflects the diversity of our country not only contributes to the confidence of litigants and the community, but also reinforces the impartiality of our courts.
Is there one case that has affected you the most? Generally, criminal cases and sentencing have a significant impact on me. In every case, I am keenly aware of the responsibility associated with the decision to incarcerate an individual.
How does your approach differ between adjudicating civil and criminal cases? My approach to adjudicating any type of case is typically the same. I exercise judicial discretion within the confines of the applicable law, with the goal of doing what is right and just.
What tips can you offer to counsel on navigating high-profile cases that generate significant controversy or publicity? Public opinion and media scrutiny associated with high-profile cases can potentially influence decision-making for both attorneys and judges. It is important for counsel to stay focused on the legal issues and their responsibility to their clients and the court, and to avoid getting caught up in the media glare or the push and pull of public opinion.
How have social media and emerging technologies impacted discovery and trial practice in your court? Technology and social media have increased the scope of information that comes into play in litigation in general. In particular, it has impacted and influenced the views of potential jurors, and thereby increased the importance of an effective voir dire process.
What aspect of a jury trial, apart from voir dire, do you think is most critical to success in litigation? Pretrial strategy and preparation are essential to a successful litigation outcome. Attorneys must also be willing to adjust their strategy and approach in response to newly developed information.
What are your strategies for encouraging parties to enter into a settlement agreement? My approach is to consistently encourage parties to explore the possibility of settlement rather than to press them into an agreement.
What are the hallmarks of an effective trial attorney? I believe an effective trial attorney is one who has keen analytical and communication skills and exhibits confidence, but not arrogance.
What is your biggest courtroom pet peeve? It is a close call between incivility and a lack of preparation by attorneys.
What is one mistake you made early in your legal career and what did you learn from that experience? Early on, I tried to emulate other attorneys I considered experienced and successful. I quickly figured out that the best approach was to simply be prepared and be myself.
Which current or former Supreme Court Justice do you most admire, and why? I most admire Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg fought for women against gender discrimination and faced down much adversity in the process. The integrity, strength, tenacity, and intelligence she displays as a jurist is extremely admirable and inspiring.