Interview with TIPS Honor Roll Award Recipient James Holmes
ABA TIPS Diversity Law Committee Newsletter
By: Wesley Sunu
Q: Jim, you’re a busy attorney but you have been providing pro bono service for years. What made you decide to do pro bono and public service work?
A: I have always believed that everyone has an obligation to act for the good of all. As an attorney, there are opportunities to help individuals who are unaware of their rights in the legal system. Some people may not think that they need a lawyer, and some people may want help but don’t know where to turn. So I help individuals when I can. I also have focused my pro bono work as a volunteer temporary judge in the Los Angeles County courts.
Q: How did you become a volunteer temporary judge?
A: That decision was driven primarily by the fact that the court systems are in such a desperate financial state that there is a chance for attorneys to be of assistance. In Los Angeles County, where I’m a temporary judge, almost thirty courtrooms each day are filled with volunteer temporary judges. The system would utterly bog down without the attorney volunteers.
Q: What are your duties as a temporary judge?
A: Temporary judges oversee small claims, infraction arraignments and traffic trials. Those are my usual assignments. If a sitting judicial officer were required to handle all of these cases, they would not be able to handle more serious cases on their dockets. Infraction arraignments can fill up the day, and I assist the court with these cases. I usually deal with infraction arraignments in which people get traffic tickets or something along those lines, which technically are criminal charges, but people show up without attorneys. For almost all of these people, this is the only interaction they will ever have with the court system, so I endeavor to make sure that they realize that the courts do care about them. Even if there are 130 people on the docket that morning, if someone needs an explanation or has a reason for why they need some assistance, that’s what we are there for. My volunteering as a temporary judge gives me an opportunity to be of assistance in that regard.
Q: I understand that you have been doing this for some time. How long have you been acting as a temporary judge?
A: The first time I acted as a temporary judge was June 1995. After an attorney completes the training program to become a temporary judge, your name is circulated to all judicial officers in the county. Once all the judicial officers have signed off, then you are considered a temporary judge. Since 1995, I have been a temporary judge in excess of 450 times.
Q: You have spent a considerable amount of time sitting as a temporary judge. What do you take away from your involvement and your experience as a temporary judge?
A: One of the things my involvement as a temporary judge gives me is that it makes me a better practitioner. The cases I handled for the court have nothing to do with my area of law, so it’s kind of nice to get a change of pace there. I learn and benefit in my practice by being on the other side of the table. Also, I had the opportunity to help the court move cases through to completion. A lot of times when you’re involved in litigation, it can take years for cases to finish. However, as a temporary judge, I can sit down in a calendar for arraignments or for traffic trials and complete 15 trials in a morning session. The court personnel, bailiffs and clerks, make volunteering worthwhile, too. Also, even the defendants appearing before me appreciate the job you’re doing when they realize that someone listened, someone cared, someone made their life a little easier. You can’t help but feel good about that.
Q: Jim, your efforts have certainly not gone unrecognized. You were awarded the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award from the County of Los Angeles. How was it that you received this award?
A: I received a phone call from the director of the temporary judge program, who told me that I’ve been named Volunteer of the Year. The Volunteer of the Year award was an honor of commendation that came from the Board of Supervisors and a separate award from Los Angeles Superior Court. I think at some point they looked over the assignments and saw that I had so many temporary judge assignments, so that was probably part of it. But I also received good reviews from courtroom personnel. I even had defendants write notes to the court complimenting me.
Q: You have also been recognized by TIPS on the Honor Roll for public service. It certainly is well deserved. What would you say to other members of the bar as to why they should be volunteering and doing more public service work?
A: First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. If you can take your skill set to make the system work better for society and help out people, that’s probably one of the best uses of the gifts that you’ve been given. Pro bono is for the good of the public but you also feel good doing it. Also, there are other things that I do besides serving as a temporary judge. I do will clinics and wills and durable power of attorney health care directives for terminally ill people. I help out with adoption proceedings. Also, every time TIPS does some pro bono public service project, you can count on me rolling up my sleeves and contributing, whether it’s digging a garden in Southern California for a hospice or helping serve food to the less fortunate. It’s a great sense of camaraderie and it’s a sense that you’ve done something for other people. Those are really great moments.
Q: TIPS certainly appreciates all the work that you have done with your pro bono efforts and in the TIPS section. We hope that you continue to do your pro bono work and we hope that you continue to be recognized for all the good that you are doing.
A: Thank you so much, Wes. By the way, I’m inspired by the leadership of all the people I’ve seen. You in particular have stepped up to make sure that the practice of law is the best it can be and TIPS is a section that truly cares about its members. I’m grateful to TIPS for letting me be a part of it and for the honors that the section has given me.