The chief judge of the Superior Court influences its direction and the careers of its judges. Josey-Herring will succeed Judge Robert E. Morin, who announced this spring that he would not seek another four-year term.
It is the second time Josey-Herring, 59, has vied for the top job, having lost to former chief judge Lee F. Satterfield in 2008.
As a judge, the Georgetown University Law School graduate currently oversees felony criminal cases. She also handled cases in civil and family court and held the position of presiding judge in family court.
Josey-Herring also served as deputy president judge of the court’s family division where she led development of the court’s Family Court Transition Plan, which ultimately became a road map for the Family Court Act of 2001. Josey-Herring also led the initiative to establish the Family Treatment Court, which provides substance-abuse treatment and social services to mothers or female caretakers charged with neglecting their children because of substance abuse.
The chief was picked by the members of the Judicial Nomination Commission, a seven-person committee. The group, led by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, is made up of District residents and attorneys who practice in the city.
“Judge Josey-Herring is widely respected by colleagues, court staff, litigants, attorneys, public officials, and other members of the community, and she has been recognized for her leadership, intellect, temperament, integrity, commitment, and vision,” the commission said in a statement Tuesday. “Judge Josey-Herring has committed to working with all stakeholders — including litigants, citizens, employees, and private and public sector advocates — to improve access to justice, as well as achieve improvements in other areas identified by stakeholders.”
In May, when the commission announced the three judges were vying for the position, it created a website and asked the public to submit comments regarding the candidates. The commission said it received more than 600 letters.
In its statement Tuesday, commission members said some of the most pressing issues outlined by the public were concerns about judicial access by individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney and who instead represent themselves, the need to “increase the sense of trust and confidence in the court” among District residents, and the safety of court employees and the public during the pandemic.
“The commission sees these concerns as among the highest priorities for the court, and has communicated this to Judge Josey-Herring,” the commission said in the statement.
The commission said it picked the chief based on various qualifications including experience, judicial temperament, ethics, commitment to diversity, leadership skills and vision for the court.
Josey-Herring will take over as chief during one of the Superior Court’s most challenging periods. Hundreds of criminal and civil cases have been delayed since March, when the court dramatically scaled back operations because of the pandemic. Even before, unfilled judgeships had made it difficult to handle the court’s volume of cases. It now has 54 judges and nine judicial vacancies.
As social distancing restrictions remain and the courthouse continues to operate with fewer visitors and employees in its buildings, the court has expanded the number of virtual hearings in its criminal, civil and domestic relations divisions.
It remains unclear when juries will again be seated and when jury trials, as well as grand jury panels will resume. The longer it takes, the more cases will continue to be delayed, causing frustration for victims and their families, as well as the defendants, especially those waiting in D.C. jail for their day in court.
During a recent online discussion, all three chief judge candidates spoke of relying more on Web-only hearings even once the pandemic subsides. The judges said they now see less need to have in-person hearings, especially if a jury is not present or if there is little witness testimony.
With 90 courtrooms spread among three buildings, the Superior Court had about 10,000 visitors each weekday before the pandemic, court leaders have said, making it one of the most visited buildings in the nation’s capital.