Pregnant litigators already have enough to worry about without trial dates getting in the way of due dates.
So Houston state district Judge Ravi Sandill recently issued a standing order that grants expecting lawyers an automatic continuance of a trial setting in his court for up to 120 days before the birth or adoption of a child.
“We did it for a couple of reasons,” said Sandill, judge of Harris County’s 127th District Court. “For one, it’s the right thing to do. And secondly — I think most judges do this already — but it alleviates anxiety for lawyers.”
Sandill said he came up with the idea after reading about Christen E. Luikart, a pregnant Florida lawyer whose motion for continuance sparked controversy last month after her opposing counsel objected to it — just as the Florida Supreme Court is weighing a proposed rule that would create a presumption that pregnant lawyers should get three-month continuances.
“After reading about that, I thought if we could push this, leading by example is not a bad thing for the practice,’’ Sandill said of his order.
Sandill notes that a pregnant lawyer must serve as lead counsel and have an active role in the case before getting the automatic continuance. “We didn’t want any gaming of the docket. We wanted to make sure that people were actually engaged in the case.’’
Unfortunately, other Texas judges have not been so understanding when it comes to granting leniency to pregnant lawyers.
In 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand against former Dallas County Judge Etta Mullin after she asked a bailiff to handcuff an eight-months-pregnant prosecutor into her chair so she would remain present for trial. And in 2017, El Paso County Judge Luis Aguilar received a public reprimand for issuing arrest warrants against lawyers for failure to appear, including a Brownsville attorney who wasn’t given proper notice and was on leave from work after giving birth.
Sandill, whose wife Kelly Sandill is a partner in the Houston office of Hunton Andrews Kurth, is well aware of the struggles women and men have in law firms when they are attempting to start a family.
“My wife is a big firm lawyer and I see it,” said Sandill, whose family adopted a child.
“It’s just taking into account the state of the practice. We have a lot of dual lawyer families,” he added. “I care about the lawyers who come in front of me.”