Pregnant litigators already have enough to worry about without trial dates getting in the way of due dates, a Houston judge decided.
State District Judge Ravi Sandill has issued a standing order granting expecting lawyers an automatic continuance of a trial setting in his court for up to 120 days around the birth or adoption of a child.
Sandill, judge of Harris County’s 127th District Court. said he came up with the idea after reading about Christen E. Luikart, a pregnant Jacksonville lawyer whose motion for continuance sparked controversy after her opposing counsel objected.
The Daily Business Review reported about the dispute last month just as the Florida Supreme Court is weighing a proposed rule that would create a presumption that pregnant lawyers should get three-month trial 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.
“We did it for a couple of reasons,” he explained. “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 notes a pregnant lawyer must serve as lead counsel and have an active role in the case before getting an automatic continuance. “We didn’t want any gaming of the docket. We wanted to make sure that people were actually engaged in the case.’’
Other Texas judges have not been so understanding when it comes to granting leave for 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 8-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 attorneys 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.”