- This month’s newsletter is about service. Is public service something that was always important to you, something intentional or did it develop organically?
Answer: My focus in college and graduate school was U.S. History and if it taught me only one thing, it’s that the public institutions we choose to build and maintain, from the national down to the local, are fundamental to how we shape our communities and safeguard our values. That lesson meshed with my own upbringing. From a young age my parents taught me the importance of contributing to my community. I didn’t always have a clear enough career plan to know whether I’d be in public service myself, but I understood early on that public service is incredibly important and requires a deep bench.
- Who do you most admire for their public service or service to the community?
Answer: I’ll stick with the personal. My father spent years working in local government administration in a small, rural town. He did the most basic work of government, literally keeping the street lights on and getting potholes filled. Over the course of several years he also devoted countless volunteer hours on top of that navigating the local, much needed, hospital through an agonizing bankruptcy process that ultimately saved the hospital. He just quietly did the jobs that needed doing for no other reason than that they needed doing. He taught me through his example that public service doesn’t have to make headlines to be important. The behind the scenes work needed to keep things running smoothly isn’t exciting, and it often gets taken for granted, but we all benefit from the fruits of that labor all day every day.
- Would you rather write a precedential opinion now or the dissent that changes the law in 20 years?
Answer: I think special masters in the vaccine program may tend to have a slightly different mindset. We go where science and medicine take us but realize that the state of the art is always evolving. I think we all understand and are comfortable with the fact that a lot of our decisions are destined to become less and less relevant over time regardless of the outcome we reached. What matters most is arriving at the most appropriate result in the case at hand with the information we have available to us at the time.
- You’ve seen first-hand the role of counsel as well as the special masters in your role as a staff attorney. What are some things that make that relationship effective? What can knock it off track?
Answer: Compared to so many other practice areas, the vaccine program is a very small niche. When you work with the same people on case after case, you can’t help but put an extra premium on collegiality. Overall, I think counsel and OSM have a great track record of being able to disagree without being disagreeable, but collegiality is not enough to keep things on track when there’s a failure to communicate. We’re all at our best when we say what we mean, mean what we say, and put in the extra effort to truly listen to others.
- What is the most important personality characteristic in a special master?
Answer: I think there’s a lot of room for different personalities in this job, but the most important characteristic is whatever gets you to compassion. Whether they ultimately have a meritorious claim or not, every petitioner that files a case in this program is enduring personal circumstances ranging from the unfortunate to the tragic. Win or lose, they all deserve the same kindness and respect.
Rapid Fire Round!
- Mac or PC?
Answer: PC, don’t get me started on Iphone vs. Blackberry though.
- Top-three on your Spotify/I-tunes playlist?
Answer: Only Happy When It Rains (Garbage), Why Can’t I be You? (The Cure), Hey Bulldog (The Beatles)
- Beef on Weck or Ben’s Half Smoke?
Answer: At the risk of starting a fight, I’m going to say that Buffalo junk food is the best in the nation and beef on weck is the first thing I go for when I visit.
- Sabres or the Caps?
Answer: I don’t follow sports closely, but Buffalo is a true hockey town and seeing them get the cup would be fantastic. I do cheer for the Caps as long as they’re not playing Buffalo though.
- Star Wars or Star Trek?
Answer: Star Wars, but only the original trilogy.