Judging Like Mom

Judge following in the footsteps of her mother

By Katy Barnitz
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Jane Levy never thought she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.

“You spend your childhood saying, ‘I’m not going to be just like my parents,’” she said. “It just sort of seeps in.”

The 38-year-old was appointed to a vacant judgeship in the 2nd Judicial District’s Family Court division late in November by Gov. Susana Martinez. Her mother, Susan Conway, was the same age when she became a Family Court judge here.
Conway met her husband, Robert Levy, in the South Valley legal aid office. The two went on to open a practice focused on child advocacy. Jane Levy grew up with family dinner discussions about politics, family crises and child poverty, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

Levy went to law school with plans to be a child advocate and spent the last seven years working primarily as a guardian ad litem, an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interests of children caught in the center of contested custody cases.
Levy once wanted to be a teacher and went to school for education. She also went on to work in an investment management firm before deciding to go to law school.

When she settled on law, though, there was never much debate. She’s ventured into civil law, but family law always has been her focus. She gets to help people through what is “usually the darkest time that they have as a family,” she said.
“You could actually create remedies that were much better at helping that family bounce up from there,” Levy said, “so that they would never be that low again.”

In addition to her juris doctorate from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, Levy has a master’s degree in counseling psychology, which Conway points out is tremendously helpful to a family attorney.

“You understand the family dynamics and the psychological underpinnings,” she said.

As a guardian ad litem, Levy gets to investigate the families she works with - she interviews them, she visits their homes, she gets to know the kids. She works to find solutions and make recommendations that are best for the child’s well-being.
She says she’s going to miss that work.

“Being able to have that access to people,” she said, “I’m going to miss that. You get to have real contact with people.”

But she’s optimistic about her future as a judge. She’s looking forward to administering outreach programs, and she wants to consolidate hearings so that people don’t constantly have to appear in court as their cases are pending.

Levy will be informally sworn in Jan. 1 and take office Jan. 3. A formal swearing in ceremony is set for Feb. 3.

As the daughter of a judge, Levy said she feels like she has a leg up in some ways because her mother ran the home like a courtroom.

“If arguments would happen, she would say, ‘I’ve heard you. I’ve heard your objection to this,’” she said.

But Levy also regularly encounters the kids whose custody cases were handled by her mom, and she knows what a lasting impact a judge can have. She once ran into a woman who, as a child, came through Conway’s courtroom, stuck in the center of a high-conflict divorce.

She described having a parent on each side, both of them pulling her arms in an attempt to show they had brought her to the courthouse. Conway told both parents that she needed to meet with their daughter alone and then she let the girl sing pop songs on the courtroom microphone.

“She said, ‘I knew I was there to tell the judge what I felt. I didn’t feel anything, I just wanted to sing Tiffany,’” Levy said.

To be fair, Conway never thought she was going to be a judge, either. She was going to be a playwright.

But after graduating from Barnard College in New York City, she learned that playwright jobs were hard to come by, and she started waitressing. She worked as an office manager before moving to a women’s commune and beginning law school at Northeastern University in Boston.

Conway said she and Robert Levy were ecstatic when they learned of their daughter’s appointment.

“She’s the light of our lives,” Conway said.

She describes her daughter as an old soul and her own personal psychotherapist.

As she watches her daughter prepare for her judicial career, she’s able to see the ways in which the Family Court has evolved since her own appointment. Conway joined the Family Court in June 1985, just months after it was created.
“We basically made it up as we went along,” she said.

But the division has matured since then, thanks in part to studies that examined the impact of divorce on kids. Conway said there was so much that the Family Court didn’t know then.

“I just am so pleased,” she said, “and I’m really so glad that it has grown not just older but wiser.”