OSAH’s Staff Attorneys 2016
Dominic Capraro, Lisa Boggs, Jennifer Williams and Laurin McDonald
By Judge Michael Malihi
With the remarkable influx of cases that OSAH receives, and the myriad of complex legal issues presented, we are very fortunate to have four highly-qualified and accomplished staff attorneys, Laurin McDonald, Dominic Capraro, Jennifer Williams, and Lisa Boggs. OSAH’s staff attorneys provide invaluable assistance to the judges, and our judges rely heavily upon them to ensure that every decision issued by our court is well-written, with thorough analysis and accurate citations. Additionally, as registered and trained mediators, the staff attorneys facilitate amicable settlements among parties. The staff attorneys are integral to OSAH’s operations both in and out of court, and we are very grateful for their contributions to our organization.
The following discussion is intended to introduce you to each of our attorneys and give you an idea of their role at OSAH. A bio for each staff attorney appears at the end of this article.
Q: How do you perceive your role as a staff attorney in rendering decisions?
Laurin: We are here to help draft decisions, edit decisions, perform research, or simply act as sounding boards for the judges. The judges typically define my role on each project.
Dominic: I’m here to support the judges. They’re all great at what they do and I’m here to make sure that they have the help they need to do it.
Jennifer: I see my job as being here to help the judges, whether that’s drafting decisions, performing research, or just giving them someone to talk through the case with. Each judge has different preferences and defines my role slightly differently.
Lisa: I’m here to assist the judges with research, help draft or edit decisions, and provide any other support they need.
Q: What types of cases do you primarily work on?
Laurin: It varies. I typically see public assistance, tax, environmental, labor, and special education cases.
Dominic: In terms of the number of cases that I handle, Administrative License Suspensions predominate. But I probably spend most of my time on health care cases since they tend to be more complex.
Jennifer: It changes from month to month. One month I may be overwhelmed with labor or special education cases, and the next it may be all environmental or healthcare.
Lisa: My workload has so far varied. Recently I have worked on cases involving child support, public assistance, professional licensing, and special education.
Q: To what extent are you involved in drafting decisions?
Laurin: It depends. Sometimes I merely edit decisions after a judge writes it, and sometimes I draft the entire decision.
Dominic: I’m usually very involved in the process of drafting a decision. The judges are also very active in providing feedback on what I’ve written and supplying language that they would like to be in the decision.
Jennifer: It depends on the type of case. If it’s a simple case or something we see all the time, I’ll generally be asked to draft the entire decision. If it is a complex case, I might be asked to just research a particular issue or work closely with the judge when writing my first draft.
Lisa: Depending on the type of case, I will draft the decision and make revisions as necessary. Other times I perform research for the judges on certain legal questions that will be addressed in the decision, or I edit and cite-check the judges’ final drafts.
Q: How much influence do you have in the outcome of a case?
Laurin: Judges often ask me to review a case and provide my own opinion, but sometimes they tell me their conclusion at the outset. However, the judges are always open to hearing my thoughts, regardless of whether we agree on the outcome or not.
Dominic: I wouldn’t say that I really influence the outcome of any case, but all of the judges to whom I’m assigned welcome my opinion. The vast majority of the time, the judges and I will be in almost lock-step with regard to the appropriate outcome.
Jennifer: It depends on the case and the judge. Every judge I’m assigned to welcomes my opinion, but some are more likely to already have an outcome in mind than others.
Lisa: I think my role is to be a sounding board for the judges. They are always open to hearing my opinions and discussing the issues on every case.
Q: Do you only help draft decisions where you have attended the hearing?
Laurin: No. I often listen to recordings or read hearing transcripts. This is especially true when the hearing takes place away from Atlanta.
Dominic: No. Many times I’m unable to attend the hearing due to scheduling constraints or because of the location of the hearing. I always listen to the audio recording of the hearing before writing a decision, however.
Jennifer: No. I try to attend the hearings in most of the complex cases I work on, but time constraints make it impossible to attend every hearing. I do always listen to recordings or read hearing transcripts before drafting a decision.
Lisa: Not always. For cases where I do not attend the hearing, I review the recordings or read the transcripts, and I also consult with the judges.
Q: What percentage of your time in spent writing substantive decisions?
Laurin: My typical workload is about 50% drafting substantive decisions and the other 50% includes tasks like proofreading decisions, researching, conducting pre-hearing conferences, and other types of smaller tasks.
Dominic: Probably around 60-75% of my time is spent working on decisions, if you count listening to the hearing record, reviewing the file, and researching the relevant law.
Jennifer: Probably about 65% of my time is spent drafting substantive decisions. The rest of my time is split between proofreading decisions, researching, and completing various administrative tasks.
Lisa: More than half of my time is spent research and drafting decisions, as well as writing legal memoranda on particular issues. The rest of my workload consists of proofreading, conducting pre-hearing conferences, and performing other duties.
Q: How busy are you during an average week?
Laurin: Every week is different. The nature of our work is very cyclical. When a decision is due on a complex case, it becomes difficult to do anything else. Other weeks, I can easily accomplish all of the tasks on my “to do” list.
Dominic: I’m usually pretty busy. I’ve always got something to work on but it’s a manageable workload, especially when compared to other positions in our profession.
Jennifer: I keep quite busy, but the workload is manageable. I will say it definitely gets more difficult to accomplish routine tasks when I’m in the midst of a complex case.
Lisa: The workload varies week to week, though I stay busy overall. Any complex case will consume a great deal of time, which puts the crunch on other assignments which are due that week.
Q: Do the judges closely monitor or oversee your work?
Laurin: It depends on the judge. Typically, I go to judges when I need clarification or have questions. Otherwise, I work on drafts and research relatively independently.
Dominic: After an initial discussion with the judge, I independently produce the first draft. I certainly seek guidance and assistance from the judges along the way, but I try to be as self-sufficient as possible. The judges are active in suggesting revisions and providing insight into improving my initial draft, but they never micromanage. Naturally, the judges have the final word on the content of the decision.
Jennifer: Not generally. After an initial discussion about the case, I usually write a first draft. What happens next varies from judge to judge.
Lisa: This depends on the individual judge. Typically I work independently once I receive an assignment, though I seek out the judges or other staff attorneys if I have questions.
Q: What do you appreciate in a motion or brief?
Laurin: I appreciate when motions or briefs are well-organized and concise. Briefs should always contain accurate citations, including point cites, so I can easily and quickly locate the cases or laws.
Dominic: I like filings to be organized and to the point. I also like arguments to be grounded in the law. It’s also nice to see citations to relevant authority.
Jennifer: I appreciate an organized and well thought-out argument. Accurate citations are also very much appreciated.
Lisa: I appreciate when all the arguments and requests for relief are presented as clearly and succinctly as possible. Also, organization is crucial in any written filing, as well as accurate citations that include pin cites.
Q: What practices do you dislike?
Laurin: It is disappointing when it becomes apparent that an attorney did not spend enough time on a brief. I consider it a red flag when a brief contains numerous typos, is disorganized, has incomplete arguments, has citations that do not conform to Bluebook rules, or is inaccurate, unsupported, or exaggerates.
Dominic: When parties or attorneys interrupt the judge or ignore an objection.
Jennifer: Biggest pet peeve: irrelevant or inaccurate citations. If a citation doesn’t support your argument, don’t use it. Do attorneys really think we’re not going to read the cases they cite?
Lisa: It’s never fun when an attorney does not appear prepared at a hearing, or makes no effort to back up an argument with legal authority. Briefs that are poorly organized or unclear also are not appreciated.
Q: How would the parties know that a staff attorney is working on their case?
Laurin: It is pretty safe to assume that a staff attorney is working on most of the complex cases.
Dominic: A good indicator is if I’m in the courtroom.
Jennifer: The parties wouldn’t always know, but it’s fairly safe to assume one of us is working on most of the complex cases.
Lisa: A staff attorney will often be present during the hearing. The more complex cases also require more research, which a staff attorney may handle.
Laurin McDonald, a Marietta native, attended the University of Georgia, where she graduated, magna cum laude. Prior to pursuing law, Laurin worked in the fashion industry in London, England and Atlanta. Laurin obtained her J.D. with honors from Georgia State University in 2012, where she was a Student Writing Associate Editor for Georgia State’s Law Review and competed with Georgia State’s Moot Court Board. Laurin is the staff attorney for the Honorable Judges Baxter, Beaudrot, Kennedy, and Malihi. Laurin is also the staff attorney for the Honorable Judge O’Neal, chief judge of the Georgia Tax Tribunal. Laurin and her husband, Will, live in Atlanta.
Dominic Capraro was raised in Marietta, Georgia, where he graduated from Lassiter High School. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Political Science from Kennesaw State University, and graduated cum laude from Georgia State University College of Law, where he was an Associate Research Editor for the Law Review. At the Office of State Administrative Hearings, Dominic is the staff attorney for the Honorable Judges Brown, Malihi, Teate, and Woodard. He lives in Brookhaven, Georgia with his wife, Whitney.
Jennifer Williams, an Oklahoma native, obtained undergraduate degrees in Economics and International Business from Oklahoma State University. She continued her education at the University of Georgia School of Law, where she graduated cum laude. At the Office of State Administrative Hearings, Jennifer is the staff attorney for the Honorable Judges Howells, Malihi, Schroer, and Wood.
Lisa Boggs grew up in Douglasville, Georgia, where she graduated from Alexander High School. After receiving a journalism degree from Berry College, she spent the next five years working for newspapers in Rome, Georgia, and Greenwood, South Carolina. Lisa returned to the Atlanta area to attend Georgia State University College of Law, where she graduated with honors and was an Associate Research Editor for the Law Review. Following a two-year term as a staff attorney with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, she now works as a staff attorney at OSAH for the Honorable Judges Malihi, Miller, and Walker.