OSAH’s Staff Attorneys 2015
Dominic Capraro, Laurin McDonald and Shoshana Elon
By Judge Michael Malihi
In the past year, OSAH Judges adjudicated more than 58,000 cases. With only 11 Judges, who conduct hearings in 159 counties and hear more than 500 case types, staff attorneys play an integral role in the adjudication process. They assist the judges in courtroom proceedings, review pleadings, conduct legal research, draft orders and decisions, and interact with court personnel, litigants and the public.
We currently have three staff attorneys: Laurin McDonald, Shoshana Elon, and Dominic Capraro. Each staff attorney is assigned to several Judges. All of our staff attorneys are highly skilled and performed at or near the top of their law school class.
The following discussion is intended to introduce you to each of our attorneys and elucidate their role. 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.
Shoshana: I see my job as helping the judge make the best decision under the law by ensuring that the judge has an accurate and complete picture of the law. This usually involves doing exhaustive research and sometimes looking outside the box.
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.
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.
Shoshana: No one case type dominates. I have a lot of variety in my caseload and I am always encountering new areas and new questions of law. The workload in any particular area ebbs and flows, so that—for instance—I may see a number of environmental cases at once and then none for six months.
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.
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.
Shoshana: How much work I do on a case generally depends on the type of case and whether I have a lot of other work on my plate at the time. I generally prefer to write the first draft of a decision in its entirety, and I frequently am given the opportunity to do so. In other situations, I am given the task of researching an isolated issue that will either be incorporated into the decision or used as guidance in decision making.
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.
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.
Shoshana: It depends on the case and on the judge. The judge and I will generally agree on an outcome before I begin drafting a decision. However, if the law is unclear, my legal research and judgment can be influential.
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.
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.
Shoshana: I try to attend the hearings in some of the more complex cases I work on, but even when I am not in attendance, things like the judge’s perceptions of a witness’s credibility are discussed and incorporated into any decision.
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.
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.
Shoshana: The majority of my time is spent researching and writing decisions, orders, and legal memoranda, which are often used to help a judge make a decision in a particular case. I also have law-related tasks that do not involve substantive decision-making, such as mediating cases, conducting prehearing conferences, and preparing materials for publication.
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.
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.
Shoshana: I keep pretty busy—I’m definitely never at loss for what to do. That said, the pressure definitely picks up when I’m consumed by a large and complex case with lots of motions. It may require a bit of a balancing act to ensure that more routine tasks are not neglected.
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.
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.
Shoshana: I generally work independently, at least at the research and writing stage. It will depend on the judge how much pre- and post-writing discussion or editing occurs.
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.
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.
Shoshana: I appreciate a well-researched, thought-out argument with supporting legal citations. I also like when exhibits have labeled tabs so I can refer to a cited exhibit with little effort.
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.
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.
Shoshana: Numerous filings with no added value. If you are going to file something with the Court, make sure that it serves a purpose and doesn’t simply rehash an old argument without any new legal citations or arguments. I also do not appreciate when a legal filing contains little or no citation to law. If you can’t find a case directly on point, cite to analogous law or make a plausible argument backed up by law.
Dominic: When parties or attorneys interrupt the judge or ignore an objection.
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.
Shoshana: I agree, and would add that if a staff attorney has been in direct contact with the parties, it is safe to assume that the attorney has been or will be involved in the drafting of the order or decision, as applicable.
Dominic: A good indicator is if I’m in the courtroom.
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, Malihi, and Miller. Laurin and her husband, Will, live in Atlanta, where they enjoy hiking, tennis, traveling, and attending performing arts events around the city.
A long-time Atlanta resident, Shoshana Elon attended Emory University, where she graduated, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a degree in psychology. She continued her education at Emory University School of Law, where she graduated with honors in 2012. Shoshana is the staff attorney for the Honorable Judges Howells, Schroer, Oakley, Walker, and Malihi. At one time, she also served as staff attorney to the Honorable Judges Miller and Kennedy. She has been trained in general and special education mediation and is a certified mediator with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution. She is presently serving as Vice Chair of the Administrative Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia.
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. He 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, Wood, and Woodard.