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Questions & Answers with Hon. Lori V. Vaughan

Questions and Answers with Hon. Lori V. Vaughan, United States Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division

By Megan Murray Underwood Murray PC

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost exactly a year since Judge Lori V. Vaughan took the bench in Orlando. One could call it a homecoming, coming full circle, or better yet for Judge Vaughan, fulfilling a lifelong dream. As many readers of this publication know, Judge Vaughan served as judicial law clerk to the Honorable Karen S. Jennemann, an icon to many as the first female Bankruptcy Judge and Chief Bankruptcy Judge in Florida. Prior to clerking, Judge Vaughan graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in Political Science with high honors and received her J.D. with honors from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and has been working towards the bench ever since. Coming up on the one year mark, I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Judge Vaughan and see how the year went. Here is what I learned:

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year. How has your first year on the job been?
It is hard to believe. It certainly doesn’t feel like it has been a year. This first year has been exciting, wonderful, and a little nerve wracking. I certainly did not expect to be handling all of my hearings by phone or video. I have had to learn a lot this year and am still in the process of figuring it all out, but I love my new job.

Was it what you expected?
Yes and No. No one expected COVID would change how the court operates. Even beyond COVID I could not have predicted how much my life would change with this new position.

What was not as you expected?
I clerked over 20 years ago, before CM/ECF. The processing of pleadings and orders and the calendaring system are all new to me. I was pleased and impressed at the efficiency of the system and the systems we have in the Middle District for our calendars and orders.

What has surprised you the most?
Probably the most surprising thing to date has been the quick reflexes of the bar and their adjustment to my rulings and practices. In making changes or rulings, even if it’s just from the bench, the word spreads quickly and the bar adjusts. It’s impressive!

What do you miss about private practice?
Certainly not timesheets! I miss seeing my friends and colleagues on nearly a daily basis. Between taking the bench and COVID restrictions, my social outlets have nearly disappeared. I look forward to the days when we can get together again and I can visit with the folks in Tampa.

How is it living in Orlando (aka, coming home). I’m sure it’s changed since you were last living here. What’s new?
I am loving Orlando. We recently moved into a lovely new home in Winter Park and I am thrilled to be there. Orlando seems much bigger than I remember. It is bigger in the sense of more people and busy roads, but also in the sense that there is much more available. Orlando seems to offer more to do and see and I am enjoying getting to know the area again, even if it’s very limited at the moment.

Describe your judicial philosophy.
Simply put, I have no desire to run your case, but I will not hesitate to step in if I think justice requires it.

I looked for your “preferences” on the FLMB website and didn’t see any. Do you have any practice preferences you’d like to share with the bar?
I expect to put out some preferences this year, but until then I will just say three things, most of which you have probably heard before. 1. Be brief. Most issues can be addressed adequately in 2-3 pages. 2. Do not expect me to have reviewed any last-minute pleadings. Most days I have several cases and simply do not have time to review a pleading filed the night before or the morning of a hearing. 3. If you are making a legal argument, make sure you cite to or provide me with the case law. I will typically review the cases before the hearing and will follow along with you during the argument.

What is your biggest “pet peeve”?
Counsel who do not communicated with opposing counsel before the hearing. Counsel should always reach out to see if they can settle or narrow their disputes.

What makes your job easier?
Counsel who are prepared and who address the issues in their pleadings.

What makes it harder?
Unprepared counsel.

What is the funniest thing that’s happened in your courtroom so far?
We frequently have uninvited guests in our video hearings. The funniest was when counsel’s husband peaked through the doors behind her and then proceeded to come into the room with her frantically pushing him out the door. Recently, one attorney’s cats decided to have a fight in the background of a hearing.

When COVID is no longer a concern, what are you looking forward to the most?
I look forward to seeing more people, attorneys, colleagues and friends. I also look forward to going to a theater and traveling.