2022 Alternative Dispute Resolution Q&A
Mary G. Commander
Commander Law, Norfolk
Other legal specialties: Family law, including divorce, custody and adoption
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Old Dominion University; law degree, University of Richmond
Family: Spouse – Jeff Morse; daughter – Laura Morse
Career mentors: The Hon. John A. MacKenzie, U.S. district judge, who showed me all the good ways and the bad ways that people practice law. He instilled in me the desire not to be thought of as one of the lawyers that judges rolled their eyes at or about. He also taught me not to be afraid to laugh at myself.
Favorite dish: A crabcake (not too much filler), baked potato and coleslaw. Cold beer optional.
Hobbies: Gardening, animal rescue and sports (observer only)
What are the most common issues that you handle? I would say child custody disputes are the most prevalent and difficult because of their emotional nature. This is one of the reasons that mediation is so useful — because it gives the parents (and often extended family) the opportunity to fully express their emotions to each other under circumstances that are safe and not time restricted. Most importantly, both sides feel heard.
What did you learn from your time as a substitute judge on the Norfolk Circuit Court? It was impressed upon me how important the behind-the-scenes court personnel are to the ability of a judge to do the job. That experience also reinforced for me that the litigants’ overall satisfaction with the process comes not so much from the outcome of the case but the manner in which they are permitted to present their case and by the judge’s attitude and demeanor.