The 10-member Faculty Council provides input to the College’s administration and Board of Trustees
Chair Hon. Neil Edward Axel
Since 1997, Judge Neil Edward Axel has served as Associate Judge of the District Court of Maryland, where his jurisdiction includes criminal misdemeanors, traffic and alcohol-related offenses, domestic violence, and civil actions where the amount in controversy was less than $30,000. In addition to his regular judicial duties, Judge Axel served as the Judge-In-Charge of a Drug Treatment Court and DUI Court program and served as Co-Chair of Maryland’s Judicial Conference Committee on Problem Solving Courts. Throughout his judicial career, Judge Axel has been actively involved in judicial education, and for 15 years served on the Board of Directors of Maryland’s Judicial College, overseeing, and developing judicial education for Maryland’s trial and appellate judges. He served for 14 years on the Commission on Judicial Disabilities’ Judicial Inquiry Board screening complaints regarding judicial conduct, and as a member of Maryland’s Special Committee to Review the ABA Revised Code of Judicial Conduct from 2007 to 2009. Currently, Judge Axel serves the District Court of Maryland as a Senior Judge. In 2018, he was selected to serve as the ABA National Judicial Fellow for traffic safety issues. Judge Axel graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration before attending law school at American University’s Washington College of Law. In 2016, Judge Axel received the American Bar Association Judicial Division Franklin N. Flaschner Award for judicial excellence, character, and leadership. In 2005, he was recognized by the Maryland State Bar Association with its Judge Anselm Sodaro Judicial Civility Award. He is a member of the American Bar Association and the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, and joined the faculty of The National Judicial College in 2013.
Immediate Past Chair Hon. Thomas A. Zonay
Judge Thomas A. Zonay is the Chief Superior Judge for the State of Vermont. He was appointed to the bench by Governor James Douglas in 2007 and appointed as Chief Judge in 2021. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he was an attorney in private practice and before that he was a police officer in Woodstock, VT. Judge Zonay received a bachelor’s degree in food industry from Delaware Valley College and a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School. He currently serves on the Vermont Sentencing Commission (Chair), the Vermont Coordinated Justice Reform Advisory Council (Chair), the Vermont Judiciary Commission on Mental Health and the Courts (Chair of the Education Committee), the Vermont Judiciary Change Advisory Board (Co-chair),the Vermont Judiciary Standard Practices Committee, the Vermont Judiciary Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Vermont Prison Research and Innovation Network Executive Committee, the Vermont Treatment Docket Executive Oversite Committee, the Vermont Juvenile Justice Stakeholders Group, the Vermont Judicial Workload Study Advisory Executive Committee, the Vermont FTAP Management Team, the Vermont Justice Reinvestment Initiative Domestic Violence Executive Working Group, and the Act 250 Steering Committee. He also serves as a member on the Vermont Civil, Criminal, Family, and Probate Oversight Committees. He has served on the Vermont Judicial Education Committee (Chair), the Vermont Criminal Rules Committee (Chair), the Vermont Public Access to Court records Committee (Chair), the Vermont Judiciary Advisory Council (Chair of Budget Committee), the Vermont Judicial Conduct Board, the New England RJOI Committee (Co-chair Education Committee), the Vermont Racial Disparities Advisory Panel, and the H. 533 Forfeiture Working Group. He has served on the Vermont Bar Association Board of Managers (President, 2005); was a director of the Vermont Bar Foundation; and is past president of the New England Bar Association. He is currently a member, and past president of, the Vermont Trial Judge’s Association. At the time of his appointment to the bench, Judge Zonay was Chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission and had previously served on other judicial and community boards and committees. He is also a U.S.C.G. licensed Master Captain. Judge Zonay is an alumnus of the National Judicial College, joined its faculty in 2012. He is currently serving his second term on the NJC Faculty Council representing General Jurisdiction and served as the Chair in 2022.
Hon. Thomas E. Cheffins
Judge Thomas E. Cheffins was appointed a federal administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in 2010. Prior to this appointment, Judge Cheffins was the chief administrative law judge for the Department of Public Welfare Bureau of Hearings and Appeals in Harrisburg, PA, a hearing officer for the Cumberland County Domestic Relations Office, and court administrator for the Cumberland Court of Common Pleas. Judge Cheffins received a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, master’s degree from Shippensburg University, and Juris Doctor from Widener University School of Law where he graduated cum laude. He has taught for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, and several other state associations, and has authored numerous publications. Judge Cheffins was awarded The National Judicial College’s Professional Certificate in Judicial Development in both Dispute Resolution Skills and Administrative Law Adjudication Skills. He has also received the National Association of Hearing Officials Administrative Law Judge Certification. Judge Cheffins was elected to The National Judicial College Faculty Council in 2007 representing Administrative Law Jurisdiction serving for 6 years and is a past chair. He was re-elected to the Faculty Council in 2020. Judge Cheffins is an alumnus of The National Judicial College, has served as faculty since 2001, and is considered one of its distinguished faculty.
Hon. Ilona M. Holmes (Ret.)
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Judge Ilona Holmes was a circuit judge assigned to the criminal division, in the Broward Circuit Court for 24 years before retiring on December 31, 2018. She was appointed first as a county court judge in 1995 and since 1998 has been a circuit judge serving in the criminal division of the Broward Circuit Court from 1998 to 2003. She served in the circuit civil division of the court from 2003-2005. Judge Holmes returned to the criminal division in 2005. She served as the administrative judge for the criminal division from 2008-2010. Previously, she served as a county court judge, an assistant United States attorney and an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Judge Holmes attended Stetson University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Judge Holmes also attended Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University and worked toward a doctorate in public administration. She has taught courses at the University of Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University, St. Thomas School of Law, Florida’s New Judges College, Florida International University and the University of Mississippi through the National Center for Justice and the Rule of Law. She continues to serve on numerous boards and committees in the Florida court education system. On January 4, 2019 she was appointed to her new position as the President of the University of Fort Lauderdale, a small private university in Lauderhill, Florida. Judge Holmes was inducted into the Broward County Women’s Hall of Fame in March 2010. Judge Holmes was elected to the National Judicial College’s Faculty Council in 2018 as a member at large. She is an alumna of The National Judicial College and joined the faculty in 2008.
Hon. Melissa Jones
In October 2019, the Honorable Melissa Lin Jones joined the United States Department of Labor as a member of the Benefits Review Board and administrative appeals judge. From 2006 through 2009, Judge Jones was an administrative law judge with the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Office of Hearings and Adjudication, Administrative Hearings Division, and from 2010 through 2015, she adjudicated workers’ compensation appeals as an administrative appeals judge for the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Compensation Review Board. Judge Jones was an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration from 2015 through 2019.
Judge Jones wrote “One-Shotters or Have-Not’s Should Come Out Ahead In the District of Columbia’s Private Sector Workers’ Compensation System But Do They?” and “Why Proving a Work-Related, Psychological Injury Claim Stresses You Out,” both published in volume 41 of the Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary. She also wrote “Injecting Fault into a No-Fault System: The Aggressor Defense in District of Columbia, Work-Related Fight Cases” in volume 32 of the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal, “Why Did You Do That? Confessions of a Master of Judicial Studies Graduate” in the 2014/2015 edition of Case In Point, and “Success in the Practice of Administrative Adjudication” in the July/August 2010 edition of The Washington Lawyer. In addition to reviewing and improving several textbooks, she also was a contributor to Black’s Law Dictionary, Dictionary of Legal Usage, Modern American Usage, and Reading the Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (a book about statutory construction by co-authors Bryan A. Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia.)
Judge Jones earned her Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude) in the honors program at St. Bonaventure University; her major was English literature. Her Juris Doctorate was conferred by the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. In May 2014, she earned her Master’s Degree in Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and in May 2021 she earned her Doctorate Degree in Judicial Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Hon. Jim McCune
Jim McCune began serving the people of Marion County, Florida, as a County Court Judge on March 1, 2002. He was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush. In 2004, 2010 and 2016, he was elected to serve full 6 year terms. He is a graduate of Washington & Lee University in Virginia [Bachelor of Arts], Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana [Juris Doctor] and Emory University School of Law in Georgia [Master of Laws]. He was admitted to practice law in Indiana in 1982, in Florida in 1984, and in Texas in 1997. Jim was an Assistant State Attorney in Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit for 13 years before becoming a judge. At the State Attorney’s Office, Jim supervised the Public Interest Unit for 6 years and prosecuted the Circuit’s economic crimes, crimes against the elderly, environmental crimes and crimes involving public officials. He also worked for 6 years as a murder prosecutor handling the Circuit’s death penalty cases. Before joining the State Attorney’s Office, Jim worked for 3 years as a Law Clerk for a Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court in Indianapolis and for 2 ½ years as a Florida Assistant Attorney General handling civil RICO cases throughout Florida. Jim grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, and graduated from Montclair High School. Jim is married to Jessica who is a 5th generation Texan.
Jim McCune works for the improvement of the courts system in Florida. In particular, Jim was elected to serve as President-Elect of the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida in 2012. From July 2013 until July 2014, Jim served as President of the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida and still serves on the Conference’s Board of Directors. Jim served on the Florida Court Education Council from 2009 until 2014. He also served for 10 years on the Publications Committee of the Florida Court Education Council. Jim served 1 year on the Florida Trial Court Budget Commission. In 2015, Jim was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court’s Court Interpreter Certification Board and currently serves on that Board. In 2016, Jim was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court’s Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Courts and then appointed in 2018 to the Florida Supreme Court’s Steering Committee on Problem-Solving Courts.
Jim McCune works for the improvement of the courts system in Marion County. In particular, Jim led the planning and launch of a Mental Health Court for Marion County in 2009 and a Veterans Treatment Court in 2012. Jim presided over the Mental Health Court until September 2014 and continues to preside over the Veteran’s Treatment Court. As part of his planning for the Veterans Treatment Court, Jim was selected and participated in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference sponsored by the U.S. Secretary of Defense in 2011. He also spent a week in Buffalo, New York, as part of a team from Marion County working with those who started the nation’s first Veterans Court to plan for the Marion County Veterans Court. Jim has served for many years as the Administrative County Court Judge for Marion County.
Jim McCune works for the improvement of the legal profession. In particular, Jim was appointed to serve as Chair of the Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism for 1 year in 2006. He was reappointed to that Committee in 2014 and is presently serving on it. Jim has in the past been appointed to serve on the Florida Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism. Having served 2 terms in the past on the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee, Jim was reappointed to that Committee in 2018 and is currently serving on the subcommittee tasked to review staff opinions. Jim was president of his local Inn of Court during a year when his Inn was awarded platinum status by the National headquarters. Jim started the 5th Circuit Professionalism Committee and led that Committee for over 10 years during which period the Committee presented 5 separate Circuit Professionalism Conferences. Jim has served for several years as a member of a faculty team teaching an on-line evidence class through the National Judicial College.
Jim McCune works for the good of all. In particular, Jim served 3 years as President of the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Marion County. Jim currently serves on the Board of the Marion County Childrens Alliance. Jim also currently serves as the District Chair of the Marion District of the North Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Jim also currently serves as Chair of the Marion County Canvassing Board as he has served in many past years. Jim also currently serves as the appointed Judge working with the Trustees of the Marion County Law Library. Jim has also served on other non-profit Boards and volunteers with many charitable organizations. In his spare time, Jim has been on mission trips to Haiti (5 times), Ukraine, Ecuador, China, Cuba (2 times), Honduras (2 times) and Uganda.
Hon. John J. Molaison
Judge John J. Molaison, Jr. is the presiding judge of Division “E” of the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, Louisiana. He was elected to the bench in 2007, and served as Chief Judge of the 24th Judicial District Court from 2011 to 2013. Prior to his election, he was the managing partner of Molaison and LeBlanc. He was also an Assistant District Attorney in Jefferson Parish from the time he was admitted to the Louisiana Bar in 1986, to the time he was elected to the bench in 2007. During his tenure with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, he served as a felony prosecutor, the Supervisor of Parish Courts, and the Executive Assistant District Attorney. Additionally, Judge Molaison was the Prosecutor and City Attorney for the City of Westwego and the Prosecutor and Town Attorney for the Town of Grand Isle for approximately 20 years. Judge Molaison serves on numerous committees, including the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, the Judiciary Budgetary Control Board for the statewide judiciary budget, and the Judicial Counsel of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He is the immediate past president of the Louisiana District Judges Association, the current Ethics Compliance Officer of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, and a faculty member of the National Judicial College.
Judge Molaison received his Juris Doctor from Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law, in 1986. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Loyola University New Orleans in 1983. He is an alumnus of The National Judicial College and joined its faculty in 2013.
Hon. Steve Smith
When he first started in private practice in 1977, Steve Smith called himself an “accidental lawyer.”
Smith had originally enrolled in Abilene Christian University to study music and become a band director. The self-described “fair” French horn player did receive his music education degree, but he was encouraged by a friend to attend law school. That led to him earning a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. He went into private practice and, ultimately, landed on the bench.
Accidental, his legal career may have been, but Smith has been intentional in advancing the cause of the judiciary ever since.
He has served the past 20 years on the bench of the 361st District Court in Bryan, Texas. After studying at the NJC, he joined the College’s faculty in 2003. Last year he completed his service as a General Jurisdiction representative on the Faculty Council, having served as the council’s chair in 2016.
His commitment to the judiciary goes beyond teaching, too. In 2016 he created an endowment to fund scholarships for Texas judges to attend the NJC.
“The judiciary is often the forgotten branch of government, yet it is so important to the freedoms that we enjoy,” he says. “I want us to have the best judges we can. An entity like the NJC helps ensure that we will have well-educated, competent and fair judges in all the courts in our country.”
Despite the demands of the bench, Smith still finds time for his musical passion. He occasionally leads worship music at his church and has conducted the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra on a few occasions.
Hon. Edward Wahl
Judge Edward “Ned” Wahl was appointed to Minnesota’s Fourth District Court in June 2012. Since then, he has handled all aspects of civil, criminal misdemeanor, and family law cases. Judge Wahl teaches for The National Judicial College (evidence, writing, and civil litigation), Minnesota CJE (evidence, civil litigation, and writing), Minnesota CLE (evidence, business torts), and the University of St. Thomas Law School (trial practice). He is active on court and bar committees, and he serves on the board of directors of Minnesota CLE and on the Minnesota Civil Rules Committee and chairs the Civil Jury Instructions Committee.
Judge Wahl practiced civil litigation for 29 years before becoming a judge. He was a partner in business and financial litigation at Faegre Baker Daniels and at Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly, and was associated with Morrison & Foerster. He clerked for the Honorable Gerald W. Heaney, U.S. Court of Appeals-Eighth Circuit. He earned degrees at the University of Chicago (J.D., 1983), the University of Virginia (M.A., 1980), and Northwestern University (B.A., 1978). Judge Wahl joined The National Judicial College faculty in 2016.
Hon. Phyllis Williams Kotey (Ret.)
Phillys Williams Kotey, senior judge, is a clinical professor of law and director of externships and pro bono programs at Florida International University College of Law. As director of the legal externship program, she has assisted students in judicial, civil and criminal placements at the local, state and national levels. She has facilitated student initiated pro bono service in Columbia, South America and around the country including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she was selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar for the 2012 – 2013 academic year in Accra Ghana. Prior to 2012, she served as Interim Director of the Office of Career Placement and Planning. As director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic, she developed the delinquency, educational advocacy and dependency clinics. She has taught Criminal Procedure, Children and the Law, the American Caribbean Law Initiative Seminar and Community Law Teaching (Street Law in the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center). She also teaches bar preparation courses in the areas of Florida Constitutional Law and Florida Criminal Procedure.
“Prior to joining FIU College of Law, Judge Kotey earned a distinguished record of service to on the bench and to the bar. She is a member of numerous bar associations and has served as president of the T J Reddick Bar Association in Broward County and the Josiah T. Walls Bar Association in Alachua County. She is the coauthor of “Selected Issues” in the Florida Prosecutor’s Manual (1984). She is author of “Public Financing for Non-Partisan Judicial Campaigns: Protecting Judicial Independence While Ensuring Judicial Impartiality,” 38 Akron Law Review 597 (2005) and “The Real Costs of Judicial Misconduct: Florida Taking a Step Ahead in the Regulation of Judicial Speech and Conduct to Ensure Independence, Integrity and Impartiality,” 31 Nova Law Review 645 (2007). She wrote a chapter entitled “Judging Under Disaster: The Effect of Hurricane Katrina on the Criminal Justice System” for the book Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster for the University of Nebraska Press (2009). She also authored the 2009 and 2011 updates on “Adjudicatory Hearings in Delinquency Cases” in Florida Juvenile Law and Practice. In Alachua County, she served as chair and vice chair of the Children Services Council was on the Board of Directors of PACE Center for Girls, Pleasant Place Home for Homeless Teen Mothers and ACORN Clinic. In Broward County, she was a volunteer with STARS Academy (a foster care mentoring program) and serves on the Board of Directors of HANDY. She is vice president of the Broward County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She holds a B.A., M.A., and J.D. from the University of Florida. She is an alumna of The National Judicial College, joined the College’s faculty in 2001, and is currently serving her first term on the NJC Faculty Council representing Special Courts.