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Employment Lawyer Lisa Van Amburg becomes a judge

Judge Lisa Van Amburg

UPDATE: This article was originally posted January 2003 when Employment Lawyer Lisa Van Amburg was selected to become a judge. She has been sworn in, and is a Circuit Judge in St. Louis City Court as of April 2003. I’ll keep the original article active for awhile because some people find it provides useful info about the judicial selection process and what judges really do.

Judge Van Amburg left private practice with a bang, having obtained a $4 million verdict in April 2003 for wrongful termination in the case of Dunn v. Enterprise Leasing, along with Jerome Dobson and Matt Ghio. [UPDATE 7-23-03: Rumor has it that the trial court judge in the Enterprise case has decided to reverse the jury verdict and take away this victory. This is called “judgement notwithstanding the verdict” (meaning judgment in spite of the verdict), The risk of having a victory taken away is one of the Pros and Cons of Employment Litigation.]

Someday I may write about the Dunn case in detail. Before the jury retired to decide its verdict, the judge had thrown out most of Dunn’s case, leaving one portion intact, which was just enough for the jury to make a favorable ruling. Dunn apparently rejected a $1 million severance and waiver agreement when he was fired, and he chose to role the dice in a vicious and expensive 2 1/2 year legal battle. The $4 million jury award will either be settled, probably for 1/2 – 2/3 of the jury award, or else it will be appealed for two more years and a retrial might have to occur. Dunn will probably have to share his award with his lawyers. Was it a worthwhile case, considering the Pros and Cons of litigation? The answer is not a clear yes from a money standpoint. But maybe Dunn derived a great deal of internal personal value from the revenge he got and the public embarassment of his former employer. I personally hope the Dunn case is appealed and goes all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, because the law of Public Policy Discharge (a form of Wrongful Termination) is unsettled and needs clarification. [UPDATE 7-23-03: Since the verdict has apparently been reversed now, the case will drag on for quite a bit longer through the court of appeals, and probably won’t settle now unless the court of appeals reinstates the verdict.]


Here is my original article about Judge Van Amburg posted January 2003

Employment Lawyer Lisa Van Amburg has been selected
to become a Circuit Judge in St. Louis

(and some info to place the news in context)

January 2003 – Missouri Governor Bob Holden has appointed Lisa Van Amburg to be a Circuit Judge in St. Louis. Ms. Van Amburg is a St. Louis employment lawyer and member of the National Employment Lawyer’s Association (NELA).

Here is the web address of the law firm which Judge Van Amburg will have to leave soon: Van Amburg, Chackes, Carlson and Spritzer.

Lisa Van Amburg is on the top rung of the ladder among employment lawyers. I first met her in about 1995, when I was still in law school. She came to a clinic on employment discrimination and talked about the process and the law. I also studied some of her cases at that time.

How did an employment lawyer get selected to be a judge?

Missouri has a court appointment mechanism that tries to reduce the influence of raw politics in the selection of judges. In St. Louis, persons who want to be judges must make application and then survive a screening and interviewing process. The screening panel then meets and selects a few candidates to be presented to the Governor for final decision. The screening panel that referred the name of Lisa Van Amburg (an employment lawyer who primarily has represented employees in disputes with management) also referred the name of another lawyer (a lawyer with long experience working on behalf of management). Governor Holden chose Ms. Van Amburg.

What might employment law litigants expect from Judge Van Amburg?

See the list below for some of the traits that Judge Van Amburg might bring to the bench in St. Louis.

  • Judge Van Amburg will be sworn to impartiality and will not be a friend or enemy to any side of any case.
  • She will have taken an oath to uphold the laws, and therefore she will make rulings following the dictates of court precedents. Those court precedents are often unfavorable to employees. Appeals Court judges have more power to mold and change the law. Circuit Court judges follow the law set down by Appeals Court judges.
  • Where the law allows a judge discretion to make critical decisions in difficult employment cases, she might have more patience with the complexities than some other judges might have, because of her long experience dealing with such complexities. She will follow the law in exercising her discretion. The great majority of the time, she will decide issues the same way that most judges would decide the same issues.
  • She may become somewhat of a subject matter expert on difficult employment doctrines among the other Circuit Judges in St. Louis, when the judges discuss these doctrines among themselves. Each judge will have his or her own particular areas of high experience, where they might be the informal subject matter experts pointing out things to each other.
  • In employment cases, both parties will benefit equally from having a judge that readily understands the difficult legal doctrines often involved in these cases.
  • She knows the games employment lawyers play, on both sides of the fence. So both parties will find that in particular cases she will be a much tougher judge than the less-experienced judges might be.

In conclusion, I congratulate Lisa Van Amburg on her elevation to the bench.


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Phil is a Missouri employment lawyer who is licensed to practice in Kansas and Missouri, and primarily takes cases in Saint Louis and Kansas City. He is a member of the Missouri Bar Association and Kansas Bar Association. Additionally, he has practiced in the United States Federal Courts of Missouri in St. Louis and Kansas City. He has also practiced in the Kansas Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.

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