As I sit here this morning, I am thinking of these lines from D.H. Lawrence’s poem “The Enkindled Spring”:
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration, Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
I sincerely hope this edition of the COSCA Bulletin finds everyone enjoying the promise of spring, if not the actual fact of spring. Mother Nature recently made her presence known in Nebraska, where they were hit with late-season snowstorms and subsequent flooding that closed 30 courthouses. The use of electronic records and robust emergency planning helped to mitigate the impact of these closures. This past week, the COSCA Board held its spring meeting on lovely Jekyll Island, Georgia. Following the Board meeting, we held a daylong discussion that focused on COSCA as an organization. The four topics we covered were:
the relevancy and value of the organization;
reviewing how COSCA chooses and prioritizes issues to work on;
developing the next generation of leaders; and
enhancing communication within and outside our organization.
A recap of the discussion is available online. We will be asking the membership to consider these same topics during the Hot Topics session of our midyear meeting in December. We will also be asking members to consider proposed modifications to the COSCA mission statement at the next general business meeting. Those proposed changes can be found in the recap report as Attachment C.
As most of you are aware, NCSC has received a three-year grant from the State Justice Institute to work on a mental-health initiative. As part of the grant, an advisory committee has been established, which will be co-chaired by Milt Mack (Michigan). Milt was the primary author of the COSCA policy paper on decriminalizing mental health. Joining Milt on the advisory committee will be Lawrence Marks (New York) and Nancy Cozine (Oregon), who were chosen because of work their states are doing in this arena. Thank you to Kathy Lloyd (Missouri), who has been co-chairing a subcommittee until the advisory committee could be put in place. You can read more about the grant here.
Here is a reminder that COSCA’s policy papers are making a real difference. The Uniform Law Commission will be holding its first reading of a proposed uniform law on pretrial release that largely reflects the recommendations of the COSCA paper on evidence-based pretrial release, and a committee of the Uniform Law Commission is recommending the Commission draft a uniform law on court fees and driver’s license suspension that will incorporate the points raised in the COSCA policy paper on ending debtor’s prison. Kudos to Artie Pepin (New Mexico), who chairs the Policy Committee and who was the primary author of both of these policy papers.
As your COSCA president, I attended the CCJ Midyear meeting in February. The first half of the conference covered a chief justice’s internal role as leader of a court system and external role in leading change. The last half of the conference examined the reasons for wrongful convictions, including witness misidentification and false confessions. This section wrapped up with a presentation on the legal and institutional barriers to getting convictions overturned. The chief justices were left to grapple with the question of whether there is a leadership role for them in this issue and, if so, what is it? From casual conversations around the tables during and after the presentations, I heard suggestions ranging from treating it as a strictly adjudicative function of individual judges to educating judges so they are prepared when cases come before them to convening work groups to examine jury instructions and court procedures. If you are interested in the topic from a victim’s standpoint, I would point you toward a 2013 National Institute of Justice report on victim experience of wrongful convictions and this innovative restorative justice program for crime victims and those who have been wrongfully convicted that is being run by the Northern California Innocence Project.
Since I started this column with an ode to spring, it seems appropriate to end with a few lines from “A Summer Wish” by Christina Rossetti:
Oh that it were with me As with the flower; Blooming on its own tree For butterfly and bee Its summer morns: That I might bloom mine hour A rose in spite of thorns.
For planning purposes, here is a reminder on upcoming meeting dates and locations:
National Pandemic Summit, May 22-24, 2019 in Omaha, Nebraska Innovation Summit, May 29-31, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky NACM Conference, July 21-25, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada CCJ/COSCA Annual Meeting, July 27-31, 2019 in Asheville, North Carolina COSCA Midyear Meeting, December 5-7, 2019 in Galveston, Texas
Family Justice Initiative Releases Two New Reports
Two new reports from the Family Justice Initiative (FJI) provide principles and a pathway for reform of the family justice system. Principles for Family Justice Reform and A Model Process for Family Justice Initiative Pathways stress a cooperation and problem-solving approach between parties in family-law cases, particularly when children are involved. One feature is a “triage pathway” system to match families with appropriate resources and services both within and outside of courts. FJI is a partnership of the National Center for State Courts, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. It is supported by a grant from the State Justice Institute.
CTC 2019 Just Months Away
Register now for NCSC’s Court Technology Conference, CTC, before the early bird registration rate expires May 15. CTC 2019 is being held in New Orleans, September 10–12. CTC is the largest court technology conference in the world, with more than 1,200 court leaders from around the world participating.
Member Spotlight: Jonathan S. Williams, Massachusetts
Why and how did you become a state court administrator? I became a court administrator because I have a strong drive for public service and I see resolving disputes through an effective justice system as fundamental to the health of our communities. My interest in law began in high school, and one of my first jobs was working as a runner for a small-town law firm, where the lawyers combined excellence in practice with a commitment to public service. After law school I was in private practice in North Carolina and found myself spending all my free time volunteering in community and professional organizations. I took my first job in state government as a political appointee in 1990 and worked for three governors. I moved to court administration in 2013 and have now worked for three chief justices—two in North Carolina and since 2017 in Massachusetts.
What do you like most and least about being a state court administrator?I most like the opportunity to work on a wide variety of issues that span the quality of justice to the quality of our operations. I tend to be forward looking when I meet problems, and look for the opportunity to be creative to make them into opportunities to reset the vision and improve for the future. What I like least is that as the administrator time has become the most precious commodity. While I enjoy jumping from issue to issue, I rarely get enough time to slow down for a deep dive any more. So I look for leaders I can turn to with confidence that they will have the energy and creativity to handle things well.
Tell us about your family. My wife Rose and I met in law school, and we quickly found lots of common ground in how we wanted to live and serve. We have been married for 30 years, and have two children in college. She also pursued private practice before going on the bench as a district court judge for five years, and then transitioned into intergovernmental relations and lobbying.
What is your philosophy about using social networking? If you use social networking, which sites do you prefer, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, or others? I am pretty cautious about my personal social networking, and only keep a LinkedIn account. As a court system we are only now exploring how we should be more assertive in using a full set of social media to improve our communications to make information about our court system more timely, relevant, and available to critical users and the public at large.
If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do? I have always enjoyed travel and history. While I have been able to do a good deal of travel in the U.S. and some in Europe, I would like to travel in Asia and elsewhere. And one day I hope to learn to sail and learn to fly fish. Those would happen faster if I wasn’t working. But I have my eye on some rivers in western Massachusetts for fly-fishing lessons, and there is plenty of opportunity to sail on the coast!
Anniversaries . . .
COSCA congratulates the following members for achieving anniversaries in office in April through June: Joe Baxter of Rhode Island (15 years); Laurie Dudgeon of Kentucky and Kevin Lackey of Mississippi (10 years); David Slayton of Texas (7 years); Corey Steel of Nebraska (5 years); Milt Mack of Michigan (4 years); and Jon Williams of Massachusetts and John Lizama of Guam (2 years). . . . and Birthdays
Eleven COSCA members celebrate birthdays in April through June. Happy Birthday to Sally Holewa of North Dakota (April 8); Joe Baxter of Rhode Island (April 9); Pat Gabel of Vermont (April 11); Sandra Vujnovich of Louisiana (April 15); Patrick Carroll of Connecticut (April 23); John Lizama of Guam (April 24); Jari Askins of Oklahoma (April 27); Regina Petersen of the Virgin Islands (May 20); Kathy Lloyd of Missouri (May 27); Laurie Dudgeon of Kentucky (May 31); and Corey Steel of Nebraska (June 14).