It was great seeing so many of you at the COSCA midyear conference this month. In my experience, the opportunity to learn as a group and to be able to talk through new ideas or innovations in process with colleagues who understand the realities of our everyday work environment is invaluable. This column is much longer than usual because I want to catch you up on my activities as your president and the work of the COSCA Board, and to remind you of some upcoming training and funding opportunities that were mentioned at the midyear conference.
The COSCA Board held its fall meeting in Washington, D.C. in November. At the meeting, we approved the continuance of a subcommittee under the Court Management Committee that was recently formed to work on developing tools for courts to use in implementing the recommendations from the COSCA policy paper on mental illness. The COSCA Board also met during the midyear conference in December and decided to include a strategic planning session as part of our spring board meeting in March. The topics we expect to cover in that session include communication, committee structure, and services to members.
In conjunction with the NCSC annual board meeting in Washington, D.C., I was privileged to attend “A Conversation with the Chief Justices.” Fifteen chief justices participated in the discussion with members of the legal profession on the topic of protecting the independence of the judicial branch. It was both sobering and inspiring to hear the chiefs talk about the depth of their concerns and their commitment to protecting the integrity of the court system in America.
At the midyear conference, we welcomed new court administrators Justin Forkner, who replaced Jane Siegel in Indiana; Dawn Marie Rubio, who will replace Callie Dietz in Washington in January; and Stephanie Hess, who is serving as interim administrator for Ohio while they search for a new administrator. We wished Richard Schwermer (Utah) a fond goodbye as he has announced his intent to retire in January. The COSCA past presidents recognized Callie Dietz for her service with a framed photo of her in the flapper gown she wore in Newport—a perfect tribute to someone who is generally known to be unflappable.
The conference theme was “Enhancing Data Quality in the Courts,” and the overriding emphasis was on the need for courts to implement governance standards related to access, transparency, and use of the data generated through the courts’ administrative, adjudicative, and ancillary functions. This sounds intimidating but not to worry. The Court Statistics Committee has already begun the discussion on how to determine what standards are needed and what best practices should be applied.
The “Hot Topics” session was focused on the issue of the FBI defining courts as criminal justice agencies and defining court receipt of background information as direct (as opposed to indirect) CJIS access, even when court staff have no direct access to CJIS databases. The FBI is then using those definitions to assert authority over how courts create and disseminate records that include criminal justice information. Corey Steel (Nebraska) and Jeff Shorba (Minnesota) have been working with the CJIS Advisory Board to modify their definitions. At the COSCA Board meeting it was determined that a working group under the Criminal Justice Committee should be formed to further consider this issue. This plan was presented at the business meeting as a motion and approved by unanimous vote of those present. Expect to see a white paper on the issues and a proposed joint resolution on the federalism and separation-of-powers issues this spring.
The recent earthquake in Alaska, tornadoes in Missouri, and the flooding in Iowa were a topic of much discussion during the social parts of the conference. It seems that Mother Nature is determined to remind us all that none of us has as much control over our circumstances as we’d like to believe. In response to the disruption courts have experienced due to natural disasters, the National Center for State Courts, with support from the State Justice Institute, will be providing technical assistance to courts to update their continuity-of-operations and continuity-of-government plans. They will also be hosting five regional meetings to continue the discussion on cyber-security that we began at the CCJ/COSCA annual meeting in Rhode Island this past summer. The dates and locations of those meetings have not yet been determined.
The Courts, Children and Families Committee reported that technical assistance for juvenile justice reform will be available in the coming year through the Juvenile Justice Reform and State Courts Initiatives (JRRSCI) project, which is funded by the State Justice Institute. The Access and Fairness Committee reported that more technical assistance for courts working to implement the recommendations from the Civil Justice Initiatives has been secured and will be administered through the National Center for State Courts.
We had two bonus sessions at the midyear conference that were not included in the agenda. The first was an update from the National Judicial Opioid Task Force. They have developed new resources that are available here. The second was the first look at the results of the NCSC National Survey on the State of State Courts. New topics this year included bail reform and online dispute resolution. A summary of the results can be found here.
In February, I will be representing COSCA as a guest at the CCJ midyear meeting and asking them to endorse our policy paper on enhancing rural court services. At the same time, Jeff Shorba will be attending the NACM conference in Little Rock as the COSCA liaison to that organization.
For planning purposes, I will remind you that the Problem-Solving Courts Committee will be hosting a summit in the fall of 2019. The CCJ/COSCA annual meeting will be July 27-31, 2019 in Asheville, North Carolina. The COSCA midyear meeting will be held December 5-7, 2019 in Galveston, Texas.
Finally, in the spirit of this season of giving, I leave you with a quote from Zig Ziglar, “Among the things you can give and still keep are your word, a smile, and a grateful heart.”
JTC Releases Two New Resource Guides for Courts
The Joint Technology Committee (JTC) has released two new Resource Guides to help courts improve their use of technology. JTC is a project of the Conference of State Court Administrators, National Association for Court Management, and National Center for State Courts.
“GDPR for US Courts”—The European Union adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is a set of rules to protect personal data, in May 2018. This Guide discusses how U.S. courts need a “basic understanding” of GDPR and how courts must prepare to comply with such standards.
A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. Only 23 percent of eighth graders were ranked as proficient or better in a recent national civics exam. To help with this problem, the National Center for State Courts developed a brief video describing the role of courts in our government: The Who, What, When, Where and How of Courts. The video is available for viewing, downloading, and sharing here.
Member Spotlight: Marcia M. Meis, Illinois
Why and how did you become a state court administrator? I really just stumbled into court administration. Years ago, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) was looking for an experienced attorney; at the time, I was a law clerk for an appellate justice, who recommended me. To be honest, the only thing I knew about the AOIC was that the office managed my pay and benefits. But the interesting variety of work that I was given as legal counsel at the AOIC, as well as the opportunity to interface with many members of the bench, bar, and public, is largely why I remained at the office. I was promoted to chief legal counsel, deputy director, and then director. I don’t think many people are aware of court administration as a career—I certainly wasn’t. I feel so fortunate to be uniquely situated to work with the Supreme Court and a wide range of justice partners in the development of statewide policy for the judicial branch, all of which is extremely rewarding.
What do you like most and least about being a state court administrator? The above reference to “variety” is indeed a plus and keeps my job very interesting, but the sheer volume and breadth of issues that can cross my desk is also quite challenging, particularly in a state with Illinois’s large population and geographic size. My mantra is “prioritize and chip away” because the work demands are just relentless. That said, somehow it is all quite gratifying at the end of each day. I appreciate the opportunity to improve the public’s experience with the court system. I feel an enormous responsibility to help make equal access to justice a reality.
Tell us about your family. I just celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary with my wonderful husband, Jeff, in October 2018. He is a chef by trade, although he no longer cooks for a living, and he makes wonderful dinners that often are warmed up again after my late evenings at the office. I have three absolutely delightful children—Clara (17), Roscoe (15), and Alice (11). They are smart and funny and all play at least two sports, so watching them compete at various pools, courts, and fields consumes much of my free time outside of the office. And I love every minute of it.
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 think social media can be quite effective for our court public relations, for recruitment, etc., and we should probably expand our use where appropriate. Personally, I have social network accounts, but I am not much of a sharer. Sometimes it is oddly relaxing to scroll through at the end of a long day, but I find a lot of the activity either annoying or boring.
If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do? Lots of traveling—my husband and I used to travel quite a bit before having children. I would play more tennis, which was my passion growing up, but I rarely play anymore. I have always wanted to write a novel. And I would volunteer for organizations bringing improvements to under-resourced communities in Chicago. There are so many needs and so many things that need fixing. It’s heartbreaking.
Anniversaries . . .
COSCA congratulates the following members for achieving anniversaries in office in January, February, and March: Anne Wicks of the District of Columbia (19 years); Robin Sweet of Nevada and Nancy Dixon of Kansas (8 years); Sandra Vujnovich of Louisiana (5 years); Kathy Lloyd of Missouri and Deborah Taylor Tate of Tennessee (4 years); Christopher Keating of New Hampshire (3 years); Marty Sullivan of Arkansas (2 years); and Nancy Cozine of Oregon (1 year).
. . . and Birthdays
Nine COSCA members celebrate birthdays in January and March (there are no COSCA birthdays in February). Happy Birthday to Lily Sharpe of Wyoming (January 8); Rick Schwermer of Utah (January 16); Martin Hoshino of California (January 20); Beth McLaughlin of Montana (January 21); Pam Harris of Maryland (January 23); Christine Johnson of Alaska (January 24); Greg Sattizahn of South Dakota (January 31); Randy Koschnick of Wisconsin (March 17); and Lawrence Marks of New York (March 21).