A Message from the President
J. Joseph Baxter
While I missed seeing all of you in Asheville, I understand it was a terrific conference with a great education and social agenda provided to all. Special thanks to Chief Justice Beasley, SCA McKinley Wooten, and Chief Justice (ret.) Mark Martin and our good friend Marion Warren for their work in putting together a great conference.
As I sat down to pen my first COSCA Bulletin column as your president, I wondered what thoughts, ideas, or wisdom I could possibly share with such a talented group of colleagues as seasoned, dedicated, and driven as you all. What insight could I provide to assist you in carrying out your daily duties?
It turns out I needed to look no further than to share some thoughts from a book I am currently reading in prepping for an upcoming educational workshop. Leading Leaders, by Professor Jeswald W. Salacuse, will be one of the core teaching materials at the upcoming Judicial Branch Leadership Academy, to be held October 7-9 in Boston. Hosted by the State Justice Institute and the National Center for State Courts, this program will address the needs of chief justices, state court administrators, presiding justices, and trial court administrators with the tools and training to develop core leadership skills necessary to lead an ever-changing judicial system as we strive to provide a more efficient means of justice to those we serve.
With all we are charged to tackle in our day-to-day responsibilities, it is easy to overlook the fact that we lead large, complex organizations filled with many talented, powerful, and bright individuals. Leading Leaders highlights the need to effectively communicate to those with whom we work. In addition, it lays out how to build relationships by engendering trust to help create and sustain strong, lasting relationships with other leaders within our organizations. With topics such as strategic planning and leadership succession foremost on the minds of many in COSCA, this academy should prove to be most beneficial and timely.
I am sure I will see some of you at this academy. For those unable to attend, the insights gained will certainly be shared with you, perhaps at our COSCA midyear conference in Galveston, Texas this December.
Speaking of Galveston, the theme for this year’s COSCA midyear will be “Service Delivery in the Courts.” Topics will include alternative legal licensing, online dispute resolution, and two sessions on cybersecurity. In addition, the Hot Topics session will surely provide valuable insight and information from programs and projects throughout the country.
Finally, as I was unable to convey my thanks to all of you in person in Asheville, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your trust in me to help lead COSCA for the next year. This is as fine an organization as one could find. I am honored to be a part and humbled to be one of many to lead our Conference. Our work is difficult but rewarding. I have always felt a sense of pride when I see what we produce go toward improving what is already the greatest system of justice. Our work is true leadership. Let’s keep it up!
New Guide Helps Courts Help the Mentally IllThe National Center for State Courts has started a three-year initiative to improve the justice system response to those with mental health issues. A new guide, Leading Change: Improving the Court and Community’s Response to Mental Health and Co-Occurring Disorders, provides judges and other court leaders the information they need to systematically improve the courts’ response to mental illness, behavioral issues, and substance abuse. The initiative also features an interactive webpage and regional summits and workshops. Funding was provided by the State Justice Institute.
The National Center for State Courts’ Judicial Salary Tracker has been updated as of July 2019. This version includes, for the first time in many years, updated judicial salaries from Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It also includes cost-of-living information for 51 of the 55 states and territories that sent salary data to NCSC.
Why and how did you become a state court administrator?
Wow. This is one of my favorite stories, and I’ve got a really good two-hour version; however, since this is a very busy audience, here’s the abridged version: I’m blessed to say that this is my third time to serve as the administrative director of courts (ADC) in Alabama. The “why” is pretty easy. With a master’s in political science, and a doctorate in public administration, I chose the public sector for my career path because of the ideals and practice of efficiency and effectiveness. I also had a stint in the U.S. Air Force, and I believe in the high standards and responsibility of public service.
The “how” is more interesting. Alabama has had a unified system since 1977 and since that time the chief justice has chosen the ADC. In 2000, Judge Roy Moore, who had been a circuit judge, ran for and won election as chief justice. At the time, I was a midlevel administrator at the Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) and was over such programs as the CIP, Judicial Security, Access/Visitation, and the Judicial Volunteer Program. I had previously served in the Court Referral Program (substance abuse) and the Alabama Judicial College. A week after the election I received a call from Chief Justice Moore’s campaign manager asking me who I thought was going to be named ADC. Incidentally, I had had absolutely no role in his campaign (no sign in my yard, no sticker on my car, etc.). I commented that I was okay with someone coming from the outside, to which he stated that the chief justice wanted it to be me. My first reaction was, “I didn’t think he knew my name.” I was told to tell no one, except my wife, and that we both needed to pray about it and then call the chief justice the next morning. I did what I was told. The next morning, I called Chief Justice Moore, and he asked if I had been praying about it and if I had told anyone other than my wife. I advised I had only told my wife and the Lord. He instructed me to continue through the weekend and for me and my wife to meet him and his wife for dinner the following Monday evening. I did what I was told. At the restaurant, Chief Justice Moore advised that this was not an interview and that he needed to know if I would serve as his ADC. I wisely answered, “yessir.” I was 39 years old. That began a wonderfully exciting time as ADC. We suffered through deep budget cuts but administered the judicial branch of government efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, Chief Justice Moore was removed as chief justice because of his stand with the Ten Commandments. I was fired two days later. The only other person fired that day, was my deputy ADC, Tom Parker, who served as Legal Division director and director of the Alabama Judicial College. He went on to run for the supreme court six months later, where he beat an incumbent and began his service on the Alabama Supreme Court in 2005 (but that’s another good story).
The second time occurred in 2012. Since my abrupt departure from the AOC, for the next nine years I served as executive director of the Foundation for Moral Law, a national nonprofit law firm in Montgomery, Alabama, headed by former Chief Justice Roy Moore. In late 2011, Chief Justice Moore asked me what I thought about going back—to the court. We had discussed it many times over the past nine years, but this time was different. We prayed about it and felt an incredible peace. So, with no money, he entered the 2012 chief justice race with me serving as his campaign manager. We ran hard and he won the primary (without a runoff) and later won the general election. In January 2013, we returned to our same old roles, with the same furniture, and many of the same staff. That began the second wonderfully exciting time, where budget woes were improving and we continued to operate efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, Chief Justice Moore was removed from office for his stand for traditional marriage. I was fired soon after—for the second time.
The third time is the most recent, having been appointed in January 2019. Since my second abrupt departure from the AOC, I had managed Judge Roy Moore’s 2017 U.S. Senate race. It was unsuccessful, but then I ran for Alabama’s second congressional seat in 2018. While I lost in the primary, I wouldn’t trade the experience. It was very fulfilling for me and my wife. “Everyone should run for office—at least once.” Chief Justice Tom Parker (the same man who had served as my deputy ADC the first time) won the 2018 chief justice election, and he asked me to serve with him, for the third time, as Alabama’s ADC. I said, “yes!” I am thankfully back in the same office, with the same furniture, and with most of the same good people. In fact, through all of my different stints as ADC, I’ve appointed every one of the directors who serve at the Alabama AOC.
In sum, the first time I was younger than all of the judges. The second time I was the same age as the judges. This time, I’m older than all of the judges. The goal? Efficiency and effectiveness.What do you like most and least about being a state court administrator?
What I like most about being a state court administrator is the fact that our business is pure public administration. The product is justice, and we are tasked with providing the mechanism for justice to prevail. This includes planning, innovation, and decision making on a large scale. Actually, the onerous decision making, when there is the possibility everyday for 1000+ problems/solutions, is an attractive part of the job description. As mentioned in question #1, I have had the occasion to not be in this position, and I know from experience that the transition to a slower life is not all that it is cracked up to be. You miss the activity and the pace.
What I like least about the position is, of course, inadequate funding. Through my various tenures in this position I have had to lay off employees and interrupt lives and families due to insufficient funding. We are currently experiencing one of the best economic times of my career where we have actually hired new staff in the field. Having lived through both, I’d choose the good times, every time.
Tell us about your family.
I am blessed to be part of a wonderful family. First, there’s Susie, my wife of 36 years. We met in the ninth grade, dated on and off in high school, and were married as juniors in college. We have two fantastic daughters, Whitney and Amelia, who are married to two good sons-in-law. Whitney has our two amazing grandkids, William and Addie, and they live in Indiana. Amelia lives in Chelsea, Alabama. We’re all very close, and my daughters have enjoyed COSCA conferences throughout my many years of service. Other than that, I’ve got a border-collie-mixed dog, named Truvy, who runs with me and can catch a Frisbee.
What is your philosophy about using social networking? If you use social networking, which sites do you prefer, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, or others?
Social-media-wise, since I’ve run for office before, I have a Twitter and Facebook account. They’re great tools to check on new hires, as well as keep up with birthdays. Since I’m older, my preference would be Facebook.
If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do? If I didn’t have to work, I’d like to be a singer/songwriter without even blinking an eye. In this “what if” scenario, I’d be happy playing guitar in a Christian rock band, or doing solo gigs in coffee houses and churches around the globe. Second choice? Record shop. Bring back vinyl!
COSCA congratulates the following members for achieving anniversaries in office in October through December: David Byers of Arizona and Ted Glessner of Maine (27 years); Sally Holewa of North Dakota (14 years); Rod Maile of Hawaii (9 years); Jeff Shorba of Minnesota (7 years); Pat Carroll of Connecticut and Regina Petersen of the Virgin Islands (6 years); Martin Hoshino of California and Lily Sharpe of Wyoming (5 years); Jari Askins of Oklahoma and Cynthia Clanton of Georgia (4 years); and Justin Forkner of Indiana (1 year).
. . . and Birthdays
Thirteen COSCA members celebrate birthdays in October through December. Happy Birthday to Nancy Dixon of Kansas (October 6); Rod Maile of Hawaii (October 10); Marcia Meis of Illinois (October 17); Sara Thomas of Idaho (October 28); Jonathan Williams of Massachusetts (November 5); Kevin Lackey of Mississippi (November 9); Rich Hobson of West Virginia (November 10); Sigfrido Steidel-Figueroa of Puerto Rico (December 9); Jeff Hagler of Ohio (December 16); Milton Mack of Michigan (December 21); Ted Glessner of Maine (December 23); and Glenn Grant of New Jersey and Artie Pepin of New Mexico (December 29).