The Urban Court Managers Network
The Justice Management Institute, the National Association for Court Management and the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the US Department of Justice
The Urban Court Managers' Network was formed in 1997 to help strengthen the ability of leaders in large urban trial court to work more effectively - with each other, with key justice system policy makers, and with practitioners in their own jurisdictions - to improve justice operations. The Network provides a way for those managing urban trial courts to see new programs, share experiences and ideas, and discuss with their colleagues the unique challenges faced in leading and managing these large, complex organizations. Usually there is only one or a very small number of large trial courts in a state, so the Network provides an opportunity for these leaders to interact with leaders of similar courts in other states. A major objective is to provide a forum for trial court managers to discuss common issues and opportunities informally, candidly, and in-depth.
The Network is co-sponsored by The Justice Management Institute (JMI) and The National Association for Court Management (NACM) and is funded by grants from The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Network is designed to help leaders in large urban trial courts, so the membership is limited to the larger trial courts in the country. In addition in order to facilitate discussion at the meetings, the membership is kept relatively small. Members are invited to join by the Network's steering committee. Since it was formed thirty-five people from seventeen states and the District of Columbia have been members of the Network.
The current Network members include:
- Ray Billotte, District Court Administrator, Fifth Judicial District of PA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Mike Bridenback, Court Administrator, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida
- Alan Carlson, Chief Executive Officer, Superior Court of California, County of Orange, Santa Ana, California
- John A. Clarke, Executive Officer/Clerk, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
- Duane B. Delaney, Clerk of the Court, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Washington, DC
- Pamela Harris, Court Administrator, Montgomery County Circuit Court, Rockville, Maryland
- Collins Ijoma, Trial Court Administrator, Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex Vicinage, Newark, New Jersey
- Matthew M. McConville, District Administrator and Clerk of the Court, Denver County Court, Denver, Colorado
- Michael D. Planet, Court Executive Officer, Superior Court of California, County of Ventura, Ventura, California
- Marcus Reinkensmeyer, Trial Courts Administrator, Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County, Phoenix, Arizona
- Mark Thompson, District Court Administrator, Fourth Judicial District Court, Hennepin County, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Kiri Torre, Chief Executive Officer, Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, San Jose, California
- Robert Wessels, Court Manager, County Courts at Law, Harris County, Houston, Texas
- Yolande Williams, Seattle Municipal Court, Seattle, Washington
There are few obligations of members beyond attending the meetings. If the court manager cannot attend, no one can attend in his/her place. Depending on individual situations, if a member misses three consecutive meetings the steering committee may replace that member.
There is also an expectation that each member will host a meeting of the Network. From the first meeting in 1998 through the end of 2005 the Network has visited 21 courts in 19 cities located in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
The members' lodging, per diem and travel costs are paid by the grant. Although there are no grant funds available to defray the costs, judges and staff from member courts are encouraged to attend every meeting along with the member, at the member court's expense.
The Network conducts semi-annual 2 day high-energy interactive meetings hosted by one of the member courts in their city. The meetings are centered around a visit to the host court to see presentations about programs and engage in interactive discussions about local court innovations and other topics of current interest. The presentations are primarily made by judges, court staff, and other justice system professionals from the host jurisdiction as well as by other colleagues and by experts from the field of court administration.
Every meeting focuses on a variety of topics decided upon by the host court and the Network steering committee members. Among the topics that have been explored at the meetings are:
- Access to Justice
- Budgeting and Finance, including responding to cutbacks
- Community Courts
- Cultural Competence: Race, Ethnic, and Gender Bias
- Court Governance
- Court/Community Relations and Collaboration
- Courthouse Security
- Courthouse Construction and Renovation
- Criminal Case Processing
- Customer Service
- Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity
- Family Law
- Leadership, Transition Planning, and Succession
- Performance Evaluation
- Problem Solving Courts
- Trial Court Research and Evaluation
- Self Represented Litigants
- Strategic Planning, and
- Applications of Technology
In addition, since 2001 the UCMN has conducted an annual focus group meeting that brings members and nonmembers together around a specific topic of interest. Focus group topics have included:
- Development of a research capacity in trial courts;
- Bias in the courts;
- State and local budgeting;
- Lessons learned from specialty court dockets that can be applied throughout the trial courts; and
- Management of felony dockets.
The meetings are informal and highly interactive. They are designed to provide maximum opportunity for the members to network and to teach each other. The meetings apply the Kolb Learning Cycle Model of adult education. This model suggests that adults learn in a cyclical fashion moving from their own concrete experiences, through observations and reflections on host court programs, to conceptualizing the observations into a larger framework and applying this framework to their own situation. The visits to sites provoke continuing dialog about how the members conduct business in their own jurisdictions and why they do it this way.
If the UCMN meeting is not being preceded by a focus group session, it begins with an afternoon session that has been used for a variety of purposes. For example, in Los Angeles a separate court tour was conducted; in Washington, DC an extended session on court security was presented. A group dinner is held on the first evening. The program following dinner includes formal welcomes, introductions, and either a discussion or a speaker. The purpose of this session is to immerse the attendees in the subjects that they will be seeing the following day at the court.
The second day sessions are typically held at the host court. On this day the program concentrates on the innovations and activities of the host jurisdiction. Each meeting has included a tour of court facilities and a briefing on host court programs related to the focus of the meeting. This day provides an opportunity for the attendees to reflect on their own experience in light of what they hear and see of the host jurisdiction's programs.
The third day session is designed so the Network members can openly discuss issues related to the programs showcased the previous day, as well as other "hot topics." This session provides the opportunity for the attendees to conceptualize the information received during the visit.
Outside presenters have occasionally been invited to appear at the sessions. For example, Bart Lubow from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and David Rottman and Tom Munsterman from the National Center for State Courts have made presentations at past meetings.
The continuing high point of the Network meetings is the opportunity for the members to exchange ideas and discuss problems with a remarkably knowledgeable and skilled group of their colleagues in complete candor. To maintain the openness and trust, it is understood that the content of discussions remains within the Network. Under direction of, and with the approval of, the Network JMI may produce publishable reports summarizing the innovations of the host courts and describing the issues discussed at the meetings.
The objectives of the Network include (1) creating an opportunity for interaction among court leaders who manage trial courts in a unique environment; (2) exchanging information about successful and unsuccessful innovations and programs; and (3) providing a voice within the court administration community for those who have experience and expertise in urban trial court management issues. The expectation is that the participants will become better managers as a result of the experiences.
Occasionally at the request of the members JMI has conducted surveys of the members on specific topics. JMI polled the members on pre-trial release procedures in felony cases, on courthouse security issues, and on techniques developed to respond to the budget cut-back situations. The Network has also produced articles and publications based on Network events and activities. The National Agenda for Urban Trial Courts came about as a result of the focus group session held in 2001. An article on Bias Issues that resulted from the 2002 focus group session was published in The Court Manager in 2004.
The members of the Network benefit personally from the professional growth offered by the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with others who perform similar tasks, face similar issues, and deal with similar problems on a regular basis. One of the most awaited features of each Network meeting is the open dialog about current issues that occurs on the last day of the meeting. No other organization exists that provides a similar opportunity for this community of professionals.
There are many examples of innovations the Network members observed at a meeting and immediately implemented upon return to their own courts:
- Self-Help Centers modeled on the Phoenix, Arizona innovation now exist in a number of the member courts.
- Use of technology to provide information about daily court schedules has proliferated after being seen in Prince George's County, Maryland.
- The employment of an academically trained researcher as staff to a trial court has been duplicated in several jurisdictions based on the presentations made in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- The lessons learned from constructing a new courthouse serving San Francisco, California have been replicated in several other member jurisdictions.
- The juvenile courthouse in Los Angeles, California has been visited by delegations from several member courts planning construction or renovation of similar facilities in their jurisdictions.
- The technologically innovative "Arrest to Arraignment in Twenty-Four Hours" Program in New York, New York and the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System in Houston, Texas have both served as models for innovation in a number of jurisdictions.
- The Elder Justice Center showcased by the court in Tampa, Florida has been replicated in Phoenix, Arizona. Several other member courts are seeking funding to replicate this innovation.
Some courts have used the visit by the Network as an opportunity to seek input on innovations under development. The Network members experienced the Tolerance Training Program being developed in Los Angeles, California. The members were invited to provide comments and suggestions on the development of unified family courts in Ventura, California, Tampa, Florida, and Washington, DC.
Several ideas generated by the Network have spawned initiatives with impact beyond the members and their courts. The National Agenda for Urban Trial Courts was presented at a National Association for Court Management (NACM) meeting and was included in a monograph on training of future court leaders published by the Judicial Education Reference, Information, and Technical Transfer Project (JERITT). The discussions about trial court research and researchers led to the founding of the Trial Court Research and Improvement Consortium (TCRIC), a national organization designed to conduct research on trial court topics. The courthouse construction experience described during the San Francisco, California meeting led to the presentation of national workshops on that topic. The Network's discussion of disaster preparedness issues following the September 11th atrocity resulted in the development of national and regional workshops on disaster prevention and recovery. Presentations on courthouse security made at the Washington, DC Network meeting by representatives of the US Marshal's Service and the Federal Protective Service gave rise to a grant from the State Justice Institute (SJI) that brought together teams from local trial courts and local US Marshals to demonstrate the efficacy of collaborative planning of courthouse security. SJI funded a test of the concept of a Rural Court Managers' Network based on the UCMN model.
The decisions on most issues related to the Network are made by a steering committee composed of UCMN members appointed by NACM, JMI senior staff members, the BJA grant monitor, and the host administrator of the upcoming meeting.
The general membership is consulted on any matter where their input is needed or would be expected, including future meeting dates, locations, and travel policy.
JMI provides meeting support and acts as the secretariat for the Network. JMI's staff drafts the meeting agenda based on the members' suggested topics, arranges meeting sites, and coordinates all other aspects of the meetings with the host administrator. JMI staff often act as facilitators at the sessions. JMI is a non-profit organization headquartered in Denver, Colorado founded in 1993 (see www.jmijustice.org).
For more information about the Urban Court Managers' Network, please contact JMI at (303) 831-7564 or send an e-mail to askjmi (at) jmijustice.org.