October 09, 2020 National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

NCSCJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Ronald B. Ramsey, Sr., Decatur, GA

It would have been unfathomable to think that when we said our good-byes at the conclusion of the Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas that it would be a year or even 18 months before we may have the opportunity to greet, embrace, teach, learn and engage with one another. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly reshaping and impacting our lives in ways that we could have never imagined. It is appropriate for me to first offer my condolences to those who have lost family members and loved ones to this silent killer. Members of our legal community have been taken quietly and the inability to properly honor them and mourn with their families is particularly disheartening. I urge you all to continue to practice safety in your personal and professional lives as we navigate this new normal, while striving to defend the rule of law and ensure justice for all. I want to personally thank our illustrious outgoing Chair, Hon. Shelbonnie Coleman Hall, for her incredible leadership during this past year. It is special indeed when you have the opportunity to call a colleague, a friend as well. We all appreciate her service and pledge of continued support of the NCSCJ mission. 

Before I discuss our way forward, it is appropriate to celebrate our successes. I was again honored to be a part of the Diversity Outreach Program at the Garza Independence High School in Austin, Texas, during the Midyear Meeting. Former NCSCJ Chair and current Diversity Outreach Chair, Hon. Richard Nunes, again delivered an inspiring experience for both judges and students alike.  Nearly 100 students interfaced with our judges regarding their vantage point of constitutional rights in America and which rights were must important to them. Some had skeptical views about our constitutions and laws as relates to the American penal system. Other groups of students were inquisitive about our career paths to the judiciary and the level of fulfilment these roles bring to us, as well our commitment to our communities, outside of our courthouses. These outreach sessions continue to be enlightening for the students and judges regarding our mutual perceptions and our realities. 

The annual Traffic Court Seminar in New Orleans was a success due to the leadership of Co-chairs Andra Sparks and Beth Gibson, who lead a dynamic committee in the planning of one of the most successful seminars in recent history. Ratings for the presenters and program content were reportedly some of the highest ratings ever received.  We expect no less next February with an all-virtual format for the Traffic Seminar.

Congratulations to former District 2 Representative Pamila Brown, who has been elevated to the Board of Governors. Thank you to BOG Liaison Tom Bolt for his past service to the NCSCJ.  Congratulations are also in order to Judge Ernestine Gray who has been elevated to vice-chair of the ABA Judicial Division.

At the Annual Meeting, NCSCJ Education Chair Hon. Richard Ginkowski earned a coveted showcase spot for the program Justice in The Crosshairs: Defending Judicial Independence – the Keystone of Justice – in the U.S. and the World, which garnered over 300 attendees.  Cosponsored with the ABA Litigation Section, Dick and San Francisco attorney Laurence Pulgram moderated a blue-ribbon panel that included Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and a prolific advocate for judicial independence; Marsha Ternus, former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court who was successfully targeted for non-retention after a controversial decision striking down Iowa law prohibiting same-sex marriage; Associate Justice José Ramón Cossío Díaz of the Mexican Supreme Court and Judge Dariusz Masur, a trial court judge in Krakow and spokesperson for THEMIS, the second largest association of Polish judges.   Former NCSCJ Chair Col. Tara Osborn described the program this way:

“What an incredibly engaging and relevant program—the speakers, the topic, the thoughtful and insightful questions and dialogue.  Everything was just top-notch and truly professional, on an international level.”

Dick has been transforming Gavel Talks, the judicial division podcast, into a user-friendlier interview-style platform.  Judges interested in presenting tips and discussions for fellow judges are still free to produce and submit video or audio podcasts but the (much) easier (and painless) way is to contact Dick who will set up an interview (by phone due to the Covid-19 protocols) which means much less work for you.  Some topics we’ve covered include crisis communications during the pandemic, tips for newly elected or appointed judges, the benefits of DWI/OWI courts and Project Renew, Judge Andra Sparks’ program to help people restore their driving privilege.  Dick is always looking for new topics and presenters so don’t be bashful about contacting him [dick@dickginkowski.com].  He’s also looking for webinar topics and presenters.

Despite COVID-19, we intend to have an E.P.I.C. 2020-21 in the NCSCJ!  We will Elevate our educational program for members of the bar.  We will Participate to a greater degree with local bar associations to serve our communities. We will  Increase membership to align with the goals of President Refo, to grow the ABA in strength and stature.  Finally, we will Collaborate with other sections, divisions and forums to ensure that our efforts are not in silos but are amplified as we speak and model the ABA in a unified voice. 

I am honored to share this journey with an amazing executive committee: Hon. Shelbonnie Coleman Hall, immediate past chair; Hon. Phinia Aten, chair-elect; Hon. Andra Sparks, vice-chair; Hon. Beryl Anderson, secretary; Dick Roszowski, district 1 representative; Hon. Sydney Butcher, district 2 representative; Hon. Brenda Roper, District 3 Representative; Hon. Steve Leibel, District 4 Representative; Hon. Charles Price, District 5 Representative;  Hon. George Perez, District 6 Representative; Hon. Elizabeth Finn, District 8 Representative and Hon. Mary Jane Knisely,  District 9 Representative with an open seat for the District 7 Representative.

Success doesn’t happen without preparation, determination and hard work. I shared with NCSCJ executive committee members in my opening remarks at the annual meeting that there is a distinct difference between leadership and membership.  I have observed over the last several years that individuals who hold leadership positions, but who do not exemplify leadership qualities by leading, recruiting, educating and engaging, only thwart the mission of the organization. Therefore, I asked NCSCJ leaders to re-examine themselves and give themselves and the conference an honest answer about their level of commitment to move the NCSCJ forward during this next year.  This year, we will ensure that all district representative positions are filled with engaging leaders and that we acquire active members from all states within those respective districts.

We all have discovered that planning and executing virtual programming is often more arduous than planning and executing a traditional seminar or other peer or community-based event. Therefore, more imagination, more fortitude and more commitment of time and talents are necessary for our collective success as we engage our communities virtually or in socially distanced platforms. 

I am truly honored to have this opportunity to serve and I pledge to be quick to listen, quick to collaborate, quick to inspire and quick to lead this dynamic conference of judges with jurisdictions spanning the spectrum of American life. Stay safe and well!  - Ron

Hon.  Ronald Ramsey, 2020-2021 NCSCJ Chair

Hon. Ronald Ramsey, 2020-2021 NCSCJ Chair