I write this article, with memories of the quietest holidays on record for my family. Hugs have been replaced with air kisses and family gatherings have been replaced with and video streaming to keep everyone safe and well during this pandemic, which continues to rage and ravage. I pray for your continued physical and mental wellness during these challenging times.
VIRTUAL AWARDS CEREMONY
More than 70 people attended the first ever NCSCJ Virtual Awards ceremony on October 23rd. This was by far the best turn out we have had for an NCSCJ Awards ceremony in several years. We were honored to have Judicial Division Chair Judge Michelle Childs open the event with personal greetings.
Congratulations to each of the awardees. Special congratulations to our Conference's own Judge Elizabeth “Ellie” Finn, recipient of the Judicial Education Award. Her outstanding contributions in judicial education were highlighted including her work to ensure diversity and inclusion and to address fair and equitable access to the courts. The Hon. Mark S. Coven received the Franklin N. Flaschner Award. Troy Thompson, Esq., received the McMahon Use of Court Technology Award for best use of court technology in a court of specialized jurisdiction.
The Awards Reception was spirited as many of the virtual participants enjoyed a video presentation by Vintner 37 Wines of Sonoma, CA, while tasting their pre-ordered special reserve. The NCSCJ was proud to host National Judicial College President Hon. Benes Aldana and subsequently presented the college with a donation from the awards ceremony proceeds. The event was ably hosted by past NCSCJ and JD Chair, Colonel (Ret) Linda Strite Murnane who ensured a fun evening for all.
VIRTUAL COURT INNOVATIONS
An enduring question in our society is ‘When is the best time to plant a tree? The consistent answer is twenty years ago. Prior to March of last year, the questions or conversations regarding “disaster” planning concentrated on malware intrusions, ransomware, and document retention. But pandemic planning? That was not part of many conversations. At the State and Magistrate Courts of DeKalb County, Georgia, we were blessed to have a court administrator, who had the vision and foresight to plan and prepare our courts for the 21st century and whatever challenges it could bring. That is the reason, Troy M. Thompson, Esq. was nominated for the McMahon award, before anyone could have fathomed that a pandemic would require remote proceedings for nine months and counting. The award is annually presented to a judge, court employee or attorney who has made a significant implementation or development in the use of technological advances in a court of limited or special jurisdiction. For the past several years, Attorney Thompson, a former systems analyst and programmer for several fortune 500 companies and a Lean Six Sigma professional has quietly and methodically redesigned, and upgraded hardware and software for the courts, including creating one of the first remote hearing platforms in the State of Georgia. He and his IT team built a state-of-the-art e-platform courtroom for State & Magistrate courts for remote criminal and code violations hearings, in addition to implementing two jail courtrooms for remote hearings. Further, Mr. Thompson designed the expansion of the e-citation, e-filing and hearing platforms for State & Magistrate courts, all with the blessings and support of Chief Judge Wayne Purdom, Chief Magistrate Judge Beryl Anderson and the county’s innovative IT Director John Matelski. Attorney Thompson is the ABA Lawyers Conference Group Administrator for the Atlanta Metro Lawyers Group.
While all of the foregoing is laudable, it was Mr. Thompson’s foresight regarding Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that has made a marked difference in our Traffic Division’s ability to handle a volume of cases during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, some stakeholders had not been receptive to the ADR concept, but as we know, when we are forced to adapt, adapt, we must. I was receptive to the concept and Mr. Thompson, his IT team, our platform partners and I developed the architecture for a fully electronic platform “On-line Case Resolution” (OCR), for greater remote access and fairness for individuals required to come before the court. The OCR platform allows the Defendant to review an electronic copy of the citation or accusation of charges. The Defendant then must view or read an electronic version of an advisement of rights and confirm their understanding before proceeding to the next step of the platform. The Defendant and or counsel is then able communicate with the prosecutor electronically, including the upload of evidence and drivers license for identification purposes. Once an electronic offer is made by the State and accepted by the Defendant, the case is moved to a portal for the judge to review the electronic file, which includes the electronic “Plea in Absentia”, incorporating the Defendant’s sixth amendment waiver of an in-person proceeding. Once the judge accepts the negotiated plea and adjudicates the case electronically, the Defendant is given an electronic notice to pay the fine within 72 hours through the court’s on-line pay portal. Over 2,000 cases have been processed through the OCR platform during the pandemic, to date, and this innovation represents a first in the Southeast, perhaps the nation, on this large of a scale. A similar platform has also been designed and strategically aligned for the Magistrate court.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE PROFILES
In fulfillment of one of my objectives as Chair, I am proud to announce that as of October all of our District Representative positions are filled with energetic Judges. It is my pleasure to introduce and highlight: Judge Brenda Roper and Judge Chris Chu.
The Hon. Brenda A. Roper is the District III Representative covering the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
Judge Brenda A. Roper has presided at Center Township Small Claims Court of Marion County, Indiana, since her election in 2014. She is a graduate of Indiana State University (BS 1989), Indiana University-Bloomington (MA 1991)), and Indiana Wesleyan University (MBA 2006). Ms. Roper received her jurisprudence (JD 1997) and her Master of Laws (LLM 2011) degrees from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. Currently, she is completing her Master of Judicial Studies degree with the National Judicial College- University of Nevada-Reno.
Judge Roper is an active member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. In addition to supporting and volunteering for various organizations through Indianapolis, Judge Roper is a member of the Marion County Bar Association, the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indiana State Bar Association and the American Bar Association. She serves on committees for the Indiana Supreme Court including the Civil Benchbook Committee and the Indiana Race and Gender Fairness Commission. Judge Roper also serves on the Advisory Council for the Paralegal Studies Program of Ivy Tech Community College-Central Indiana, teaches business law and ethics courses for Indiana Wesleyan University and course faculty for Small Claims Courses with the National Judicial College.
The Hon. Nick Chu is the District VII Representative covering Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. Judge Chu serves as the Justice of the Peace for Precinct Five in Travis County, Texas and is the first Asian American to serve on the court in the county’s history. Judge Chu is a former Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his B.A. in Government and later earned his law degree from Baylor Law School. Judge Chu chairs the Texas Supreme Court’s Justice Court and COVID-19 Response Task Force and co-chairs the Texas Justices of the Peace and Constables Association’s Legislative Committee. In August of 2020, Judge Chu presided over the nation’s first fully remote criminal jury trial. He resides in Austin, TX with his wife and baby daughter.
NATIVE AMERICAN MONTH / TRIBAL COURTS WORKING GROUP
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month in November, took on a special meaning for the NCSCJ leadership, when we introduced our new Native American and Tribal Courts Chair Judge T. Luke Barteaux, of the Cherokee Nation District Court, who presented a captivating discussion of the impact on tribal courts by the decision of the Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, decided on July 9, 2020. The high court’s decision effectively requires that the eastern half of Oklahoma which had belonged to the “Five Civilized Tribes” was never disestablished and therefore any crime committed by a native occurring within a reservation boundary is subject to federal or tribal court jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act, rather than the state jurisdiction. The consequence of the SCOTUS decision will reportedly add nearly thousands of felony cases annually to federal courts, along with a host of non-felony cases to the tribal courts. Judge Barteaux estimates that the ruling creates a nearly $30 million budget impact on the Cherokee Nations detention budget needs plus the cost of building other infrastructure such as additional courthouses, judges, staff, prosecutors, law enforcement, public defenders, probation officers, and social services.
Building on Judge Barteaux’s presentation, I have appointed a Working Group to review existing American Bar Association Resolutions urging Congress to support quality and accessible justice, by ensuring adequate, stable, long-term funding for tribal justice systems and to network and partner with the Tribal Courts to raise additional awareness in the wake of the McGirt decision. Col. Murnane has been appointed as the Working Group Facilitator, along with Judge Barteaux (OK) and Judge Elaine Evans (NC), as Co-Facilitators. Judges Dick Ginkowski (WS), Ellie Finn (AZ), David Perkins (MI), Pamilla Brown (MD) and Sydney Butcher (MD) have also been appointed to the Working Group.
Judge Barteaux received his Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and Administration from the University of Oklahoma and obtained his juris doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law. He worked as a trial lawyer until taking the bench in 2017.
Lastly, SAVE THE DATE: The ABA National Traffic Academy is coming on a virtual platform on April 7-8, 2021, with the theme “Ensuring Access to Justice in Traffic Cases”.
Continue to stay safe and well!