I would again like to begin with well wishes and prayers for your continued safety and well-being. Our hearts and thoughts continue to be with those we have lost and their families. We have just marked the one-year anniversary of a pandemic that changed the way people can safely interact with our courts, with each other, with our families and with our friends.
Just when it appears that we are getting into the routine of virtual proceedings in many courts across the nation, it appears that with the procurement of additional vaccines that there may be a real possibility of regaining some semblance of the courthouse life we once knew in the coming few months. That possibility, however, is tenuous due to the uncertainty of the myriad COVID-19 variants, the manner in which various states “reopen” for business, as well as our individual responsibility for remaining vigilant to reduce the spread of the virus. We are all eager to continue the work that we are committed to – advancing the rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice, and working hard to inform, educate and improve our system of justice to ensure equal treatment under the law to every person.
As Chair of the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges I feel a great sense of pride in the work that our conference has accomplished. In November we made special note of National Native American Heritage Month by inviting Hon. Luke Barteaux to brief our Conference on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt. v Oklahoma. Judge Barteaux, installed last fall as the chair of the Native American and Tribal Courts Committee, has served as a judge of the Cherokee Nation District Court since 2017.
The NCSCJ is home to the Tribal Courts Committee and supports the Judicial Division’s Tribal Courts Council. After Judge Barteaux explained the dramatic impact of the McGirt decision the NCSCJ sprang into action. I turned to our ever-reliable former Conference and Judicial Division Chair, Col. Linda Strite Murnane, (Ret.), to organize a working group to investigate the policy basis for our Conference to seek the support of the ABA to address the funding shortfalls that will impact Tribal Courts and other stakeholders in the wake of this important jurisdictional decision.
Aided by a very capable team of NCSCJ members, led in the effort by Native American members of the Judicial Division, the Tribal Courts Council with the expertise of Jerry Gardner of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute compiled a great deal of data to recommend the ABA’s role. The policy support and research were delivered to ABA President Trish Refo before the start of the Midyear Meeting with a request that she address this important issue before the new Biden Administration.
The work our Conference has undertaken in this effort reflects one of many opportunities to do what the late Civil Rights leader, Rep. John Lewis, called on each of us to do – that is, “to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Accordingly, the working group has also proposed a panel for the Annual Meeting through the combined efforts of the group and the diligent work of NCSCJ Program Chair, Hon. Richard Ginkowski, to further highlight the impact of McGirt. While we are sure there will be stiff competition for slots for CLE programming at the Annual Meeting, one way or the other, the NCSCJ intends to present a program titled “Final Notice: Past Due – The Cost of Justice Following McGirt v Oklahoma”.
Also, during the Midyear Meeting, NCSCJ members were engaged in the Standing Committee on Diversity in the Judiciary’s Youth Outreach programs, conducted virtually in cities the ABA will probably never visit. Stalwart participants in the work of the SCDJ, including Hon. Elizabeth “Ellie” Finn and the ever-reliable Col. Murnane, were part of the teams of judges speaking to students across the nation about the importance of the Rule of Law.
If she isn’t busy planning programs or preparing drafts of letters or organizing program ideas, you know that Col. Murnane is also our Conference’s representative to the ABA House of Delegates. She keeps us well informed and sent out detailed reports enough to keep all the NCSCJ Executive Council awake just reading the summaries each evening before the Council met to vote.
If a question needs to be answered about how courts are operating under pandemic conditions, Col. Murnane is also the go to person as she is chairing the Division’s Rapid Response Team. In March, Col. Murnane’s team presented a CLE program titled “Virtual Courts: Ensuring Full Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities.” Presented in partnership with the Commission on Disability Rights, the panel discussed the challenges of both fixed facility and virtual courts which interfere with access to justice for persons with disabilities. The panel featured attorneys and judges who have navigated both physical and virtual barriers in presiding at trials or in representing clients with disabilities as well as skillfully finding solutions for their own disabilities in their practice of law.
As mentioned in my last column, we will long remember our first virtual NCSCJ Awards Banquet last year. Wanting to ensure that our honorees were properly recognized for their accomplishments, our NCSCJ Awards Committee Chair, Col. Murnane, pulled off the Virtual Wine Tasting and fashion show, where she showed off her “many hats.” I have capitalized on that ingenuity and reappointed her to chair the Awards Committee again this year. She is sure that you all know of individuals worthy of these awards and is eagerly waiting for your nominations to come rolling in for the NCSCJ’s Franklin Flaschner Award, the Judicial Education Award and the William R. McMahon Award.
In addition to chairing our Tribal Courts working group addressing McGirt, and participating in the SCDJ’s Outreach and evening program, Col. Murnane volunteered to serve as the Division’s first “Budget Officer” this year. She’s recruiting volunteers to assist her in increasing non-dues revenue for the Judicial Division and each of its Conferences and to increase advertising support for the award-winning The Judges’ Journal. I encourage each of you with ideas of new sponsors or advertisers to reach and support Col. Murnane’s noble efforts.
Judge Elizabeth R. Finn, Presiding Judge Emeritus of Glendale City Court, AZ retired on March 25, 2021 after almost 43 years on the bench. She is the longest serving Judge in Arizona. Besides being responsible for operating a court with 50 employees, 3 of whom are judicial officers, she is also responsible for technology enhancements, new programs, budget, and revenue. She is known for her passion for issues of domestic violence and mental health. Her domestic violence activities have included changing the protective order laws, being the main author of the first Benchbook standardizing policy for all judicial officers, designing protective order forms to facilitate entry into NCIC and most recently serving as the pilot court to automate the process for protective orders from the petition initiation stage through law enforcement serving the orders. Judge Finn implemented a Domestic Violence Treatment Court in 2004 to monitor convicted offenders progress with counseling. This was initially implemented with no additional funding. She successfully obtained $1,500,000 in VAWA grants for her Court spreading those funds to other members of the system such as police and prosecutors. When the grants ended, she successfully had the City include the Court Advocate from a nonprofit in the Court’s budget. The advocate assists victims with protective order requests as well as other services. She started a mental health court in 2013 with no additional funding to provide more tailored services to this needy population. Judge Finn is known for her passion and ability to bring people to the table to accomplish major projects. And throughout her time in Glendale, she has been active and supportive of the ABA. Some of her activities include serving as Chair of the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges, on the editorial board for the Judges Journal, co-editor of the Judicial Division Record and NCSCJ representative to the House of Delegates. We appreciate Judge Finn’s work on behalf of our Conference and the ABA.
We are fortunate in the NCSCJ to have leaders like Judges Barteaux, Finn, Ginkowski and Col. Murnane throughout the NCSCJ. I thank each one of you who are assisting me in advancing the work of this conference. As we enter into the last half of my tenure as chair of this vibrant and active conference, I invite those of you who want to join us in “making some noise” and “getting in good trouble” to join me and we will put you to work on any of the many projects being led by our team.
When we extended our congratulations to Judge Earnestine Gray on an illustrious career and upon her retirement; she shared the following about her future plans:
Since January 1, 2021 everyone wants to know “how are you enjoying retirement?”
I start by saying there were a few things I had to get past to really start on my retirement.
First there was the end of Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day on January 1st.
My Birthday on January 2! (which I celebrate for the entire month)
Then there is COVID-19!
What is it they say: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
To be clear, January 1, 2021 was a day I had been working toward since my election on November 6, 1984. The law in Louisiana mandated my retirement as a judge upon my 70th birthday.
While some might argue I did not adequately prepare for the event, for example, I did little packing up my “more than thirty-six years of stuff” until the very last minute. One really does acquire a lot of memorabilia during such a long period!
In January of 2020 in some pre-retirement planning with my daughter, we planned a year of events to celebrate my tenure as a judge to culminate in a big party at the end of the year. Well, you know what happened a year ago. Life as we had known it came to a screeching halt! We ditched those plans and hunkered down at home.
What I had planned to do in my retirement included lots of travel and shopping. I had hoped to be visiting my children and grandchildren on a regular basis but have only been able to see them once since March of 2020. I have long desired to visit several African countries and have also had to put that on hold as well.
But, not to worry I am keeping myself busy!
I am in the middle of building my “she shed.” Which will be a combination office and storage for some of the “stuff” from my office at the court.
I love plants, so, now that spring is here, I will be getting back in the yard. I am also trying my hand a small vegetable garden.
Finally, I am keeping myself busy staying engaged in the work as much as possible. I still have my committee work in several judicial organizations, and I am hoping to do some consulting work. I promised my colleagues here in New Orleans and others I would stay connected.
My goal was never to really retire, I want to stay active for as long as possible to be of service to my community and to maintain my sanity and good health. So, for those who really want to know how I am enjoying retirement, ask me after the pandemic is over!!