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October 07, 2022 National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

NCSCJ Chair's Column

A Better Tomorrow

By Hon. Andra Sparks, Birmingham, AL

It is an honor to serve as this year’s Chair of the NCSCJ. The NCSCJ of the Judicial Division of the ABA is home to judges serving in courts of limited and specialized jurisdiction from around the country. Our members include, but are not limited to municipal, military, probate, juvenile, tribal, traffic, mental health, problem solving and small claims judges. We also support the mission of the ABA by providing resources, judicial education, information, and networking opportunities to our members and a forum for our members to engage in activities to improve public trust.

I want to thank our immediate past chair, Judge Phinia Aten for leading us through the uncertainty of the past year. She helped us all maintain a semblance of normalcy at a time when everything seemed off kilter. She shepherded us from completely virtual meetings to our current hybrid posture. Hopefully we will find a balance between virtual and in-person meetings in the upcoming year.

We will be guided by a very strong Executive Committee this year. Chair-Elect Berryl Anderson, Vice-Chair Charles Price, II, Secretary David Perkins, Immediate Past Chair Phinia Aten, District Representatives: First District - Joseph Roszkowski, Second District - Sidney Butcher, Third District - Brenda A. Roper, Fourth District - Steven K. Leibel, Fifth District - Jeffery Gilliam, Sixth District - Richard Ginkowski and Ninth District - Juliet Britton, Members-At-Large: Michael Barrasse, Elizabeth and Michael Pietruszka, Delegate to the House of Delegates Linda Murnane, and ABA Board of Governors Liaison Pamila J. Brown. All these leaders are focused on ensuring we have a great year!

It was great to reconvene in Chicago for Annual Meeting in August! Although attendance must continue to grow, this did not dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance. We had the normal robust discussions and thought-provoking conversations concerning our current status and how we would like to grow as a conference.

One topic that is at the top of the discussion list is the Annual Traffic Academy. The event was scheduled for June of this year in the Mile High City, Denver, but due to low registrations the event was rescheduled for October. Unfortunately, registrations numbers never grew significantly so the event was ultimately canceled. We will conduct an internal analysis of the Academy and determine how best to approach educational programs going forward.

To help us focus on the future without ignoring all the lessons and wisdom of the past we have asked Col. Tara Osborn to lead our Strategic Planning Committee. In addition to the members who are a part of the committee constitutionally, we are asking all previous Chairs of the Conference to join this committee to help chart our future. We plan to set aside some specific time for this committee to meet in person at mid-year. There is no doubt we will be able to lay a road map for a solid future with these leaders.

We are also eager to extend invitations to other organizations which our conference members participate in to encourage them to join our ranks and create expanded learning opportunities. One such organization that I was honored to help establish about six years ago is the National Association of Municipal Judges. Though the group is still in its infancy by organizational standards, we are nevertheless discussing the possibilities of a future working relationship.

Our alignment with the leadership of the JD will be stronger than ever this year. Our own Judge Ernestine Gray is at the helm of the Division, and we will ensure our programming and focus supports her vision and theme for this calendar year. She announced her theme for her leadership year is: For Our Children: A Justice System that Protects, Corrects, and Prepares.

Lastly, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I really enjoy sitting and listening to the myriad conversations in the various meetings/events hosted by our conference. As I meditate on the discussions, I am struck with one simple but undeniable notion, “these are simply remarkable judges.” We come from different communities, backgrounds and cultures. Notwithstanding the lack of similarities, there is a common thread that weaves its way through the tapestry of our conference. It is not subtle, but brightly and brilliantly displayed. We all, to a person, try to make life better for the people we serve. It sounds simple but believe me, it is easier said than done. We all have one goal each day, “a better tomorrow” for my neighbors, for my friends and for my family. Some of their problems are bigger than we can wrap our minds around. We are wise enough to know that we can’t solve all the problems or repair all the damage resulting from years of bad choices. Ultimately, we gain a measure of satisfaction if we can simply make the situation better. This conference provides a forum for collaboration and dialogue to stretch our own experiences.

I won’t list a menu of lofty goals that we have to accomplish this year to claim success. Our aim will be far simpler:

  1. Better educational options/opportunities
  2. Better engagement
  3. Better connection to Judicial Division goals and activities
  4. Better membership numbers than we have today

If we can accomplish each of these goals, then there no doubt that at the end of the year the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges will be simply better. I hope we can count on you to help us!

Hon. Andra Sparks

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

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