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January 23, 2023 National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

NCSCJ Chair's Column

Thanks. And Be Special.

By Hon. Andra Sparks, Birmingham, AL

While it is customary for a chair to write about how busy a conference has been, or accomplishing worthy tasks throughout the year, and the holiday season. The beginning of a new year is a time of reflection, thanksgiving and renewal. So, I’ll beg forgiveness for skipping the “Christmas letter” approach and instead reflect on the service of the talented judges who contribute to the success of our conference, the ABA Judicial Division and the administration of justice overall. You make my work easier and I am indebted to you for that.

Our judges aren’t the only people who make things happen. The ABA staff juggles their time and talents to serve us and we couldn’t keep the ship afloat without them. Borrowing from a phrase used in a performing arts fundraising campaign, “Your act opens the show.” 

I also reflect on the enormously talented group of nearly 300 judges who make up the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges (NCSCJ). We are the smallest conference of the ABA, Judicial Division. I like to think that we’re the most diverse and interesting.

NCSCJ bylaws say that membership is “open to any members of the Judicial Division of the Association who are serving or who have served as a judicial officer in a court of specialized or limited jurisdiction, or any other interested current or former judicial officer who is a member of the Judicial Division.” That’s the “official” definition but the reality is that our broad membership includes, for example, judges who preside or work in traffic, tribal, small claims, international criminal, juvenile, family, problem solving, probate, military and municipal courts. 

The exchange of ideas by judges with such a broad diversity of disciplines and experiences is what sets us apart and, hopefully, makes us interesting. A NCSCJ meeting may include discussion by military judges of changes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice while getting advice from traffic and municipal court judges over handling impaired driving cases. A small claims court judge may discuss the management of a high-volume court. We’ve discussed how recent Supreme Court decisions impact tribal courts and the relationships between tribal, state and federal counterparts. Judicial independence issues are discussed across a broad spectrum, and we regularly get updates about threats to Polish judges by the current government. 

One of our conference members put together a trip for judges to The Hague to see international criminal courts in action. We were also instrumental in presenting two recent annual meeting showcase CLE programs in addition to webinars. We have a long-cherished partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and have coordinated the National Traffic Court Academy. 

I’d be remiss not to mention our delightful group dinners, the “fabulous prizes” at NCSCJ meetings and social events combined with learning opportunities such as our partnership with the North Georgia Judicial Summit and its “Jazz with The Judges” programs. These social activities enhance our collegiality as well as the ability to learn from each other. 

If you want to get involved with a talented and diverse group of judges, this is the place. And if you would like to grow in a supportive environment that has room for you and knows your name, we welcome you to join us and, if you are a member, I encourage you to share your time and talent. Be special (because you are).

Hon. Andra Sparks

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

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