Nancy Mayer Whittington Third Interview: February 18, 2011Catherine Nugent2022-05-03T11:51:45-04:00
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Nancy Mayer-Whittington Oral History
Interview Session III
February 18, 2011
Ms. Woodbury: Good morning. This is the continued interview of Nancy MayerWhittington, formerly Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court for
the District of Columbia. Today is Friday, February 18, 2011. When we broke
with the interview last time, Nancy was talking about applying for the position of
assistant in the Jury Office for the Federal Court here in the District of Columbia
and I’ll ask Nancy, What was the result of your application? Did you get that
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, I did get that job.
Ms. Woodbury: What year did you start working at the Court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: 1977. September 12, 1977
Ms. Woodbury: What exactly was your job when you started in the Jury Office and what
was that office like?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was a two person office. There was a jury supervisor and a jury deputy
clerk and I was the deputy clerk. My supervisor was Joe Burgess, who actually
still works for the court. The Jury Office’s primary responsibilities were to do
juror orientations, assign jurors to panels, record and track jury information, and
prepare vouchers for juror payments. At that time the Jury Office did not do any
of the work qualifying jurors. Staff from the office of the Jury Commission had
the responsibility of determining juror qualifications. The Jury Commission was
located in an office next door to our Jury Office. The Jury Commission was an
independent office with three jury commissioners one of whom was in charge of
the Commission. There was also a staff of three persons who supported the
office. Because we shared the same jury pool of prospective jurors with the D.C.
Superior Court, the Jury Commission qualified all the jurors for service on both
courts. Staff from the information technology section of Superior Court
maintained and processed the database of prospective and qualified jurors. The
Jury Commission would send a request to the Superior Court when we needed
names to be pulled from the source lists to create a master wheel. From the
master wheel, names were pulled to create a qualified wheel of prospective
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when you say that the Jury Commission qualified the jurors; what
does that mean?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: A qualification questionnaire would be mailed to all the prospective jurors
who were randomly drawn from, at that time, the Motor Vehicle registration list
and the list of registered of voters in the District of Columbia. The completed
questionnaires would be returned to the Jury Commission. The Jury Commission
would make sure that each juror was qualified to serve in the District and that
meant that they had to be 18 years of age or older, had resided in the District for
at least 6 months, could read, write and speak the English language and had not
had a felony conviction that would have precluded their service as a juror. After
determining the qualifications, the Jury Commission would send a list of
qualified jurors to Superior Court. Superior Court would maintain this “Qualified
Wheel” from which they would draw on a monthly or as needed basis. The Jury
Office had a standing order to draw a certain number of names each month from
the qualified wheel. A summons would then be sent to each of these prospective
jurors. With the summons, there would be an information card that needed to be
completed and returned to the Jury Office. Our office would then review the
information and make sure the person was still qualified to serve. Since there
was always a time gap between the original qualification process and the actual
summoning, there was the possibility a juror had moved out of D.C. or taken
some other action that could disqualify them from service.
In addition to re-qualifying those who responded, we also reviewed
requests for temporary deferrals. Those requests came from prospective jurors
because they either had pre-paid travel plans or they had health problems that
conflicted with their ability to serve or some other reason that made it necessary
for them to ask to have their service deferred to another time. The Chief Judge
delegated authority to our office for all requests for temporary deferrals. Joe
Burgess and I would take all of the information cards that were returned by the
jurors and we would mark the master list as to whether they were ultimately
qualified and could serve or if they were qualified but were deferred. We also
had a percentage of people who did not respond, who either ignored the summons
or, as we found out later when we studied this issue, had moved to another place
in the District, but we didn’t have a new address for them.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, do you remember what percentage of the people didn’t respond at
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I think that it was in the 25 – 30% range.
Ms. Woodbury: Once you had people who had responded and were able to serve, what
was your role?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Our role was, on a daily basis, to draw randomly from the information
cards which meant literally putting the deck of cards into your hand and shuffling
them and dealing out how many jurors you needed for a jury panel. If you had a
criminal case you would need 30-35 prospective jurors and in a civil case you
would have 18-20. The civil cases at that time impaneled 6 jurors plus 2
alternates. Criminal cases had 12 jurors plus 2 alternates. In both selections, the
plaintiff’s attorney or the government’s attorney and the defendant’s attorney
could have jurors stricken from the jury by using peremptory challenges or
challenges for cause. So 30-35 was a reasonable number in order to get a jury
and accommodate all of the strikes on a criminal case. We would draw names for
the jury panel and then we would put the juror’s name on a recorded message.
Jurors were instructed to call in the evening after 5:00 to find out if they were
scheduled to report the following day. Once the jurors reported, if it was their
first day of service, we would do an orientation to let them know a little bit about
their service, answer questions and show a film that talked about the
responsibilities of a juror. Then we would type a list of jurors for each panel and
would wait for the call from the courtroom that jurors were needed to go to court.
When the call came, we would announce the names of the jurors who needed to
report and then send them to the courtroom for voir dire. There was always a lot
of waiting time for the jurors. In the jury assembly room, we would have
magazines and provide the opportunity to watch television so that they would
have something to do while they waited.
Ms. Woodbury: Did you personally deal with the jurors who were called in to potentially
serve on pending cases?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I’m not sure what you mean?
Ms. Woodbury: Was it part of your job to give the orientation, how did you split that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well initially, since I didn’t know what I was doing because I was new
and Joe had all the experience, he would conduct all of the orientations. I did
more of the typing and the filing until I got comfortable with the actual
orientations, and then we would literally take turns. You wouldn’t have to do
orientation every day because jurors were on call for a two week period.
Whenever a new set of jurors came in we would do the orientation, but that
would usually happen on the first three or four days of the two week period. You
wouldn’t have to do the orientation again until you had the next panel that would
come in for the second two week term of the month.
Ms. Woodbury: Prior to you taking this position, had you ever been called to serve on a
jury — you were living in Maryland then?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I was living in Maryland then and no. I had not been called to serve on a
jury. I had no idea what they did. In fact, I remember the first time Joe did the
jury orientation; I sat there just like the jurors absorbing everything he had to say.
When Joe started the orientation film, I sat and watched it and took notes. I was
learning with them because I didn’t know anything about the role of a juror other
that what I had seen on television.
Ms. Woodbury: Once the juror was called to be on a panel did you follow through with
that process? Did you go into the courtroom or was your job ended at the time
the panels went to the various judges?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It ended in one sense, in that we handed the jurors over to the courtroom
deputy, who was assigned to that judge, and they would shepherd them through
the actual selection and service on a trial. On occasion we would walk the jury to
the courtroom, but for the most part we would tell them where the courtroom was
located and they would go there. We would ask everyone to form a line as their
name was called and then go as a group to the courtroom. Some judges requested
that the jurors file into court in the order in which they were listed on the panel
sheet, so the courtroom deputy would meet them outside the courtroom to make
sure they were all in order. Other judges just let them walk in and sit as a group
and go through the voir dire process that way. As the jury was selected, jurors
who were excused would return one at a time to the Jury Office. Once the
selection was completed, the jury panel sheet would be returned to the Jury
Office and it would show who had been selected, who had been stricken
peremptorily by either the plaintiff or the defendant, who had been stricken for
cause and any jurors who were not needed. Our responsibility for jurors selected
was to track attendance for that jury panel and prepare vouchers for payment.
The courtroom deputy’s responsibility was to call us every day of the trial and let
us know that all of the jurors had reported for duty.
Ms. Woodbury: And if a juror didn’t show up? Was it your responsibility to follow
through with them?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, we had all the contact information for the jurors. If a juror did not
appear we would give them a call. Most often we did not get an answer because
the juror was just stuck in traffic or public transportation had taken longer than
they thought. This was the time before cell phones or email. On occasion we
would call and a juror would say they were ill and that they hadn’t called in
because they were too sick. For the most part, we did not have very many cases
where a juror forgot to come back the next day or arbitrarily decided not to come
back. By far, most jurors took their roles very seriously and were very
conscientious about their jury service.
Ms. Woodbury: Was the only follow up contact with jurors who were chosen to be on a
jury, the responsibility of the courtroom deputy?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes and no. On occasion, we would have a juror who was disruptive or
was arriving late most of the time. Sometimes the judge would ask us to speak
with the juror and remind them how important their jury service was to the court
and to the parties in the case. Sometimes the judge didn’t want their deputy
involved in that. Other times the courtroom deputy took on that role. But, once
the jury was deliberating the responsibility was strictly with the courtroom deputy
and the judge because you didn’t want any kind of outside influence on the jury.
Ms. Woodbury: During the time you served as the Deputy in the Jury Office, where there
any changes in the procedure that you described?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, the jury pool was expanded to include more people. The Department
of Motor Vehicles issued ID’s to D.C. residents who needed some form of
official identification but did not want a driver’s license. Those names were
added to the source lists for selecting potential jurors in an effort to enlarge the
number of prospective jurors for selection. Unfortunately, the D.C. Superior
Court added the names without notifying our Court. We had to amend our jury
plan retroactively and remind them that every time they decided to make any
changes in the way jurors were being selected, we needed to know so we could
discuss the change and make the necessary changes to our jury plan. Every time
they decided to do something a little bit differently than what we had agreed to
we had to remind them that we had a statute that we had to follow. The other
thing that changed was that we were able to start setting a fee for public
transportation. When I first got there we had a map of the District of Columbia
and there were seven concentric circles drawn around the courthouse. The
innermost circle represented the area that was within a one mile radius of the
courthouse. Each additional circle represented another mile. The last and biggest
circle represented the area that was within seven miles of the courthouse. In other
words, the longest distance any juror had to travel from their home to the
courthouse was seven miles. The problem was the jury statute which set the
reimbursement amount for jurors allowed us to pay each juror $.10 per mile for
transportation expenses. This meant if you lived within a mile of the courthouse
you would receive a total of $.20 to cover your roundtrip transportation. Even if
you lived in the outermost areas of D.C. you would receive a total of $1.40 for
transportation. This amount did not cover the cost of a bus trip or subway ride to
and from the courthouse. Since we had no onsite parking except a few spaces for
jurors who were disabled, we had to encourage jurors to use public transportation.
It was hard to explain to the jurors during orientation, that unless they walked to
and from the courthouse, they were going to lose money in an effort to fulfill
their jury duty. We worked hard with our judicial representative on the Judicial
Conference Committee that handled juror matters to change the reimbursement
rates. They finally did amend the statute to allow us to pay the minimum of
public transportation. This was a huge victory for the jurors and it reduced our
workload at the same time. No longer did we have to take a list of the addresses
for each juror then go to the map and find the circle in which their address was
located. Instead, we just paid every juror a set amount that covered the maximum
cost of public transportation from the areas that were the longest distance from
the courthouse. At that time we paid $4.00 a day and even though the jurors who
lived closer to the courthouse were reimburse slightly more than their actual
costs, making it uniform saved money in workload costs. That was a big
administrative change for us and the first time we lobbied successfully with a
Judicial Conference Committee for a change that had national implications as the
statute was amended to allow for all courts to cover the maximum cost of public
transportation for juror travel. Since the money for reimbursement of juror
expenses was centrally held at the Administrative Office, the courts did not have
to budget for this change.
Ms. Woodbury: And when you refer to the “Administrative Office,” specifically what are
you referring to?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: There is something called the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts,
and the Director of the Administrative Office is the Secretary to the Judicial
Conference. The Judicial Conference is the primary rule making and legislative
body for the judiciary. The Administrative Office was created to centrally
manage the administrative support to the courts. The Director and the Deputy
Director in charge of the financial section of the Administrative Office would
appear with the judge who was head of the Budget Committee of the Judicial
Conference before Congress to put forth our budget and explain the Judiciary’s
spending plan. Initially when I started working for the court everything went
through the Administrative Office. If you wanted to hire somebody you had to
request the position, defend your need for the position, send your request up to
them and they would approve it or deny it. Then they would set the salary for the
position. If you wanted to buy paper you had tell them why you need paper and
how much you needed, and they would let you buy it and they would pay the bill.
That sort of thing. So they paid all the jury money. All the jury money came out
of the Administrative Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when you say that you needed approval for a position or for
supplies was that the Jury Office itself that, rather than going through the Clerk of
the Court’s office, you would go directly to the Administrative Office of the U.S.
Courts for those things.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No. The Clerk would do all of that. The Clerk of the Court dealt with the
Administrative Office. The system was very arbitrary and subjective. There
were no uniform standards. It was based on how well you wrote your request,
whether or not you had a good relationship with the person who would approve
or deny your request and how much funding was available. The really savvy
Clerks of Court invested time in forming relationships, documenting their
requests and getting the request in early in the fiscal year when the funding was
still plentiful. The Clerks of Court called it the “Mother may I” approach since
the system was more about how you made your request and to whom than it was
about the legitimacy of your request. That was the way it was back in 1977 when
I first started there.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when you were hired as the Deputy in the Jury Office who
approved your hiring? Was it just the Jury Office or was that done by the Clerk
of the Court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The Clerk did all the hiring at that time. He had not delegated hiring
authority to anybody. He did all the hiring. In his defense, that was the system he
inherited. His secretary was the human resource liaison. She would prepare the
paperwork that would go up to the Administrative Office. Then the person who
headed the Personnel Office, at the time it was Glen Johnson, would sign off on
that paperwork and approve those positions. So the Clerk did the recruiting,
interviewing and made the request on behalf of the Court, but the Administrative
Office could say “Yes” or “No”.
Ms. Woodbury: When you were in the Jury Office did you have contacts with the other
parts of the U.S. District Court other than the individual judges that needed
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: You mean did I have contact with employees?
Ms. Woodbury: Other employees, other divisions or departments within the court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. We worked primarily with what used to be called the Courtroom
Division. Every judge had a courtroom deputy and one of the duties of the
courtroom deputy was to fill out a form each day that let us know the number of
jurors they needed. It had to be filled out by 11:00 in the morning for the next
day. If they checked off that they were starting a criminal case, we would bring
in thirty jurors. And if they wanted a larger panel than that they would have to
make a request at least six weeks in advance because we had to summoned
additional jurors. So a lot of our contact was with the courtroom deputies. We
also had contact with the judges’ secretaries because in some cases the judges’
secretaries were fairly involved with the cases and they were the primary contacts
for the judge. If we had a question and the courtroom deputy wasn’t available,
we would talk to the judge’s secretary. On occasion we would get in touch with
the judges’ law clerks. Usually, a law clerk was assigned to each case and we
would have some contact with them as well. The other office that we had
primary contact with was our Financial Office because they produced the checks
for the jurors and they produced the 1099s forms for tax purposes for jurors.
Those were the two offices that were our primary contacts in the Clerk’s Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Did you have any dealings or contact with the person who was the Clerk
of Court at that time?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. The Clerk of Court at the time was Jim Davey. The Clerk’s Office
was composed of two major divisions – the Docketing Division and the
Courtroom Division. The rest of the office was made up of three smaller
sections, the Jury Office, the Finance Office and the Property and Procurement
Office. The head of each of these offices reported directly to the Clerk. When I
became head of the Jury Office, I would meet with the Clerk once a week to keep
him apprised of what was going on in the office and to set and then track the
goals and objectives for the office. Also when jurors requested to be excused
from jury service and the nature of the excuse was not covered by the Chief
Judge’s delegation of authority, I would discuss this with the Clerk. So, I did
have regular contact with the Clerk of Court. I also had regular contact with the
Chief Judge and would meet with the Chief several times a month to discuss the
requests for excuse that I just mentioned and to discuss administrative matters
related to our grand juries.
Ms. Woodbury: What was the court facility like when you started working at the federal
court? Was it air conditioned? Were the facilities nice, were there…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, the courthouse was air conditioned. The Clerk’s Office was fairly
modern and functional. There were more cubicles than offices and the two major
offices – Docketing and the Courtroom Division – had an open floor plan as was
in keeping in the late 70’s with government offices that were open to the public.
The jury assembly room had these blue and green chairs that were box shaped
and arranged in three-sided squares. Though color wise they were visually
attractive they were not designed to be comfortable so jurors wouldn’t fall asleep
while waiting to serve. In addition to being uncomfortable, they were hard to get
in and out of because they were too low to the floor. We had a little office, Joe
and I, in the middle of the jury assembly room so that we were with the jurors all
of the time. They could come up to talk to us if they needed to and we would do
all of our work there. The main room had magazines and books for jurors to read
to keep them occupied while they were there. There were also 6 to 8 tables for
jurors to sit and play cards or work puzzles. Off of the main room there were
several smaller rooms. The largest of these rooms was the TV room. We had
one big television and we could only get 4 stations. It was also the smoking
room. The station that the television was tuned into relied on the honor system.
Ultimately, I learned there is no honor where soap operas are concerned. I can’t
tell you how many times I went into the room to settle a dispute between groups
of jurors. They had absolutely no problem with arbitrarily walking in and
changing the station no matter who was watching the show. They called the
soaps their “stories” and felt like they were being cut off from their families!
Finally, we had to post a sign in the room that said Monday is channel 4 day,
Tuesday is channel 5 day, and so on. We had to rig the TV so no one could
change the station without our master key. That not only saved our sanity but
helped us not succumb to second hand smoke because the room was always so
smoky. The courthouse didn’t become smoke-free until the early 80’s. Anyway,
there was another room that had some vending machines with snacks and sodas
for the jurors and a refrigerator so the jurors could bring in their lunches. And
finally, there was a quiet room with tables and chairs so if the jurors wanted to
bring some work with them, they could do it in that room in a quiet atmosphere.
At the time, the 1970s, people weren’t bringing in their laptops or anything, but
the room was supposed to give jurors some choices and thus make their service
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, how long did you stay in your first position as Assistant in the
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: About a year.
Ms. Woodbury: And then what did you do?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well, Joe Burgess, my boss decided that he wanted to advance up the
ranks in the courthouse and the only way you could really do that was to become
a courtroom deputy. The courtroom deputy position went up to Grade 11. The
jury supervisor was a Grade 8 position and I was hired as a Grade 4. So, if you
wanted a career path that paid you more money you needed to become a
Courtroom Deputy. Any position higher than Grade 11 was a management
position and there were limits to the number of managers that were in the Clerk’s
Office at the time.
Ms. Woodbury: Did each courtroom deputy work for, I guess work for is not the right
word… but were they assigned to a specific judge.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Did Joe Burgess become a Courtroom Deputy?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: He did, but what he had to do was to learn operations, learn docketing
first because that was the entry way into the operations side of the Clerk’s Office.
You had to learn how to process a case and learn how to process all the papers
that came in to support a case. After doing this for a period of time, then you got
to apply for the courtroom deputy training program. Then, if you got selected for
the program, you got to be a courtroom trainee for a period of time. When an
opening came for a courtroom deputy position, you could apply and be
considered for that position.
Ms. Woodbury: When he moved out of the Jury Office did you take over his position?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, but I had to apply for that position and go for a formal interview. It
wasn’t just automatic. Clearly, I had more experience — even though I had only
been there a year — than anyone else in the Clerk’s Office because I knew the day
to day operations and I could run the office fairly well at that point. But that
didn’t prevent other people in operations from applying as well because they
were looking to advance. I think they also thought it would be an easy job. It
was funny. We were located on the fourth floor and the rest of the Clerk’s Office
was located on the first floor. We had vending machines in our office in the jury
assembly room so people from the different offices would come in there to get
snacks and sodas from the machines. If it was the afternoon and all of our jury
selections had been completed in the morning, they would say…. “Oh, it’s so nice
and quiet up here. I would love to work up here”. I would tell them how hectic it
was in the morning with 200 jurors in attendance and Joe and I scrambling
around to fill all the panels, but that didn’t convince them that the job had any
stress or pressure. The isolation worked both ways. I did not have much contact
with the rest of the Clerk’s Office. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of some of
the operations of the other offices. Some of the problems that other people were
talking about at our monthly Clerk’s Office meetings that they were seeing in the
different offices, I didn’t have any knowledge of these issues. I literally would
leave the jury office in the morning to go pick up the jury request sheets and, on
occasion, go over to the Finance Office to drop off a voucher for a juror. I got to
know by name the people in those offices and I would say hello to them, but the
contact was limited. I did not know whether they were good workers or not
because I wasn’t familiar with their work. And, I didn’t know how complicated
or stressful their work was because I didn’t know exactly what they did.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, do you remember approximately how many people were
employed at the court in the late seventies?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I think we had about eighty.
Ms. Woodbury: When you applied to take over as the head of Jury Office were you aware
of the other people who were applying for that job?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Not specifically. I think I had heard that a couple of people from
operations were applying, but back then everything was very hush, hush as to
who put their names in and there was no public announcement. Personnel
matters were considered very private. No one talked openly about it and, you
didn’t ask questions. The organization was pretty top down and there wasn’t a
free exchange of information or ideas. At least that is how it appeared from my
perspective at that time. So as a result, information was passed along informally.
Someone would say: “I think so and so applied.”
Ms. Woodbury: You heard it through the grapevine. Nothing official.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Exactly.
Ms. Woodbury: Was it your understanding or was it a fact that the Clerk of the Court
would be making the decision?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was a policy that the Clerk would make all the hiring decisions at that
point. A few years later, he delegated hiring authority for positions that were a
Grade 9 or below.
Ms. Woodbury: Were you interviewed by… was it Jim Davey who was the Clerk of the
Court at that point?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Were you interviewed by him for this position?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes
Ms. Woodbury: And did you receive the appointment?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, I did.
Ms. Woodbury: And how long did you stay as Head of the Jury Office?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I think another four years. I think it was in all a total of about five years
in the Jury Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Where there any changes in the way that office was run or the relationship
between that office and the other offices within the court during the time you
were the head of the Jury Office?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, I’m pretty sure that there were; I have to think this out. The Jury
Commission eventually went away and its functions were absorbed by the
District Court. The jury statute had always allowed for a Jury Commission or for
the Court to take on this authority. Because we shared the pool of jurors with
Superior Court, the decision was made to have a Jury Commission. In the early
80’s, the Superior Court implemented its own jury plan to get out from under our
federal statutes. The decision was made to separate the qualification process for
each court and at that time, the jury office in our Court took on the process of
Ms. Woodbury: Were the Jury Commissioners appointed?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: By whom, do you know?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I think by the Court of Appeals because they had the appointment power
for several positions including Bankruptcy Judges. The jury statute said that if
you were going to have a Jury Commission you had to have three commissioners
and only two could be of the same political party. Kind of interesting …
Ms. Woodbury: What was your title when you were the head of the jury office?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Jury Supervisor.
Ms. Woodbury: During that period of time, were you living in Maryland?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: And you were commuting in by public transportation?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I started commuting by public transportation for the first few years that I
worked and then I car pooled with my dad, who worked at the Federal Trade
Commission which was right down the street. He had a car pool at one point of
four men and then one moved to New York and he was down to three people and
so I rode with him, because he had a parking space at the Federal Trade
Ms. Woodbury: By the time you had worked at the court for a few years did you feel like
you wanted to make a career of it?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Not really… I just wanted to learn more about it and to get more involved
in things. Right around the time that I became the Jury Supervisor I decided that
I wanted to try to get on some committees that were a part of the Clerk’s Office.
There was a Performance Awards Committee and a Training Committee. I
wanted to serve on one of those committees to learn more about that aspect of the
court and to get to know my colleagues in the Clerk’s Office. At the same time, I
was thinking that I might want to get an advanced degree at some point. Mostly
because I did miss school. I liked being in a learning environment, but I didn’t
know exactly what classes I wanted to take. I remember thinking I wanted to
learn as much about the rest of the court as I could. My parents stressed to us that
we should always be “learning and growing.” Although I hadn’t decided if I
wanted to have a career with the Court, I did want to learn as much as I could.
Not just about the operations of the Court but about how people interacted and
what made them want to make the office successful. One thing I did learn while I
was getting to know more about the operations of the Court was that I didn’t ever
want to be a Courtroom Deputy.
Ms. Woodbury: Say that again.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I didn’t ever want to be a Courtroom Deputy.
Ms. Woodbury: You said that to yourself?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. As the Jury Supervisor, I would sometimes go to the courtroom at
the request of the judge and sit in on the voir dire. This was much more likely to
occur if the trial was a notorious case; the judge might say “Do you mind hanging
around in case we have any problems?” The problems he was talking about
ranged from a juror forgetting their jury number and/or attorneys asking about the
qualification and random selection process that was used to get the jurors to
court. As I observed the courtroom procedures, I couldn’t help but notice all the
down time. I thought I couldn’t sit in a courtroom for so long with little to do. I
couldn’t do that. Some people loved it. But most of the cases were not all that
Ms. Woodbury: Right.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: And it was just like…. “No, I don’t think I want to do that.” So I didn’t
know what I wanted to do exactly, but I was kind of ruling out some of the things
I didn’t want to do.
Ms. Woodbury: Did anyone within the court encourage you to get further education, to get
a Master’s degree?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. Ultimately Jim Davey did. As I moved up in the Court, he told me
that if I ever had any thoughts about becoming Chief Deputy or Clerk of Court, I
would need an advanced degree. But at the time I was Jury Supervisor there was
a woman who was hired to do a special project, and I do not remember exactly
what the project entailed. Her name was Helene Beale and she was young,
married, and pregnant with her first child. She and I would talk regularly. I think
we both felt a little like we were outsiders. I felt that way because of my physical
location in the Clerk’s Office and Helene felt that way because the work she was
doing was not a part of the mainstream operations of the office. When I
expressed to Helene my uncertainty about my career path she would say “You
need to go back and get some more education because that’ll help you. You’ll be
able to do more and have lots more choices and that will help you decide.”
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, you said you were interested in serving on committees and
learning more about the court. I think the committees you mentioned were
performance awards and training.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. There was a performance awards committee, and there was a
Ms. Woodbury: What did the performance awards committee do?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It would recognize people who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Now this is before there was any monetary compensation. This was just an
internal thing that Jim Davey had come up with as an incentive to employees to
recognize them for all their efforts.
Ms. Woodbury: What was the training committee’s function?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The training committee was primarily trying to decide what type of
training would benefit the office. It was not on-the-job training and not
specialized training. It was more like would the office benefit from some
communication classes or stress management classes, or organizational skills
classes. That sort of thing.
Ms. Woodbury: Was that a committee that Jim Davey had also established?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Did you find your work on those committees valuable in terms of learning
about the court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, mostly because I got to interact with people I didn’t normally get to
actually sit across the table from.
Ms. Woodbury: At what point did you decide to go back to school?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was 1980, 1981 that is when I thought I had really mastered my job as
Jury Supervisor. I had been in the jury office for three years, one as the deputy
and two as the supervisor. I’d done some different things there and I liked it a
lot, but I didn’t know where I wanted to go next. I needed a new challenge and
thought that graduate school would provide this. I had done my own research
and I had talked to Jim and Helene and to some other people. For a little bit of
time I was toying with the idea of going to law school. But I thought I didn’t feel
like I had that in me. I had more of a management focus, so I thought maybe
public administration. At that point I could see myself having a government
career not necessarily at the court, but a government career. I was intrigued by
learning how to manage in an organization that didn’t make a profit. I would
have to draw on other ways to motivate people and to measure their success.
Once I decided that I was going to study public administration, I then decided
that I wanted to concentrate in human resources.
Ms. Woodbury: Human resources?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. In the public administration graduate programs I researched, you
could concentrate in budget and finance, or human resources or facilities
management. I thought that human resources sounded like something I wanted to
learn more about, and I thought that concentration was broad enough that it
would not restrict me to a career at the courthouse. At that time, there was an
institute in Denver for people interested in pursuing court management where you
could get a degree that focused entirely on court administration. But I thought
that that was too limiting. I wasn’t sure if that’s really where I wanted to be.
Ms. Woodbury: So you were looking for an educational opportunity where a position in
different governmental entities was still open?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right, or a position elsewhere in the nonprofit sector. I wanted to get
more education, and I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to end up.
Ms. Woodbury: At this point in your life, were your parents still in an influence in terms
of encouraging you to get more education or about what you wanted to do in
terms of your career?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. I mean we are very close. We were always close in my family, and
yes, we talked about that kind of thing not on a daily basis, but on a fairly regular
basis. My dad always (especially at that point in my life when we were
carpooling) would say…. “How is it going?” That was my opportunity to let him
know how I was feeling about my work at the court and what I was thinking in
the way of the future. I remember him saying this is a good opportunity since I
was single and could devote the time to more schooling. He knew I felt I had
mastered my job and he was a strong proponent of education. My mom was the
one who always told all of us that we could do whatever we set out to do so the
sky’s the limit. They were both very positive and encouraging.
Ms. Woodbury: And so, was it 1981 that you started or applied to graduate school
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I found out that I had to take the GRE, the Graduate Record Exam, in
order to get into graduate school so I had to find out how to do that. I took that
exam and then I was looking around and the two places that had public
administration degrees where it looked like their schedules would fit my schedule
were the University of Maryland – University College and the George
Washington University. As a Maryland alum, I really wanted to continue my
education there. But, what tipped the balance, even though GW was more
expensive than Maryland, was the ability to drive from work down to the campus
– GW is located a couple of miles from the courthouse – or take the subway down
there and not have to get out to College Park all the time.
Ms. Woodbury: Did GW have a program that enabled you to both study and continue with
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, I don’t think any of my class started before 4:00 p.m. It wasn’t like I
was taking them during the day. From the beginning of my time at the
courthouse they had a flexible work schedule. That was something other courts
did not have. I’m not sure if it was available in the other branches of the federal
government at that time.
Ms. Woodbury: Was the flexible schedule something that Jim Davey had started?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. He started it I think in 1976, right before I came. It was not nearly
as flexible then as it ultimately became in later years. Basically, you could begin
your day at the office at seven, seven-thirty, eight or eight-thirty, but you had to
work around certain parameters. You couldn’t start at ten because the court
opened to the public at nine. So you had to work around the core hours that the
court was open. But the starting and ending times that you worked were flexible.
There was a history at that courthouse in particular, under Jim Davey’s
predecessor, where if you were scheduled to start at, let’s say, 7:30 and you got
there at 7:35 and you would have to sign in at 8:30, and they would make you put
in a leave slip for an hour of annual leave. But, you still had to start working
right away at 7:35 so that those 55 minutes you were working were really a gift to
the government since you were putting in an hour’s worth of leave. It might have
been more tolerable for the employees if you got to sign in at 8:00 and only put in
a leave slip for thirty minutes but you were forced to take an hour of annual leave
because you were not allowed to use half hour increments. As you can imagine,
employees started to rebel against the unfairness and would say “If I have to put
in an hour of leave, I’m going down to the cafeteria and have my coffee and a
cigarette.” The result of this was the office was short staffed in the mornings
which were always our busiest times. The underlying problem was that one of
the main reasons people were late was due to traffic problems. As you know, the
Courthouse is located at 3rd and Constitution Avenues, right in the heart of D.C..
Traffic was very unpredictable and very heavy, especially in the mornings.
Employees were constantly worried when they got stuck in traffic. When Jim
Davey came on board he said he wanted to try a new system that would provide
some flexibility to the beginning and ending of the day. Basically he said that if
you are scheduled to begin work at 7:30 but you don’t get here one day until
twenty of eight, you can do whatever you want until 8:00. At 8:00 you would
sign in but then you would need to stay a half hour later that day to make up the
thirty minutes you were missing. That was the first attempt at flexibility. Shortly
after this was introduced, the flexibility was broadened to allow you the
opportunity to make up time you were missing any time during the pay period.
When I had to leave for a four o’clock class I could start work at 7:00 and make
up the time. So I didn’t have to put in for leave to go to take my class, and that
was huge benefit.
Ms. Woodbury: At that point did the court or any of the federal government agencies
subsidize people’s continuing education or have any kind of grant program?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. There’s an agency called the Federal Judicial Center. They are the
training and education branch of the courts, and they would reimburse you up to,
I think, $200 if you wanted to take a class. But the class had to be work related.
You had to show job benefits and you had to write an evaluation of the class.
You could not take classes for the sole intent of obtaining a degree. So if I took a
class that was not specifically work related, they wouldn’t pay for that class.
When I took my first class, Introduction to Public Administration, they wouldn’t
pay for that.
Ms. Woodbury: It was required for your degree but they didn’t think it was work related?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: They couldn’t make an association between that and the work I was doing
in the Jury Office. But then some of the other general classes, like developing
presentation skills, working in the public sector; those would be okay because I
doing presentations in the Jury Office and of course I worked in the public sector.
Jim was helpful about wording the request for reimbursement so that the Federal
Judicial Center would see the connection and would approve it. But it had to be
work related. It was much easier to make the connection that most of my classes
were work related when I took my next position as Supervisor of Administrative
Services. In that position I was responsible for finance, records management,
jury, and property and procurement and court reporters. My work wasn’t as
narrowly focused in this position as it had been in the Jury Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, how did you find graduate school and how did you find time to
both work full time and be a graduate student too?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well initially I was still working in the Jury Office where as I said I was
pretty comfortable with what I was doing, and I was looking for an outlet to
expand my horizons and to learn more. That’s what graduate school provided for
me. It let me step back away from the nitty gritty of what I did on a daily basis,
and start looking at an office as a part of a larger organization. That was very
interesting to me and so it really was not very difficult to keep up with the work
load. I only took one or two classes a semester because it was very expensive
and when I did receive financial assistance from the Federal Judicial Center, it
only covered one third of the tuition. I was responsible for the rest. At this point
in time, I was living in an apartment and had a car and had other expenses so, I
didn’t have the luxury financially to take more than two classes at a time. At
around this time, Jim Davey decided to reorganize the court and I applied for the
position of Supervisor of Administrative Services.
Ms. Woodbury: When did he decide to reorganize the court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was probably in 1981. Jim was always very well connected with other
District Courts throughout the country. He had a really good network with other
Clerks of Courts. He also had more of a management background and I think he
could see that a lot of his time was spent working with five or six different
supervisors in fairly small offices. This was not the best use of his time. So I
think he looked around and found out that some courts had started organizing
what they would consider the non-operations, administrative aspects of the court
into a single area. This was also the time that technology was being introduced in
the courts. As an aside, our courthouse housed all of what they called the
mainframe computers that supported the entire courthouse system of the country.
We leased space in our court to the Administrative Office and they managed the
mainframe computer system. On a daily basis, each court would input data about
the numbers of cases they had filed, the types of cases and party information.
The courts would use the telephone systems to transmit the data to these
mainframe computers located in our court. Jim could see that the IT world was
going to start growing down the road and that it would be another fairly
significant draw on his time. So the decision was made to reorganize the Clerk’s
Office and put together a plan to incorporate all of those administrative, nonoperational offices under the control of a newly created position, Supervisor of
Ms. Woodbury: Was this just Jim Davey or were there others involved?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Jim was the mastermind but he had the assistance of his chief deputy,
Herb Haller. So they worked together and I think they talked to the
Administrative Office about it too. Jim was always very well prepared when he
was going to pitch his case. He would do his research and he knew how the
courts in New York and Los Angeles managed their workload. He would say
“We don’t have the volume of cases they have but certainly we have a bigger
variety of complex cases and different types of administrative activities.”
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, just to go back a bit. When you were the head of the Jury Office,
did you have any contact with the other district courts in the United States about
how they ran parallel offices?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: And what was the source of your contacts? How did you have those
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The Federal Judicial Center would hold annual or bi-annual meetings of
clerks’ office staff who held similar positions. As a result, they had a jury
conference once a year. Going to those conferences was where I met other jury
administrators from across the country. It was interesting because you ended up
gravitating to the ones who were trying to resolve issues that our jury office faced
on a regular basis, those courts who were dealing with similar challenges. After a
few years of attending these meeting, I was selected to serve on the Jury
Committee, the national Jury Committee that was sponsored by the Federal
Judicial Center. One of the goals of the Committee was to write a jury manual
that could be used by all courts because at that point each court was developing
their own procedures.
Ms. Woodbury: Procedures for the jury offices?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. And also tips for handling certain situations because we found
when we got together at the annual meetings, there were some problems in South
Carolina that were similar to problems that the court in Chicago was
experiencing. Those particular issues centered about the postal system. The post
office had certain requirements that affected the delivery of jury summonses but
there was not a uniform means of communicating that information to the courts.
By working with jury staff from other courts, the Committee could figure out
ways to reduce postage costs or streamline the delivery of jury mail for all the
courts. The annual meetings afforded us the opportunity to share ideas and
effective management procedures and the Jury Committee would document these
ideas so that all courts could benefit from the information. I remember at one
meeting a jury administrator told me that their local post office would send them,
on a monthly basis, all the magazines that had been returned to them because of
bad addresses and thing such as that. The court did not have a budget for
magazines for jurors so having the post office donate to the court new magazines
that would normally have been discarded was a big benefit for the jurors. When
we had called our local post office, they said “No we don’t do that. It does not
belong to you and were not giving them to you.” We were able to get the post
office branch that was making the donations to the other court to call our local
post office branch and work out the same arrangement for our jurors. That was
just one of the many benefits of the annual meetings.
Ms. Woodbury: Things that you wouldn’t find out about unless somebody else had the
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. The Federal Judicial Center was responsible for facilitating the
meetings as part of their focus on training and education. The Administrative
Office had more of narrow focus. They were primarily concerned with making
sure each court followed the jury statutes. I loved my jury job. That was my
favorite job at the courthouse because you dealt with the public every day and
they were so appreciative of everything you did. I would bring in treats
sometimes or release them a little early for lunch so they could get ahead of the
crowd in the cafeteria and they couldn’t thank me enough. Even just providing
information, something so basic, made them feel like we cared about them and
their service. The jurors would be sitting in the assembly room for a while, and
then I would go out and say: “I don’t have any updates on this particular case, but
I do want you to know that this judge usually breaks early for lunch so I will
probably release you around 11:30.” The jurors would let me know that they
appreciated being updated with any information available. They didn’t want to
sit for long periods of time with no contact. It made them feel as if we had
forgotten they were there. Of course we didn’t forget about them; but we
couldn’t tell them about the case. But we could tell them that we still knew they
were there and that we really appreciated what they’re doing. Or I would say: “I
just talked to the courtroom deputy and they’re saying it is going to be another
hour before they need you, so if anybody would like to leave and go outside it’s a
beautiful day, as long as you’re back here in 45 minutes, that’s fine”. And they
would say “really?” It didn’t take much to make them feel included, just little
things like that.
Ms. Woodbury: Did you ever get any suggestions from people serving in the jury pool on
things you could do to make the experience better for them?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. We had an exit questionnaire that we gave to all the jurors at the end
of their service and, on average about 30% would fill it out. Most jurors were
very complimentary, they would write in that we did a great job. One juror made
a specific suggestion that helped fill the time spent waiting and accomplished a
good deed as well. She wrote “Wouldn’t it be nice if for during all the down time
we could work on something. I would be willing to donate scraps of material,
stuffing and patterns that jurors could sew together to make some soft dolls for
Children’s Hospital or some little stuffed animals.” We followed up with her and
she did as she suggested and donated all the materials. When we did our
orientation, we would hold up some examples of the work of previous jurors –
showing an elephant or small cloth doll – and tell the jurors that if anyone was
interested in helping out, they could work on this project. We never failed to get
a few people interested and Children’s Hospital appreciated the gifts. The jurors
asked if we could have a telephone for them, because they weren’t allowed to use
our phones. They asked for an outside line so they could make calls as needed.
We did this after making sure to have a line installed that wouldn’t allow long
distance calls. This was before cell phones and jurors needed to keep in touch
with their families or jobs. The phone line was a big hit. It was always nice to
implement an idea that a juror suggested. After all, they were the ones who knew
best what would make their jury service more manageable.
Ms. Woodbury: Little things that improved their experience?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. They were the ones who were having the experience, so they were
in a position to tell you what was needed. I got the first distinguished service
award from the Director of the Administrative Office for the work I did
improving the experience and morale of grand jurors.
Ms. Woodbury: Oh really?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I was just thinking about this now. With the petit jurors, I was in more of
a position to help improve their term of service. But with the grand jurors, it was
different. They would report for service and we would do an orientation. Then
we would send them to the courtroom of the Chief Judge who would meet with
them in go into more depth about the nature of the role they would fill as grand
jurors. Then they would be sworn in and the Chief Judge would appoint a
foreperson and deputy foreperson. After this, the jurors would be turned over to
the United States Attorney’s Office where an assistant U.S. Attorney would take
charge of their service. Grand jurors usually met once to twice a week for several
months. Shortly after I became the jury supervisor, our office started receiving
complaints from grand jurors because they were spending a lot of time at the
courthouse waiting for testimony to be presented to them. Too often they would
report in the morning for service and then, they would sit in the grand jury room
and wait and wait. Eventually, somebody would come in and say “Okay you can
go to lunch.” Sometimes they would spend the whole day waiting without
anything being presented to them. In the exit questionnaires we received from
the grand jurors, the number one complaint was that they spent far too much time
doing nothing. As a result the majority said they really disliked having to serve
on a grand jury and that they would never want to serve again. I thought that was
such a black mark on the court because it was completely out of our hands and in
the hands of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office. So I talked to Jim Davey, and then Jim
and I talked to the Chief about it. I told him: “I think that if we had better
communication with the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, it would make the experience so
much better for the jurors. Chief Judge Robinson said “Absolutely. Look into
it.” So I came up with some ideas for improving the grand jurors’ experiences.
We started tracking their utilization rates. We would track not only the hours
they were at the courthouse but also the hours that were spent actually listening to
testimony. It was incredibly eye opening. Out of the six hours they were at the
courthouse, they only spent, on average, one hour engaged in their
responsibilities as grand jurors. When I started meeting with some of the
attorneys who were in charge of the various grand jury investigations, their first
reactions were, “This is none of your business… the grand jury proceeding is
secret. There are all these reasons why you shouldn’t be talking to the grand
jurors.” I wasn’t discussing anything about the nature of the investigations, I
was just tracking hours of service and collecting comments that grand jurors
made relative to the way they felt they were being treated. I tried to explain this
to the attorneys but they were not interested in my data. I knew the three people
in the U.S. Attorney’s Office who were the liaisons to the three major divisions in
the grand jury section. The three divisions were major crimes, fraud and the
street crimes section. From them I learned that several of the attorneys who
handled grand jury investigations were very arrogant and treated not only the
jurors poorly but they treated everyone poorly. One attorney in particular
regularly requested that the grand jurors report for service at 9:00 a.m. while he
regularly arrived for work at 11:00 a.m. With the help of the three liaisons and
the reports I had compiled on the actual utilization of the jurors and the comments
on the exit questionnaires, I went back to Chief Judge Robinson. He was visibly
angry at how poorly the grand jurors were being treated and he said he would set
up a meeting with me and Stan Harris who was, at that time, the United States
Attorney. It was a little intimidating meeting with the U.S. Attorney, but I met
with him, gave him the background on how this report came about and then gave
him a summary of our findings. We had kept records for the last year and on
average the grand jurors were being used less than 20% of the time. In some
cases the poor utilization could be attributed to the bad habits of a specific
assistant U.S. attorney; in other cases it was just across the board in that section.
I shared the jury comments that reflected how much they hated their time serving
on the grand jury and how they said they weren’t treated very well and that they
were spoken down to. Stan Harris was very quiet for a few minutes and then he
said: “What the hell’s going on here these days?” I told him that I wasn’t sure but
that I thought we could do some things to improve the experience of the jurors.
He promised that he would speak with all the assistants in charge of grand juries
and let them know they had better make changes or they wouldn’t be working
with grand jurors anymore. He called Chief Judge Robinson while I was there
and apologized for the situation and said there were going to be some major
changes. Stan Harris did exactly what he said he would do and the utilization of
the grand jurors improved. Stan Harris eventually became a judge on our court
and we ended up being good friends. He was the son of Bucky Harris a wellknown and long-time manager of the Washington Senators baseball team. I love
baseball so we had some good talks where he shared some great stories about his
dad. We had a little rocky beginning but I was glad he was the U.S. Attorney
when we had the problems with the utilization of the grand jurors. I might not
have been as successful with another U.S. Attorney.
Ms. Woodbury: Was this all under the office or control of the U.S. Attorneys?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, do you know if that was true in the other district courts as well?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It varied. In every court the U.S. Attorney’s Office oversees the grand
juries. In some courts, there is some overlap between the U.S. Attorney’s Office
and the court, especially, as is the case in our Court, where the grand jury
sessions are held at the courthouse. In other courts, the grand jury sessions are
held at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and thus the court’s jury office has no contact
with the jurors once they are impaneled. If our grand jury sessions had not been
held at the courthouse, we would not have received the verbal complaints of the
grand jurors relative to their service. That got the ball rolling and we followed up
on the complaints. Ultimately, our work on improving the utilization of grand
jurors resulted in the judiciary saving a lot of money and even better, it improved
the experience of our grand jurors who felt they were valued when they were
utilized better and treated better. Our system for tracking grand juror utilization
was adopted by the Administrative Office and sent out to all the courts. Chief
Judge Robinson and I did workshops for other courts. It was interesting working
with the Chief who was known as a “no nonsense” Chief and someone who
wasn’t shy about expressing his views. At the workshops, sometimes a Chief
Judge from another court would say “If I told my U.S. Attorney that he couldn’t
have a grand jury if he didn’t use them properly, he’d indict me.” To which Chief
Judge Robinson would reply, “Well then you’ve got bigger problems than this.” It
was important that he was there to talk to the Chief Judges who came to our
sessions because they would listen to him – he was great at getting his point
across. But by far the biggest reaction from the courts who attended the
workshops was the fact that they had never even looked at the grand jury system
and the utilization of the jurors. It was a very interesting project. I learned a lot
and I ended up getting an award for my work.
Ms. Woodbury: For your work on this?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, for my work on improving grand jury utilization. Many courts made
modifications to their grand jury systems. Up to this point the grand jury was just
off to the side and nobody paid any attention to them. But when they started
looking into them, courts realized they could do some things differently. We were
constantly trying to improve the utilization of petit jurors. But grand jurors had
never really been studied. Speaking of petit jury utilization, our statistics would
be good until we got a high profile or notoriety case. We would be doing a good
job making sure that we were utilizing our trial jurors efficiently and then we
would get a John Hinkley case…. actually that’s not a good example because
Judge Parker did a really good job of jury utilization in that selection. We would
get an Abscam case or a Marion Barry case and our statistics would go through
the roof. You bring all these potential jurors in for selection and they sit for
hours and hours and only half of the jurors would be needed to select the panel.
But, because you brought in a large number and you have to pay them for their
service it impacts your court’s utilization statistics.
Ms. Woodbury: When you said you get charged with those statistics, you mean jurors who
are called for those big pools go into your general jury utilization statistics?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. We had a monthly figure that we had to report to the Administrative
Office that showed our jury utilization index. The goal was to keep it around
33%. We were always a little over 50%.
Ms. Woodbury: Explain what that statistic was. What numbers were used to determine the
jury utilization statistic?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Every time we brought in a panel of jurors for selection in a civil or
criminal case, we had to fill out a form that showed what happened to each juror.
The form was divided into three main categories. These categories were jurors
selected on a panel, jurors who were not selected because of a peremptory
challenge or challenge for cause and jurors who were not used either because they
were a part of a panel that went into a courtroom for selection but the jury was
selected before their name was reached or because the entire panel was not used
due to a last minute plea or settlement. The jury utilization index was focused on
this last group. The percentage of jurors who reported for service but were not
actually used. The lower this number was the better the utilization rate.
Actually, the stat should have been called the jury non-utilization index.
Ms. Woodbury: Okay.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: To keep this number to a minimum required good communication
between the jury staff and the courtroom deputies. It also meant we had to pool
our jurors. We couldn’t bring in all the jurors the judges requested. I could talk
about jury utilization for hours. We had to develop a formula that allowed us to
bring in enough jurors to select a jury for each case that was scheduled but
contemplated staggering the selections throughout the morning. For example, if
we had four criminal cases scheduled on one day and each case required a panel
of 30 from which to select a 14 member jury, we would not bring in 120 jurors.
Instead, we would bring in 80 jurors and this would allow two panels to be
selected at a time. We would send 30 jurors to Judge A and another 30 jurors to
Judge B. After both judges make their selections they would each return 16
jurors to us for a total of 32 returned jurors. Since we had 80 jurors in our
original pool and we sent 60 to courtrooms for selection, this meant we had 20
jurors available who were waiting in the jury assembly room for an overall total
of 56 jurors. We would then send 30 to Judge C and after selection was
completed, 16 jurors would be returned to us. Judge D would get their panel of
jurors from these 16 and the 26 who were still available in the jury assembly
room. We had to tinker with the formula from time to time especially if all the
cases scheduled for selection were criminal cases because sometimes a juror
would be excused from a criminal case and the judge would tell us not to send
them in for selection in any subsequent criminal case due to the nature of their
circumstances. Since the success of the formula depended on our ability to
“recycle” jurors, we had to allow for the possibility that a percentage of jurors
might not be able to be “recycled” and plan accordingly.
Ms. Woodbury: Kind of a rule of thumb you developed for using the people who are
called to be on juries?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. Our utilization statistics were usually better on days where there
were multiple selections. If you had a day where only one jury was scheduled for
selection and for some reason the case did not go forward, then the not used
statistic was 100%. That number really impacts your monthly utilization rate
which as I mentioned earlier is really the non-utilization rate. We did everything
we could to prevent jurors from reporting unnecessarily but it had to be a joint
effort. The courtroom deputy needed to stay in close contact with the attorneys
on the case to make sure that if a plea or settlement was being discussed the court
would get timely notification in order to call off a jury panel. We had a local rule
for civil cases that required attorneys to notify the court 24 hours before jury
selection if the case had settled. If they failed to notify us, they could be assessed
the cost of bringing in the jury panel. Once I left the Jury Office and went to my
new position, it was still under my jurisdiction so I still stayed involved.
Ms. Woodbury: You still were responsible?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. Last minute cancellations of jury panel selections were a
contributing factor to poor utilization of jurors but another major factor was the
number of notorious or high profile cases we had in our court. The two main
problems with these cases were the large number of jurors that judges wanted to
be available for the pool and the fact that most high profile cases took multiple
days to select. We kept detailed statistics on our high profile cases because we
had so many of them. Most of the judges, when we reviewed the stats with them,
reduced the number of jurors they wanted for jury selection. We also were
successful in getting judges to reduce the number of jurors they would bring in on
a daily basis. If a judge felt they needed 250 jurors to be in the jury pool for
selection, we would recommend that they bring in 50 a day until they had enough
of a panel to begin seating the jury. In most cases, they would arrive at the
number they needed to impanel the jury after two or three days and thus we
would have only needed 100 to 150 jurors at 50 jurors per day instead of the 250
they had originally requested. This saved jury costs and prevented jurors from
reporting unnecessarily. Where we would often run into problems was when we
had a new judge or a judge that was experiencing their first really big trial. So
often, they were so concerned about all the details of the case and the magnitude
of the proceedings that they didn’t want to worry about jury utilization.
Ms. Woodbury: So a little bit of this is educating new judges?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: To what it takes to meet their needs?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes and to recognize that the court as a whole had made a decision to
commit to better utilization of jurors, so each judge needed to do their part.
Fortunately, our court had an established Jury Committee that I could go to when
I needed some help persuading a judge to follow the formula or the practices of
the court. Sometimes, it takes a judge to tell another judge that they are out of
Ms. Woodbury: What was this Jury Committee that you just referred to?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Our court had several standing committees that worked to help the Chief
Judge manage some of the policy areas of court management. We had a Local
Rules Committee, a Criminal Justice Act Committee and a Calendar Committee,
to name a few. When I first came to the courts, every district court had to have a
Jury Committee. This was due to the fact that the GAO did a study in the mid
70’s about the jury system and found several areas that needed improvement. So
they had already kind of…
Ms. Woodbury: Laid the ground work…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right, laid the ground work. Our Jury Committee helped to develop the
formula we used for the number of juror we would bring in for multiple selection
days and would help educate the judges as to the reasoning behind the formula.
The Committee would review the summaries of the exit questionnaires and look
to specific suggestions that jurors made as to how to streamline jury selections
and how to make service on a jury more meaningful for jurors. The Committee
would look at the practices of individual judges and ask them to share effective
strategies for good utilization of jurors. We would propose things to the
Committee based on our experience and we would discuss the possible
implementation. For example, if a judge had a civil or criminal selection
scheduled but was aware that there was a good possibility that the case would
settle or enter a plea, we wanted to put the potential jurors on standby for
selection. This meant that we would notify the jurors that they might be needed
the following day for selection and that they should call the recorded message the
following morning and, if they were needed, they should be available to report
within an hour of calling the recording. We wanted to take advantage of the fact
that most of our jurors lived or worked within an hour of the courthouse. If a plea
or settlement occurred late at night or early in the morning, we could notify the
panel in the morning not to come in thus saving them the unnecessary travel to
the court and save the Court the expense of bring the jurors in. On the occasion
where we had such a case and the judge involved was not willing to be a team
player I would go to the Committee.
Ms. Woodbury: Like going to the principal office? Who was on the Jury Committee; was
that judges or…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, three judges and me.
Ms. Woodbury: And this was when you were the head of the Jury Office or…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Okay.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: To this day there’s a Jury Committee at the court, even though we are no
longer required to have one. When the committees were first formed, a circuit
judge was required to serve on the committee and report back to the circuit on the
activities of the committee. Our circuit representative was Judge Ken Starr. He
was very nice and very attentive but he would always say that he didn’t have any
idea about juries and did not think we needed a circuit representative on a
committee that was so clearly focused on matters relating to the district court.
The requirement to have a jury committee was lifted at some point but our court
has chosen to continue to have the committee but without any circuit
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, you said that at some point you went from being the head of the
Jury Office to head of the Administrative Services
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Was that your title?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: My title was Administrative Services Supervisor.
Ms. Woodbury: What year was that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: ‘82
Ms. Woodbury: And so you went directly from being the head of the Jury Office to that
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right.
Ms. Woodbury: In that position which of departments or operations were you responsible
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I was responsible for the Records Office, the Finance Office, the Property
and Procurement Office, the Court Reporters and Court Interpreters, and I was
the GSA liaison for facility maintenance. I’m trying to think…
Ms. Woodbury: And the jury office was part of that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The Jury Office also, right.
Ms. Woodbury: At the time you took over this position, had you any experience with these
other divisions or departments that you were now responsible for?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No, other than interacting with the Finance Office because they processed
our jury vouchers, I did not have any other experience. When Jim Davey
advertised the position, he made it a requirement that the person who was the
successful candidate would have had expertise in one of the areas. Hopefully
more than one, but at least one area.
Ms. Woodbury: Were you aware of other people who also applied for that position?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Oh yes. The woman who was the head of our Finance Office who was a
pretty good friend of mine, she was also applying for the position.
Ms. Woodbury: Were there any people outside the court who were applying for the
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No. They made it an internal applicant pool only.
Ms. Woodbury: Internal?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, the reasoning behind keeping the position internal was because we
did not have a new position available. Because the applicants needed to have
expertise in at least one of the areas that made up the new division, it was
contemplated that the selection would be internal. Once a selection was made,
then a decision would be made as to converting the vacated position to the new
position or requesting a new position from the Administrative Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, at the time you took over this new role, were you still going to
school to get your graduate degree?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Did you continue with school when you took your new position or did
you take a break?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I ended up taking a break. It was going to take me a bit of time to learn
all my new responsibilities. One of the ways I was learning about the new job
was by visiting other courts around the country so I could see what they were
doing and hopefully take some “best practices” back to our court. So I was
traveling a lot and that made it difficult to continue to take classes.
Ms. Woodbury: Had other courts around the country consolidated responsibility in a
position similar to the one you were then assuming?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes a few courts had done this. But, I was also visiting courts to see how
their records office was handled because we did not have a very good records
section. This part of the office had consistently performed poorly for a variety of
reasons. The main reason had to do with some of the personnel in the office.
When I took over, there were so many stories, so many skeletons hidden in
closet. I will tell you a little bit about what it was like. When I was selected for
the position, I went down to the office to be officially introduced to the staff in
the records section. Prior to this, I had very little interaction with the office but I
remembered some of the people from my days at the Washington Law Reporter.
When I worked for Tthe Law Reporter, I would occasionally go to the records
section to get case information. I usually dealt with the supervisor, Annabelle
Dickens, an elderly woman who was so kind and sweet, but she had a crew of
people who worked for her that were unbelievable. So there I am several years
later in the records section being introduced to the staff. Jim Davey introduced
me and said “This is Nancy. She is going to be the new supervisor of
Administrative Services. She won’t be moving down from the jury office for a
few weeks while we get her new office ready. If you need to get in touch with
her call her on her jury office line.” At that point one of the staff members named
Fred Juggins said, “What the hell do I want her number for? She doesn’t know
anything about what we do. Why would I need to ask her anything?” It was not
a great start to my new job. Fred did this in front of everyone and the whole
room got so quiet. Fred had a long history of being a malcontent. He didn’t like
Jim Davey and he was not shy about letting everyone know that. He was mad
because when Jim first started working for the court he had the job of assessing
the various offices and making suggestions for improvement. In addition, Jim
was asked to assess the way staff was being used to see if there were any
practices that should be modified or eliminated. At that time, Fred and several of
his friends used to play pinochle for a couple of hours every afternoon down in
the basement of the court. This tradition had been going on for several years.
When Jim found out about it, he recommended that the card playing stop. When
Jim told them they couldn’t do that anymore, Fred never forgave him. He
basically blamed Jim for ruining his times with his friends. He never got over it
and he was a thorn in Jim’s side the whole time. The records section had another
character, Noah Sheppardson, who like Fred, had been working there for some
time and so I knew of him from my time at The Law Reporter. I would watch the
same thing happen, over and over, when someone would ask for a file. You see
Noah did not like to look for things, so routinely he’d come back and say “It’s not
here.” The person who asked for the file would say: “I know that the judge just
said that he brought it down here” and Noah would say: “I’m telling you it’s not
here.” The person asking for the file would say: “I don’t think you understand
but I really need it.” And then Noah would often say: “Do you want to settle this
outside in the hallway?” I remember the first time I heard him say this, I was
thinking, I better get out of here, this situation is getting out of hand. But then
Annabelle would come around the corner and tell Noah to get back to work and
then she would find the file. It was like a reality TV show only it wasn’t TV.
They had a collection of characters in the records section. They inherited some of
the staff from a few judges’ chambers. When a judge died and they had a bailiff
on their staff, generally the judge who replaced them did not want to keep the
former judge’s bailiff on their new staff. So the records section was where
people who used to be bailiffs to judges, wound up.
Ms. Woodbury: Sounds like it would be a challenge to figure out how to move that
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. In addition to the personnel issues, there were a lot of procedural
issues as well. At that time, the file room would file pleadings by turning the file
jacket over and putting the newest pleadings in the back of the file. This way,
when you opened up the case file it started with the complaint right on top and
the most recent pleadings in the back. When I traveled to another court, they said
that they had reversed this procedure and took the front cover off of the file jacket
and placed the most current pleading in the front. They had found that most
people who were requesting to look at files were most interested in the most
recent pleadings in the case. In addition, when staff from the records section
were filing pleadings in a case jacket, under the system we used, you were more
likely to file the pleading in the wrong jacket as you were not looking at the front
of the other pleadings in the case where the case number is easily available. This
was a way to prevent papers being misfiled. There were many things about the
files room that were antiquated because things had been done a certain way for a
long time and they didn’t want to change.
Ms. Woodbury: And at that time, had there been any movement toward introducing
technology in the records department?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No. There had been no movement in that direction at all. It was a little
early for that.
Ms. Woodbury: Right.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: There were a few good people in the records office such as Annabelle,
Stanley Johnson and George Williams. George was a character but in a very
good way. He was one of my favorite people in the records office. He was a
former bailiff who ran his own dry cleaning business on the side. He took care of
all of the judge’s dry cleaning. He was a very nice man. He would come to me
regularly at the end of the day and say you “Now don’t you worry about Fred.
He’s mad at the world and you just happen to be in his world.” My move to
administrative services was quite an eye opening experience. We were beginning
to look outside of our own world at what other courts were doing. Everywhere I
looked there was some room for improvement. Other than the Finance Office,
there was a lot of work to be done.
Ms. Woodbury: And over how many years did you stay as Supervisor of Administrative
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Ultimately I was there from ’82 to ’84 and then the Chief Deputy, who
was not real effective, left and Jim decided to create a position of Executive
Assistant. He had two Executive Assistants, and I became one of those.
Ms. Woodbury: When you look back on it where there changes that you were successful
in making in all of these departments?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. You would learn that you would get a good idea from another court,
and then you sit down and discuss it with your staff. Some people would always
say that a new idea would never work in our court. But there was always a
person or two who would be willing to try and that made everything worthwhile.