Nancy Mayer Whittington Fourth Interview: March 3, 2011Catherine Nugent2022-05-03T11:51:40-04:00
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Nancy Mayer-Whittington Oral History
Interview Session IV
March 3, 2011
Ms. Woodbury: Good morning Nancy. Today is Thursday, March 3, 2011. This is the
continued interview of Nancy Mayer-Whittington. When we concluded our last
interview session, we were talking about the work Nancy did once she was
appointed Supervisor of Administrative Services to the District Court in 1982.
She mentioned that in that position she was responsible for the Records Office,
court reporters, finance and administrative services as well as for the Jury Office.
At the end of the interview Nancy was discussing her experiences with the
Records Office and some of the challenges of making changes in that office and
the way the office had been run historically. This morning I would like Nancy to
pick up and talk about the other divisions that she was responsible for in 1982
and what changes were made in the operations of those divisions while she was
Supervisor of Administrative Services and maybe we can begin with court
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: At this time court reporters, in addition to me having oversight over them,
had a court reporter supervisor who was someone who was a court reporter
herself and also had some management responsibilities for making sure that the
court reporters filed their transcripts timely and that they were charging
accurately for their transcripts and other things like that.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, was the court reporter supervisor appointed by the Clerk of the
Court or by someone else?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: At that time, it was more likely by the Chief Judge. Court reporters were,
and still are, kind of a hybrid type of employee in that they make money outside
of their pay check by selling their transcripts so that they have some type of
contractual relationship with attorneys and litigants. At the same time they are
paid a federal salary and get federal benefits, but they need to procure their own
equipment. They were responsible for all their own training. This was the
beginning of efforts to make the court reporters more a part of the courthouse
where they had some unity and some governing structure. This was happening
nationwide. This was not something that happened only in our courthouse. The
courts were encouraged to put together a court reporter management plan that
was supposed to address all of the issues from following the statutory regulations
for transcript fees to pooling court reporters so that there would not be a one-onone relationship between a court reporter and a judge. Court reporters are “a
different breed of cat” is what one of our judges was quoted as saying because of
the hybrid nature and because it takes an unusual person to be able to sit in a
courtroom hour after hour and take a verbatim record. We were also at this point
going through other changes in how court reporters operated. We had court
reporters that did reporting through the spoken word in that they repeated
everything that was said to them in the courtroom and they went back in the
evening and transcribed the record they had made. We also had steno reporters
who took the record using steno machines and then used those steno records to
reproduce the transcripts. It was getting to the point where the voice technology
was outdated and in fact some judges were starting to complain about the
distraction of having a court reporter speaking while they were on the bench as
opposed to having the record taken through the steno machine. The court
reporting world was changing at the time that I became involved in it, but it was
being managed by very old school court reporters that had a very unusual
relationship with judges. Some of the judges considered them personal staff and
other judges treated them more as just an employee as opposed to a personal staff
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, at that time, who was responsible for hiring court reporters for the
court? Who decided who could be a court reporter?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well we had a court reporter supervisor. Her name was Dawn Copeland.
And she had the responsibility of hiring new court reporters. She reported to the
Chief Judge. In fact, at that time she was the Chief Judge’s court reporter. The
Chief Judge at that time was Aubrey Robinson. And so she primarily had that
responsibility. She usually had a committee of other court reporters to work with
her because you had to go through a series of tests in order to determine your
eligibility to be a court reporter in addition to filing a certificate that you were a
certified court reporter. They would set up a simulated courtroom experience and
have you transcribe; and they would compare the mistakes that you’d made and
the time it took you to do it, in order to determine whether you were qualified to
be a court reporter. But again, it was considered kind of a long arm of the court,
but most judges didn’t understand how they did their steno and they really only
were concerned about the finished product, so they didn’t really get too involved
in court reporters. We had over the years a lot of issues with court reporters that
somewhat came from the nature of their job and others from the types of people
that we ended up hiring as court reporters.
Ms. Woodbury: What kind of issues arose?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well, we were supposed to be pooling court reporters so that a court
reporter should be able to move from one judge to another in the event that we
had a need for that. And we had court reporters who didn’t like to do that and so
they would talk their judges into saying that they were busy when they were
called to help out another judge. And some of our older judges, because they
were very attached to their court reporters, complied with those requests. As a
result, when we got newer judges on board they ended up having to use the newer
court reporters who didn’t have as much experience as some of our senior
reporters. And the newer judges could have benefited from sometimes having a
senior court reporter come in and either train or help out. It didn’t really work
out that way. It was much more competitive among court reporters than it was
collegial. As a result, it was determined after judges took senior status they
couldn’t keep their court reporter with them anymore, which was huge. Judges
kept court reporters until they died unfortunately. And so there was a lot of
resistance on the part of judges about certain changes with the court reporters.
This was at a time when they were looking at the budget and court reporting was
pretty expensive. To keep a full-time court reporter with a senior judge was not
beneficial to anybody, when the judges had reduced their case load and reduced
their time in court. So we were looking at changes in things that had been
considered sacred for years because the budget had never been scrutinized. All of
a sudden these practices were being scrutinized and court reporters were blaming
the scrutinizers — me and other clerks and the management types, rather than the
fact the Judicial Conference had dictated these changes. Our Court Reporter
Management Plan required that we pool our court reporters, but we did not pool
our court reporters. There was the belief among some of our court reporters that
they were doing fine with reporters working one-on-one with a judge and you had
to really go beg a judge to let their court reporter be freed up to help out another
judge. So it was the beginning of changes in administration for court reporters.
We were also just starting to hear about real time court reporting and that
was a specialized skill that all of our court reporters were telling judges they
would never have any need for, and they didn’t have to worry about something
like that. At the same time the courts were also experimenting with electronic
sound recorder operator positions where the record for the court was being taken
by tapes and then transcribed by a qualified transcriber. The idea that the judge
would be able to have that tape in place of a court reporter was something that
some courts were experimenting with and court reporters were up in arms about
that, about how awful that would be. They would say to the judge: “Judge what
you are going to do when someone asks for the question to be reread? Are the
machines are going to bake you brownies, or tell you what’s going on in the
hallways?” That sort of thing. We had a judge from who came in and talked to
our judges about the advent of electronic court reporting. When of our judges
said to him: “Alright this sounds good, but it also sounds like it’s not as good as
a human person transcribing the proceedings. You don’t have this, you don’t
have that. So what was the bottom line? Why did you really decide to go this
way?” The Judge said: “Because the machine doesn’t drink.” And so the judges
were all like “Wow”. And I know that when the Judge said that, his choice for
the court reporter for him was a choice between an alcoholic and a liar. That was
his choice. I think he said he went with an alcoholic because he at least knew
why he was lying.
Ms. Woodbury: Who made the decision and when was it made to start using real-time
court reporting or electronic sound reporting in the D.C. District Court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was kind of a confluence of things that brought that about. One was
that Judge Hogan, who was always very forward thinking, volunteered to pilot
the first electronic courtroom in federal court. And part of that was having the
ability to take the record electronically. Then as we were getting newer judges,
younger judges and judges who had not only an interest in technology but had
had some experience with it and found that it had been beneficial. They were
open to it as well. However, the first generation of electronic record taking was
not very good and ultimately most of courts concluded that there were things that
lend themselves to electronic sound recording and certain things that did not.
And in many cases, trials do, but not but the work of the magistrate judges. They
all use electronic sound operators and that was the first place that they were used
on a regular basis because they used more machines in the courtroom anyway,
and I thought it was a step up when they got better electronic sound recording
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when did Judge Hogan volunteer to pilot the first electronic
courtroom? Do you remember?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. It was like in the mid-80s.
Ms. Woodbury: So it started fairly early?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. Very early. He liked machines and he was curious about personal
computers and their capabilities. To this day, he likes the iPhone and piloted the
Blackberries because he always saw them as a challenge to learn and that it could
help him. Or he could at least decide that they couldn’t help him and it was not
worth pursuing. But he always had that kind of interest. Judge Robinson was
also interested in technology. He was the one that piloted the electronic case
filing system in our courthouse. When you go back to the court reporters they
saw this as a something that was going to change their livelihood. At that time
we had a lot of old school court reporters. I want to say that when we got the new
judges in 1994 — we got five new judges in one year — a couple of those judges
had had some experience in committees that they worked on and other situations
where real-time reporting had been beneficial, and it had helped them. So they
had asked if we could start advertising for new court reporter that had real-time
certifications and that’s what ended up finally making a change, because the
judges were asking for it. When we were having changes imposed by the Judicial
Conference, a body external to the court, the changes weren’t that successful.
Ms. Woodbury: Do you know if any of the new judges who were interested in having realtime in the court had used it as lawyers?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: That’s not clear to me because at that point Judge Sullivan came in from
the Superior Court, Judge Kessler came in from the Superior Court and Judge
Urbina came in from the Superior Court. They were not doing that there. Judge
Friedman had had some experience with it in committee work and so had Judge
Sullivan. Another judge had had some experience with it teaching. They had
familiarity with it and they could see the application in the court system. So
that’s why they were interested. The older judges ultimately got interested in it
when they developed hearing problems. With real time, when a person was
speaking the judges were getting a transcription rolling across the computers in
front of them at the same time. Very useful for them at the time. It was in the
mid to late 80s that it was all of a sudden coming into the court system, and it was
not being well received by the people who were convinced they were going to be
displaced by it. You know, ultimately some of our court reporters got on board
and went to find out how to do real-time and get certified in it. They were the
ones that ended up surviving and the others ended up holding on and then retiring
or finding a court in the Midwest that didn’t embrace technology either. But
really they didn’t have to go very far; they could go to the Eastern District of
Virginia which didn’t embrace technology at all.
Ms. Woodbury: To this day or at that time?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: At that time. They were the last of the courts to adopt an electronic case
filing system. They had the Rocket Docket. So they were kind of “We don’t
need technology”. Our systems manager moved his family down to Richmond
because of the cost of living and decided that he could commute for a little bit
back to the courthouse here, but then decided to take a job in the Eastern District
of Virginia. He returned two years later to our court because it was so clear that
IT (Information Technology) was not embraced there. And that was still in the
late 90s and into the 2000s. I think that they embraced technology more in the
past decade or so. They were one of the last holdouts.
Ms. Woodbury: Any other changes in the court reporting division during your time as
Supervisor of Administrative Services?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Not much. Trying to get them to work within the Court Reporter
Management Plan and to recognize the benefits of technology were the biggest
issues that we grappled with at that time.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, you mentioned that another division that you were responsible for
was the finance division and that you had had some contacts with that division in
your role as head of the Jury Office. Who was in charge of the finance division
when you were the Supervisor of Administrative Services and were there any
problems or changes in that division?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Denise Curtis was in charge of that division. Denise went on to become
Clerk of Court for our Bankruptcy Court down the road. She had a strong
financial background as well as being very organized and very innovative. So
she was really there at a good time, when computers were starting to take the
place of data processors which was really how we had been doing all of our
record keeping and finance. In fact we made multiple copies of everything for
people because we had no way of distributing information. She was able to work
with some of the first generation technology for the finance office and
volunteered to pilot things for our Administrative Office so that we could start to
bring that office into the age of technology too.
Ms. Woodbury: Was that process already underway in 1982 or was that something that
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It was something that varied across individual courts. In fact, what
Denise ended up doing was she visited other courts to find out what they were
doing. She found that the system in the Los Angeles court, which she thought was
a really good system, had been in existence probably for five years and so it had a
track record. It was capable of being audited which was something you really
needed to be able to do. The Administrative Office had been trying to put
together a financial system for all the courts. But the problem is that many times
the 94 districts courts do things 94 different ways and they kind of resist being
made to do something a certain way when it not beneficial them just because it is
an effective system. And so, there were tons of efforts devoted to bringing the
courts together just to develop a financial system, and there had been very limited
success. When Denise saw the product that Los Angeles had produced in-house
on their own, and that they were going to let us use their system and would help
us develop it, we went and adopted their system. It streamlined a lot of what we
were doing. It had an audit trail. It allowed checks to be cut by machine as
opposed to handwriting everything and that sort of thing. The Administrative
Office gave us some assistance to see if we could take that system and transport it
to our court and make it successful. We were able to do that, but ultimately the
Administrative Office didn’t want to replicate that system for all the courts, so
they told people it wasn’t successful and continued with their own efforts.
Denise did a really good job of modernizing the whole office.
Ms. Woodbury: What was the Administrative Office’s view of why they didn’t want to
use the LA system as a model for all courts? Do you remember?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. There was a problem with the fact that they didn’t own the system.
They hadn’t developed it and they didn’t want to learn or support it. They felt
like they were supposed to be the ones that were dreaming these things up and
implementing them in the courts, and so it was really just a matter of power and
ego that kept that from happening. It was a while before something came into
existence that we finally thought was good enough that we would abandon what
we were doing with the LA system. By that time, we had used the LA system for
at least ten years, before the system that is now used in pretty much all of the
courts was adopted.
Ms. Woodbury: Did Denise adopt the LA system for use in the District Court here in the
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. That was when she was going out and looking at it. That’s when it
started. It took us a little time to implement here because clearly LA was much
larger than we were. So there were parts of it that weren’t helpful to us because
we didn’t have that kind of volume. But LA had the luxury of having on board
the people who wrote the software for their system. Because they were so large,
they had enough positions and could actually have a software engineer on board.
That was unheard of in those days. This guy… his name was Pat… I can’t
remember his last name… he would fly into our courthouse at least once a month
for a while to help us get our system up and running, and we were very fortunate
that Judge Robinson, who was Chief at the time, was willing to let us do that type
of thing — to go a little past what the Administrative Office was recommending.
It was taking too long for the Administrative Office to develop an alternative
system. This was an area that was important to our court because we had a big
volume of jurors. We had a lot of large notorious cases and a lot of jurors and a
lot of vouchers. It was incredibly time consuming to do all of those checks by
Ms. Woodbury: Any other changes or problems with the finance department that you
recall from that time period?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: An area where we always had an internal problem was in trying to get
judges to sign orders that disbursed funds by working with the finance office first.
That was an ongoing battle and it wasn’t until we had Denise, who was very
incredible and had a background in finance, that we solved that. I think our
previous financial administrative personnel just came up through the courts and
weren’t really trained in finance.
Ms. Woodbury: Had no training in finance?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Education or training. Denise was the first person that we hired who had
a degree, a financial degree from college and had had hands on financial
Ms. Woodbury: Do you remember when Denise took over as head of the finance division?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: I think in ‘82 or ‘83.
Ms. Woodbury: So about the same time you took over as head of Administrative Services.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: It would have been earlier than that because she competed for that job
with me as head of Administrative Services. Maybe 80 or 81. I think maybe she
had been on board for at least a year as head of the finance division by the time I
became head of Administrative Services.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, you mentioned that one of the problems the finance division had
or was having was getting cooperation from judges drafting orders that disbursed
funds…. could you just give an example. What kind of circumstance necessitated
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Every time you have money that’s in dispute, they asked the parties to
deposit the money in the Registry of the Court and then the court has the
obligation to keep track of that money. At that point we were told that if the
money was above a certain amount it had to be invested in an interest bearing
account. Lots of time these cases dragged on for awhile so that when it came
time to start the disbursing the funds, the judge would send an order down saying
disburse to this party this amount of money and they would include the interest
that had accrued. And what they needed to do was call down to the Finance
Office and say this is what I want to do and the finance office then would have to
tally the amount of interest that account would have accrued by that day because
you couldn’t just say that the registry should disburse any interest accrued
thereon. It had to be exact. It was really difficult for judges apparently to
remember to do that. So we were having to say that we couldn’t execute the
judge’s order and judges would get mad and ultimately it took Jim Davey, who
was the Clerk of the Court at that time, and Denise to resolve this problem. The
other thing that happened was that judges would send down something saying we
want this money invested in a particular bank. We couldn’t do that either. We
either had to invest it in the Registry of the Court or the parties had to have some
special statutory language that would allow them to invest in a particular financial
institution. Ultimately the court’s registry was actually banks that the court
worked with and that we invested money in. There were just some intricacies to
the financial end of it, and the judges had to understand that they couldn’t send an
order down and say “Forthwith disburse this money” because we had to work
with the bank to do that. In some cases it was millions of dollars. The bank had
to have some notification, plus we had to have the exact name of the person to
whom it was being sent, and in many cases an address. Just things like that that
were administrative in nature, but would end up stalling things and the judge
would have to vacate their order, and do it again and that sort of thing. Denise
was comfortable enough with her ability so that she could explain what was
going on to the judge. Her predecessor did not have a financial background, and
if the judge probed a little as to why this or that was required, she couldn’t
explain. At that time we were getting more involved in multi-district litigation,
where cases had been sent to our court from all over the United States… for
example, the flying suit cases, the airlift cases out of Viet Nam, with all the
people that were killed when the plane crashed after takeoff. In those cases we
had to disburse money nationally. So it was really important to get it right. And
we also started at that point to be involved in law clerk orientation. That had not
ever been done before. So Denise then had an opportunity to educate law clerks,
who in many cases were drafting these orders. She was very integral to cleaning
up that office up and making it more professional.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when you mentioned training of law clerks, are these the recent
graduates of law schools that the judges hired for a one or two year term?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: So they were assisting the judges on numerous fronts during their tenure?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. From doing legal research to, in many cases, drafting orders and
clearly helping write opinions, that sort of thing, for the judge.
Ms. Woodbury: The other area you were responsible for during this time was
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: What did that division do and were there any problems or changes during
the period when you were Supervisor of Administrative Services?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: We had an area called Property and Procurement which was responsible
for inventory of all of the property and equipment that was in the courthouse. We
were also responsible for procuring all of the property and all of what was
considered to be consumable supplies for the court. At that time we would have
to send a request to the Administrative Office to ask if we could get new pens and
similar supplies, and there were guidelines on what kind of pens you could get
and what kind of legal pads you could get and whether you could make an open
market purchase. These were all of the things that the Administrative Office took
care of and they had all of these purchase agreements with companies nationwide
in an effort to benefit the courts. Well, over time our court was concerned
because in some cases, we felt that things were overpriced and the quality wasn’t
good, and we were noticing that different localities in the country had different
levels of quality control and so forth. So the courts were pushing to having funds
decentralized to them in an effort to take advantage of local businesses and local
prices so that you could get the best products for your bucks. When I first started
in Administrative Services we were still sending up requests to the AO to buy all
of our supplies, all of our furniture and furnishings. But they were starting to
experiment with decentralizing authority to the courts for purchasing, so we were
just on the cusp of that change when I first took over Administrative Services.
We started to get little things decentralized to us over a period of time. I started
to be in charge of Administrative Services in 1984 and then it stayed under my
authority for the next two changes in my positions. We went from having what
we always call a “Mother may I” system because you had to justify to the
Administrative Office why you needed to do something and then to a more of a
decentralized budget so that you had a lump sum of money to get your property
and procure your equipment.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, did the change to a more decentralized procurement system, did
the impetus for that come the individual courts?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: How did that change come about?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well, it came about from two angles. One was that the courts were
increasingly hiring I think more professionals in the position of Clerk of Court,
people who had training in running organizations or in other aspects of
management that heretofore had not been as prevalent in that position. And at the
same time the Administrative Office got a new director, I believe he came in
1985, Ralph Mecham, who had been in the management end of Chevron Oil.
When he came in and saw that it was such a complex bureaucratic process
working both from their end and from our end, he was more willing to listen to
the courts’ pleas for change and to do something that was more manageable and
more efficient and less costly than the system that was in place. His predecessor,
who had been in that position a long time, wasn’t really open to that kind of
Ms. Woodbury: Where these administrative changes that were taking place done largely
without the involvement of the judges on the court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well, yes and no. The judges who were part of the Judicial Conference
committee structure that were impacted by this, like the Budget Committee for
example, or the Administration Management Committee, those judges had some
knowledge of the issues involved in trying to centrally manage a very wide
spread, geographically divided entity. They knew what was going on and we
were fortunate that we had some judges in those positions who were forward
thinking. Did the rank and file judges on our courts have much knowledge about
this? No. But we were lucky that Judge Robinson did. He was always on the
Executive Board of the Judicial Conference. It’s my recollection that Judge
Robinson was on it we he first became Chief. He was chair of the Executive
Committee as well as a member of the Executive Committee and that group of
five or six judges tended to have a really good idea of a lot of the issues that were
facing the courts — Not the legal end of it, but the administrative side. But if I
went to talk to one of our judges about a problem that we were having, for
example the reason I couldn’t get him that type of stationary he wanted, they
would listen to me talk about the fact that I had little control over it and then they
would say “well just do it.” They didn’t have the background information on this.
Ms. Woodbury: Were there other judges over the course of your time on the court, in
addition to Judge Robinson, who were influential and knowledgeable about court
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes and no. Because we were in the D.C. Circuit and there was sort of a
requirement that there be representation on the Judicial Conference Committee by
every circuit, far more of our judges were on Judicial Conference committees
than the district courts in other Circuits. Most district courts, I learned when I
was interacting with their clerks, had one judge out of their five or six or fifteen
judges who was on a Judicial Conference committee. That was about the norm
because there were usually five or six or ten district courts in the other circuits
and they had to spread out committee memberships amongst the district court
judges as well as among the appellate judges. But we would generally have five
or six or sometimes seven of our district court judges on Judicial Conference
committees. Because of that some of them were more knowledgeable about court
administration issues and other sorts of things than the district judges from other
circuits. But the Judicial Conference itself at that point was very much driven by
the Administrative Office in that the AO staffed the committees and they
prepared all of the information packets for the judges attending the meetings.
The constant complaint by the judges was that… “We have two meetings a year
[and] about three days before the meeting I get a notebook that is six inches thick
and I’m supposed to read all of this and be prepared to respond to the decisionmaking things we have to do.” Each notebook would contain the background on
an issue and the recommended action to take. Most judges just read the executive
summary. So, we were lucky in that some of our judges, like Judge Hogan, who
was on the Court Administration and Case Management Committee, I believe and
on another committee as well, took a real interest in court administration and had
a willingness to figure out what was going on. Judge Lamberth was another
judge who was really good on court administration issues and Judge Robinson
also. Most judges didn’t come to the federal court to be administrators.
Ms. Woodbury: And perhaps by training or experience could not understand those
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Absolutely not. We had a balance of judges who came from the private
sector and we had a lot of judges from the public sector. Sometimes when I
would talk to them about the issues that we were facing in the Clerk’s Office,
especially personnel issues, their frame of reference was a law firm. Possibly
they had had a secretary that was a direct hire, but everybody else was managed
more centrally by the law firm. So they didn’t have a lot of experience with
personnel issues and clearly not much interest in them. They didn’t balance the
budget, they didn’t have to worry about those things and nor should they. I don’t
think judges should be experts in that, but when you needed someone to
champion a cause for you, you were really trying to give them information that
they really didn’t have to have by nature or by their experience.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, I know you need to leave today about now and so we’ll close this
session here and I look forward to talking to you again, probably in April.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Great.
Ms. Woodbury: Thank you.