Nancy Mayer-Whittington Oral History
Interview Session VII
October 4, 2011
CPAM: 8738423.1
Ms. Woodbury: Good morning Nancy. Today is Tuesday, October 4, 2011. This is the
continued interview of Nancy Mayer-Whittington. When we broke last time we
had just started talking about your first official year as Clerk of the Court which
coincided with Judge Robinson’s last year as Chief Judge. Nancy would you just
pick up there.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Of course. I was really fortunate to have had the time from at least 1985
to 1991 with Judge Robinson as the Chief Judge and I as Chief Deputy, but I did
find that when I became Clerk of Court it became an even closer relationship and
I got to see, firsthand, his way of running the court. Also, as you mentioned, my
first year as Clerk was Judge Robinson’s last year as Chief Judge. I think this
impacted him as far as being a little bit more philosophical and a little bit more
open to reflection about his tenure as Chief Judge. He had a very strong, as I’ve
said before, personality and a very, very strong leadership role in the court and he
operated from a position of strength for the most part as Chief Judge.
When he worked with Jim, I think that they knew their roles and in Jim’s
case he was a strong personality as well. So they spent their time just briefing
each other on what was going on and not as much discussing where the court was
going, because I think they felt that the court had its own cycle that it operated
under. I recall that in one of my first conversations with Chief Judge Robinson
after I became Clerk of the Court I said to him “What are you looking for from
me? What is your vision of where the Court is going?” And he just looked at me
like, “Oh no are you going to be one of those people who talk about visions and
all these other things …?” He was more of a practical day-to-day person. But the
next time I met with him, and I was meeting with him on a weekly basis, he said
to me, “You know I was thinking about your question about my vision for the
Court.” At that time he was chair of the Executive Committee of the Judicial
Conference effectively the leader of the whole Conference which was huge and
he said they talked a lot about the role of individual courts in the long-range
planning process and maybe that was one thing we should be talking about at the
same time.
I said I would like to know where he saw the resources coming from and
going to in the judiciary. At that point I had gotten a better look at the budget
shortfall that was going to impact the judiciary in the near future. Congress was
trying to reduce the size of the budget deficit so the entire government was going
through some tightening of resources. Unfortunately, the Judicial Branch was an
easy target for Congress to reduce resources partly because the judiciary did not
have a real strong lobbying effort to put pressure on Congress. There was
nobody that was really good about representing to Congress the needs of the
judiciary other than the judiciary. So at that point Chief Judge Robinson was
telling me that the Judiciary was working with the Federal Bar Association and
other local Bar Associations to help them understand nationwide the concerns of
the courts and get that information to Congress. In addition to not understanding
the concerns of the courts, Congress also did not appreciate that the courts could
do very little to regulate the matters that are filed in their respective courts.
Unlike executive branch agencies that can cut or delay action on the programs
under their jurisdiction, the cases filed in the courts had statutory timetables
under which action must be taken. The courts can’t say: “You can’t file this here
and/or we can only take a certain number of cases this year and we are over our
limit.” Other agencies were able to structure their budgets around the programs
that they felt they could support and the ones where they could cutback. They
could expand in areas depending on the budget and upon their resources; the
judiciary had very little ability to do that.
It was one of my best conversations with Chief Judge Robinson. I asked
him if we could spend some time talking about national issues during our
meetings and not just deal with the day-to-day concerns. He was actually quite
happy to do that because I think at some point he felt that he was contributing
even more to our conversations than just telling me where he thinks the judges
were having some issues and that sort of thing. I think I really benefited from the
fact that he was looking at the end of his tenure and what more he could do to
help the court and then making sure he got it done. That was very helpful to me
and ultimately it really created a dialogue between Chief Judge Robinson and me
and it helped clarify the information I had been reading about on the actions of
the Judicial Conference. In turn, I conversed with the Clerks of other courts so
that when Judge Robinson would talk about an issue I could tell him how it
would impact not only our court but how it would impact Nebraska and how it
would impact the border courts who were having tough immigration related
issues at the time.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy were you, in addition to reading, getting on the phone with the
other Clerks too?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. And frankly at that time we had our first national email system
where you could contact other Clerks electronically which was huge because you
didn’t have to worry about different time zones or whether they were available or
not when you sent your email. You didn’t have to waste your and their time
playing telephone tag and you got the information you needed. Plus you could
get the Clerk to expound on things and you would have a hard copy of their
thoughts. You weren’t taking notes on what people were saying and trying to see
if you heard it right or wrote it down correctly. So that was huge too.
Ms. Woodbury: And sometimes when people write something down they are more careful
about making sure it’s clear.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Absolutely. I think they may read it to themselves and say if I were
reading this I would think the emphasis is on this and that is not what I meant.
And many times you followed up the email with a conversation about it. That
wasn’t the only way of getting information, but it was something that I think
made me more of a professional in Judge Robinson’s eyes. Whereas I think he
thought I was probably smart and that I was educated and I knew the court, but
I’m not sure if he thought I knew about the big picture. As I said earlier about the
interview for the Clerk’s position, the big picture of the court wasn’t what the
interview was about. I felt that he needed to know I had another side and that I
could contribute. I think that was really good for both of us, those conversations.
That was the biggest benefit of having his last year and my first year coincide.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, you said that you had a regular time every week where the two of
you would get together.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. We would get together on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m. What was
great about him was that when he couldn’t make the meeting because he was
going to be in court or something like that, we rescheduled. He didn’t just say “I
can’t make it this week” and leave it at that. So I never had to worry that I would
have an issue sitting for too long. In between meetings, I would send him emails,
but he didn’t really like emails particularly. He liked conversations. So as long
as I had a weekly meeting with him I could just make a list of things to talk to
him about. But if there was an emergency or something very time sensitive came
up, I would pick up the phone and call him. Calling Chief Judge Robinson was
not a problem since he told his secretary that I needed to be put through when I
called and if I said it was an emergency and he was not available, his secretary
needed to find him so he would know about the emergency.
Ms. Woodbury: So you didn’t have to fight with anybody’s staff?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No. I did not have to. They were very responsive. Gloria Robinson was
his secretary at the time and she was very good about putting me through to the
judge. In fact sometimes I’d just say “It’s Nancy” and she would say “Just a
minute.” She wouldn’t even wait for me to say anything else. Sometimes I
wanted to say to her “How are you doing?” But she’d put me right through to him
because that was what he told her to do which was nice. Early on, one of the
things Chief Judge Robinson said to me was “Nancy, the more you can give me
information about what’s going on in the Court, the more prepared I will be when
I go to the Judges’ dining room for lunch. Because, if one of the judges says ‘I
found out something happened and you know what that means,’ I can say to
them, ‘No that isn’t what happened’, and I can explain the facts.” He continued,
“If I can stop inaccurate information from leaving that lunch table, that’s a huge
benefit because that’s where all their misinformation gets started. That’s where
you get these misperceptions that can change into reality and then we are trying
to undo something that was never real. So if you can keep me posted on things
that will be a big help to me. Just pick up the phone and say ‘By the way Judge
so and so really had a hard time in court today because one of the defendants
wasn’t brought up and he blamed it on the Clerk’s Office but actually the
Marshals Office didn’t process the paper work.’ “With accurate information, he
could be the voice of reason.
Ms. Woodbury: So he’s prepared.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. He could deal with the problem if he had the information. He said
the judges will respond to information and they did. There were judges who did
like gossip, that’s human nature, but for the most part if he could say: “That’s not
what happened today. The Marshals did this and this” then most of the judges
would respond positively.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, what were the issues in terms of the structure of the court and the
management of the court that you dealt with during your first years as Clerk of
the Court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: On the management structure of the Clerk’s Office, we were trying to
decide whether to have one Chief Deputy or to have two Chief Deputies. Some
of the large, metropolitan courts were adding a second chief deputy to their
management team. When I was Chief Deputy, we had organized the office into
Operations, Administration and Technology and that had worked well. We had
gotten all the fringe offices that were hanging out there on their own tucked into
one of these three divisions. Although Technology could fit into Operations or
Administration, it was a relatively new field and we thought it needed to be
independent. So we were organized around these three main areas. When I
became Clerk, I was thinking that as Chief Deputy both the operations and the
administrative side had reported to me and now as Clerk did I want another layer
between me and them and what did I want to do? So I decided not to do anything
at first and to try managing without a Chief Deputy. So we announced this to the
office. I wasn’t going to make any new selections, but at the same time I also told
the staff that if anybody is interested in applying in the future for a chief deputy
position then they had to start preparing for the job. It’s not just going to be based
on who has been here the longest. The selection will be based on who has the
required experience and has spent time attending training, taking additional
courses and getting more experience. Preparation for the position and not
longevity will count. At the same time the budget that Judge Robinson and I had
been discussing was starting to play a role in the Clerk’s Office through the
staffing we would be allotted based on a work measurement formula.
Ms. Woodbury: What is that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The work measurement formula tries to measure the amount of work
involved in doing the main functions of the Clerk’s Office and then determine
how many staff members you need to perform those functions. For example, if
you have X number of civil cases, then you get X number of people to support
the processing of those cases. You have X amount of checks that you process,
you get X number of people to support you. You have X amount of jurors that
you process in the course of the year, you get X amount of staff members to do
the work. The Judicial Conference had revised and implemented a nationwide
formula for the whole court system in the early 90s. One of the problems with
the formula was that it was relatively new and most people didn’t understand how
it worked. It was all based on statistics and under the initial implementation of the
formula you would have a hundred cases and get X amount of credit for those
cases. But the formula didn’t take into consideration the complexity of a civil
case. In criminal cases, the formula was case driven and not defendant driven,
which was difficult for us.
Ms. Woodbury: Which means cases with multiple defendants…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Are counted the same as a case with a single defendant. A case that’s
going to entail a lot of pre-trial publicity, security and logistical concerns
requiring a lot of additional work on the part of the Clerk’s Office would be
weighted the same as a case that was pretty much going to come in with the
defendant taking a plea. The revised work measurement formula was a brand
new way of looking at our workload and it had a lot of problems, but we had to
implement the formula because it was approved by the Judicial Conference. It
turned out that as a result of the new work measurement formula we were going
to lose five positions in the first year that I was taking over as Clerk.
Ms. Woodbury: Did they tell you what positions or did they leave that to you?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: They left that to us. The formula would show we were entitled to eighty
positions and you could put them anywhere you wanted, but you couldn’t get
anymore positions. In addition to the problems I just mentioned, the formula
didn’t take into consideration any local rules or customs. For example, some
courts do a lot to work with the local Bar to put together educational sessions,
conduct tours and do other presentations. There was no real way to accommodate
any differences. There were some differences for small, large and medium
courts, but not enough to accommodate courts in metropolitan areas. We had
some additional issues because of being in the Washington, D.C. area in that we
had a lot more press interested in things going on in the Court than you did in
Arkansas. Congress was telling the Judicial Conference that they had to cut their
budget and the only way that the Judiciary had historically cut the budget in the
past was to reduce funding for non-judicial staff. By statute, judges’ salaries
cannot be “diminished” and traditionally their staffs and their furnishings and
supplies were never reduced. So the support staff was the target for reductions.
This was a big deal because in the past, rather than actually reduce staff, a hiring
freeze was implemented and non-salary budget items were reduced. I had been at
the court for fifteen years and we had never had to go through any real
downsizing. Now with the new formula as “proof” courts were overstaffed we
were being told we need to give notice to five employees that they would be let
go; something that was unheard of in the court culture. To add insult to injury,
some of our staff thought I had arbitrarily decided to let people go because the
timing of the budget cuts happened to coincide with me taking over as Clerk.
There was just a lot of uncertainty and we were in an institution that had
rewarded seniority, both from the judges’ side and the support staff side. So we
were talking now all of a sudden about maybe making a major change in that
institutional thinking. Now jobs weren’t guaranteed, and it really didn’t matter if
you were doing a good job if we couldn’t to keep you anymore, you couldn’t stay.
The Judiciary as a whole had a reputation for not getting rid of poor performers.
But our Clerk’s Office had somewhat of a history of trying to address poor
performance by implementing work improvement plans. If that was not
successful, we did let poor performers go. We felt like we were being punished
for the Judiciary wide problem of retaining poor performers as that was part of
the reason for the need to reduce the budget. While the issues of the budget were
impacting us there was some other internal issues that came to a head at the same
time. If you recall I mentioned that when I talked about the time just before I was
selected as Chief Deputy, Jim had hired a consultant to help identify issues in the
Clerk’s Office. One of the issues raised by the staff was that the two Executive
Assistant positions were not working out. So in response to issues raised by the
consultant, Jim made the decision to recreate the Chief Deputy position and then
ultimately I was chosen for the position. But the other issues that were raised at
sessions with the consultant were never really dealt with. Jim thought that the
problems would take care of themselves by taking Marge out of a top
management position.
Ms. Woodbury: When you say the issues that were raised; are you talking about the issues
that were raised as part of the consultant’s review in talking to court employees?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. Because in addition to people believing there were inequities in the
way I managed and the way Marge managed, they also brought up some global
issues such as the need for better communications from management to
employees, better training, both on the job and more general training, more
opportunities for people to be considered for management positions. I think Jim
thought he was going to address all of them by making me the Chief Deputy and
that would take care of it. So what happened was he made a selection and a
lawsuit followed which occupied a lot of time and attention and other things kind
of drifted back under the surface and weren’t necessarily addressed.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, just remind me, what was the chronology at the point where Jim
changed the structure to create just a single Chief Deputy and then you were
chosen for that position and then there was a lawsuit by Marge; what period of
time was that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well we had the consultant in around 1984 and then in 1985 Jim recreated
the Chief Deputy position and then I was ultimately selected for that position, and
then in 1986 Marge filed the lawsuit. Actually, she first filed a complaint under
the Equal Employment Opportunity Plan based on age discrimination. I think that
took a year before a final decision was released. The process takes about a year to
come to a final conclusion. There is X amount of time to file something, X
amount of time to respond to it, and then X amount of time for the EEO Officer
to review and make a decision. And Marge took all the time that was available to
her to put her case forward for the initial review. The EEO officer found no basis
for the discrimination claim. Then Marge appealed the decision to the Chief
Judge. The Chief Judge took time to review everything and he found no basis for
the discrimination claim and he dismissed the discrimination complaint with no
further ability to appeal. Marge decided to hire a lawyer and pursue her
complaint as a formal civil lawsuit at the district court level. And then that took
time to move along. We had to have a Court of Appeals judge come in to help out
because all of our judges recused themselves since Marge had been working at
the court for a long time. Judge Sentelle was a new judge on our appellate court
and he had been elevated from a district judge position in North Carolina so it
was decided that he had the most experience with Clerk’s Offices and he had no
experience with any of the parties in the suit. Then that compliant had its own
time frame to be processed. So now we are into 1987 – 1988.
Ms. Woodbury: So really from the mid-80s to the late 80s, the issues you’re talking about
were first raised in maybe 84, 85?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. They just kind of bubbled under the surface while everybody sat
back and watched the drama of Marge’s lawsuit. No one knew for sure how it
was going to end up. I believe that the final judgment came down maybe in 1989
dismissing the complaint. After that, there was a time during which Marge was
thinking about asking for certiorari from the Supreme Court. This meant another
waiting period. My recollection is that in about 1990 that lawsuit and all the
drama associated with it was finally over. It didn’t have anymore life to it,
couldn’t resurrect itself anymore so it was done. By then Jim already had made
his decision to retire in 1991, so we’re left with just a year or so of not having this
Ms. Woodbury: Diverting people’s attention?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right.
Ms. Woodbury: So by the time you became Clerk of the Court, what you characterized as
those more global issues are still there waiting to be addressed. The people are
waiting for those to be addressed?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. Then I took over as Clerk and I’m met with a budget shortfall. I
have a Chief Judge who is now ready to work on some vision and plans and
willing to incorporate Judicial Conference information that he’s privy to into our
weekly meetings. He is ready to look at the future and we also are really still
going forward full strength with technology and dealing with the ramifications of
that. Plus we had changed to more of a team-based approach to support our
Ms. Woodbury: How did that work?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: How did that work? It didn’t work well to begin with. This was definitely
a situation where timing was everything. Jim had an idea about team-based
management. He had done some research on it and he was hoping to figure out a
way to not have a one-on-one relationship between the Courtroom Deputy and
Judge. He wanted to broaden the relationship to include a docket clerk. This
would help to remove the current stove pipe method of supporting the court. He
wanted something more fluid that went back and forth, blended across the line.
So that was something he had been working on, but with Marge’s lawsuit he put
that off to the side. If you recall, Judge Lamberth was appointed to the court in
1985 and again that’s when we were starting to have some of our budget issues
and that’s when he felt we didn’t support him for new furniture and such. So there
were a lot of things in the background as well as things going on the front burner.
This team-based approach looked really, really good on paper, but it hadn’t been
done very much in the court system. I strongly felt it was worthwhile and that it
was something we really should do. Ultimately, again because of some of the
other demands that were on Jim at the time, he unveiled his plan for the teambased approach about a month before I went on maternity leave for Molly’s birth.
He didn’t want to wait until I came back. I thought it would be better to wait but
Jim felt otherwise. I felt that I communicated a little better with the staff than he
did just because I saw them more than he did as he was still traveling a lot.
Ultimately, the timing of the announcement was not good; it was the wrong time
to introduce the idea of a team-based structure in Operations. So we basically
shot ourselves in the foot…. because by the time I came back from maternity
leave, there were some very vocal Courtroom Deputies who had lined up against
Ms. Woodbury: People were negative without having seen what it could be with full
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. We’d hoped that this would give some of the people who were
currently Courtroom Deputies an opportunity to go to the next grade level by
managing a team and this would give them a clear opportunity and it did, but they
didn’t see that way. They saw it as breaking up the Courtroom Deputy Division.
They saw it as giving them less control over all. So probably everything that
could go wrong went wrong in that most of the staff in Operations did not want to
move to a team-based system. Also, we did not get any qualified applicants to be
team leaders. People did not understand the new system, they didn’t want to
change the way they were doing their jobs and they were not interested in
learning more about the possibilities that could be provided by being organized in
teams. The Courtroom Deputies put together a petition to Judge Robinson, asking
him to abolish the initiative. And one of the Courtroom Deputies sent the petition
to The Washington Post. So we had reporters calling to ask about this terrible
thing that we were doing to the employees who were long suffering, good
employees. We had one of the most dramatic moments in the court when Judge
Robinson called the entire Clerk’s Office up to his courtroom.
Ms. Woodbury: And what did the team approach mean?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: What it meant was we were going to make teams of judges and teams of
people to support them. It did not mean deputies were going to lose their
relationship with their judge. They were still going to be that judge’s clerk. But
there would be two case processors, who would be supporting the judicial
officers and their cases. Prior to that, our docketing section in Operations had
been organized by digits. One person was responsible for all civil cases that
ended in a 1 or 2. A second person was responsible for all civil cases that ended
in 3 or 4 and so on. Our theory was that if people had more responsibility for a
case and recognized that a case belonged to a judge as opposed to a digit they
might be more invested in the quality and timeliness of their work. We also
hoped by organizing around judges instead of cases that it would give the docket
clerks more buy-in and more satisfaction and they would see themselves at the
part of the whole court and not just as part of the Clerk’s Office.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, when Judge Robinson convened this meeting, did you say he
called the whole Clerk’s Office?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes.
Ms. Woodbury: Did that mean really everybody went into his chambers?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, they went into his courtroom. He basically took the bench and said
that he was aware of the plans that Jim had for the Clerk’s Office. That he
supported those plans 100%. That the efforts so far that some people had been
making to speak to him about their concerns were out of line, that there was a
proper place for them to address their concerns through the management structure
and that that was the only way he was going to get involved. That he was the
last person, not the first person who should be called and that any effort that
anybody continued to make to involve the press or anyone else in this internal
discussion in the Clerk’s Office was going to be dealt with severely and if you do
not like working here, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And then he just
dismissed everyone. I mean, it was so classic Judge Robinson. Jim was like
“Yes! Thank you, I thank you for the support, thank you for this.” I remember
walking out and going “What just happened?” Then in the next Metro section of
The Washington Post, two days later, there was something that said that the
employees of the Clerk’s Office at the U.S. District Court had made their feelings
known about a new management structure and they’re not happy. That their
efforts to try to bring these issues to the surface had been…
Ms. Woodbury: Rebuffed?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Rebuffed, yes in no uncertain terms by the Chief Judge, who made quite
clear his views on interpersonal squabbles that are going on in the office… that
sort of thing. It almost said clearly his way or the highway… and that’s how it got
characterized. And quite frankly, I thought that it was pretty unusual for The Post
to publish anything of an internal nature about the Clerk’s Office when there
were so many other newsworthy stories at the Court. It was an internal tiff.
Ms. Woodbury: An internal tiff?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, it was. So everybody tipped toed out of the courtroom and wondered
what just happened? Well, that didn’t end anything it just meant that more was
going on below the surface and people continued to talk. You would walk
around the corner and people would be talking in little groups that sort of thing.
Then as I said, I go out on maternity leave and then I come back and there were
no quality applicants for the team leader positions. So Jim said “I don’t know
what we’re going to do now because we can’t insert teams into Operations without
the support of any of the staff there.” And so we went back to the drawing board
and said well let’s talk more in smaller groups to people who are going to be
impacted by this and listen to what they have to say and answer their questions.
Ms. Woodbury: And make sure they understand what we had in mind?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. So we started these…. what I considered informal discussions … I
called them Open Forums… where I would say “Okay, I’m going to be in the
lunchroom or I’m going to be in the conference room from this time to this time
and I’m going to talk about the new structure and I’ll answer any questions you
have.” So we started these Open Forums and I think I sat by myself for a couple
of sessions and then finally some staff members came to the Forums. We had a
lot of really good employees. We had a subset of employees who had been there
a long time who didn’t want things to change and who were pretty influential. If
you didn’t agree with them, they could be pretty tough to be around. At the first
Forum where five or six staff members attended they told me: “I know I’m going
to get shunned for coming but I’m kind of interested in knowing what’s going on
because I don’t understand. I hear this from management and I hear something
else from other employees.” So we started talking and tried to outline the reasons
behind the team concept and people responded positively to that. I said “It’s our
only way to do some career development. Right now if you don’t want to be a
manager in the full sense of the word or a supervisor, you could only go to a
Grade 11. But if we introduce teams and team leaders you could use the
knowledge and experience you have already acquired to get a higher grade
without having to commit to supervising a whole new set of staff, or a large
number of people. This system would create a career ladder and more
opportunities to have input into the direction of the organization.” When they
saw it from that perspective, they were more open. Again I go back to the fact
that this new concept of team-based organization wasn’t well delivered and I was
a part of that.
Ms. Woodbury: When it was first announced?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: When it was first introduced and that led to the lack of support for the
concept. And the lack of support wasn’t just coming from our malcontented
employees. We had some really good employees who didn’t support it either so…
you know… if that was the gauge then we didn’t do a very good job of outlining
it when we introduced it. As we made more information available to the staff and
answered their questions, our staff reacted in a more positive manner. So we then
started getting some people to say… “Oh I might be interested in that, I might be
interested in doing this.” And we went back to the drawing board and said okay,
we have some internal courses that we could provide for staff, or we could make
books about team leaders and team management available for anyone who was
interested. And then we would also have some courses that the FJC sponsored
Ms. Woodbury: Federal Judicial Center?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Federal Judicial Center, which is the training branch of the judiciary. And
then we had some commercial courses like Fred Pryor courses and others things
like that that talked about the elements of supervision. So we started really
getting people involved and thinking about teams and supervision and providing
some training so that they could see whether that was what they wanted to do.
And ultimately we did get a couple of people who expressed interest in the new
system. Instead of converting the whole court, we picked a group of five judges
and their courtroom deputies and a docket clerk to be the first team and that
worked because…
Ms. Woodbury: It was like a pilot program?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: A pilot program. We put together our first team. I went to a few judges
and asked if they were willing to pilot this concept. A few judges declined but a
few other judges agreed to be on the pilot team. I told them I wanted their honest
feedback good or bad so we could make changes before we expanded the system
to all the judges. In total, we did get five judges who said they would be a part of
our first team. And then Jim retired and I took over as Clerk fulltime and we’re
still implementing this structure. Plus, we are moving further into the world of
electronic courtrooms and getting more into electronic docketing. The Clerk’s
Office is changing at a rapid pace with all the new technology that is being
introduced. This is around 1993 and we had almost fully implemented the team
process. But we have some people in the office who haven’t let go of some of the
issues that were raised almost six or seven years ago and I still see some issues
under the surface.
Ms. Woodbury: What issues were they still interested in?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: They were still interested in better communication; they were still
interested in being more knowledgeable about what the plans were for the
organization and where we were headed. And then they were interested in
smaller things – such as that it took too long sometimes to get things done, that
we would start a process and it never quite got finished before we started another
process; issues such as these. The frustration with these issues surfaced at a
routine Clerk’s Office meeting. We always had a monthly Clerk’s Office
meeting. At this meeting in particular, I was asking in general how a new local
rule was impacting the office when of out of the blue somebody just stood up and
said… “Would you mind if we talk about some things that I think are more
important than that”… and I said okay. And that’s when this staff member said…
“Well you know I still feel like sometimes I don’t know what’s going on and I feel
like some teams know more than other teams. Some people get more information
than I do and they seem to be aware of what’s going to happen and that sort of
thing.” And so, I said “Okay, do other people feel that way?” And there was a
general nodding of heads. And I said, “Let me think about this and let me think
what we should do because I think this is an important issue and I think we
should figure this out.” After the meeting, I met with my senior staff and I have
to admit some of their concerns were…. “Oh this is just general complaining by
the employees” but the majority were saying … “I think we really need to do
something about this.” We talked about it for a while and there were a lot of
good ideas about how we should go forward. Ultimately, I said “What if we form
an employee management committee that only has a couple of people from
management on it and a group of employees who are not managers will make up
the rest of the committee?” We discussed this and decided that we would open
up the process and let people apply to be on the committee. If we received more
applicants than we needed we would let the applicants decide how large the
committee should be and make the decisions as to who should be on the
committee. We would then ask the committee to work as a group to put together
a list of the issues that concerned them on behalf of the Clerk’s Office. So we all
agreed on this course of action. At the next Clerk’s Office meeting I said: “You
know we’re going to form an Employee Management Committee and it’s not
going to be balanced between employees and management, its going to have
more employees than management on it. If you are interested in being on the
committee you can apply and we will try to make sure there is representation
from all parts of the staff on the committee. Then we’re going to ask you to
commit to not only raising the issues and talking about what issues you think
need to be addressed, but also coming up with some possible solutions and ways
to address the issues. So you can’t just sit there and say…’This is not working
and I don’t know how you’re going to fix it.’ If we’re going to fix this as an
organization, we have to come up with solutions to the issues raised and not just
identify the problems.” Everybody was very positive about the committee.
Ultimately, I think probably about ten people applied to be on it and so we ended
up with two supervisor/managers and eight employees on it. The Committee had
meetings with the staff and anyone who was not a supervisor or manager was
welcome to attend the meetings. I asked the Committee to give me interim
reports about the content of the meetings and the direction it was going but not
attribute comments to specific people so they could come and talk candidly…
Ms. Woodbury: So there was confidentiality at the meetings?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, and so it turned out to be a really, really good process and one of the
reasons it turned out so well is because of two of the people we had on committee
from the management team. One was Angela Caesar, who succeeded me as
Clerk of the Court. But, at that time she was a unit leader and the other was
Edward Cole, who was the Supervisor in Property and Procurement. They just
did in my opinion, a really, really good job. They were smart and hard working
and very interested in the organization and both happened to be African
Americans, so that… they were visible leaders and good examples for anyone
who still wasn’t sure if there were as many opportunities for them as there were
for other people.
Ms. Woodbury: When we broke you were talking about the two management
representatives on the Employee Management Committee.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, they were very good and we were fortunate that all of the employees
who agreed to participate as part of the Committee were really good too. We
didn’t have to tell people they couldn’t be on the Committee because we didn’t get
more volunteers than the number that we thought we should have on the
Committee. Of the employees who volunteered, there were at least two who
were very outspoken in their criticism in general of the office. Then, there were
others who were on the fence and then there were some employees on the
Committee who were thoughtful in their approach to situations and who knew
there were problems, but were willing to find ways of addressing them. The
Committee started its work by holding open sessions and inviting any employees
who were interested to come and talk to them. They held several sessions so that
all employees could have the opportunity to attend. After the first two meetings, I
remember Angela and Edward came to talk to me. They said that things were
going pretty well but they said “Honestly, if we hear one more time that ‘twenty
years ago, when I was here I had a bad experience’…” There were people who
came to the beginning meetings that had complaints that were so old and
involved procedures that didn’t exist anymore or poor treatment by employees
who didn’t work here anymore.
Ms. Woodbury: People were kind of using it as an outlet for their grievances?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes and it was frustrating to Angela and Edward and the Committee
members who wanted to focus on the present day problems. But ultimately,
although this was an unintended consequence, it had the benefit of giving
employees the opportunity to vent. They had never had an opportunity to stand up
in a group of their peers and say… “When I first started in the Clerk’s Office
twenty five years ago, I had a really bad experience. It was so unfair; I stayed
here really late one night and took care of a big problem and no one ever
acknowledged it; no one ever told me what a good job I had done.” Then Angela
and Edward would say “How’s it going now?” And the employee would say;
“Well my new supervisor is okay.” They had to validate their issues and say to
them, “I’m so sorry. I hope that never happens to you again. I hope that we’re
building a structure now that’s going to prevent that from happening, but I can
understand how you must have felt going through that.” In many cases those
employees didn’t attend more meetings because they had finally had the
opportunity to vent.
Ms. Woodbury: Right, they said what they needed to say.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Exactly. It didn’t mean that they still didn’t carry that chip around for
awhile and in some cases forever but at least the issue had been aired.
Ms. Woodbury: Somebody heard them.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Somebody heard them and somebody said to them “I’m sorry. I’m sorry on
behalf of the organization that you had that experience.” Then the Committee was
able to move to the next level which was identifying current issues and also
suggesting ways to address those issues. I remember one of the concerns that
they raised, a very practical concern, was that it took too long to fill vacancies.
Specifically, from the time a vacancy was announced to the time a person was
selected to fill the vacancy took almost a year. Employees wanted to know why it
took so long and why we didn’t communicate better about why it was taking so
long. This involved a procedural issue and a communications issue. The
procedural issue needed to be addressed by studying different vacancies and
seeing where the back logs occurred. As to the communications issue, it turned
out that it depended on who the supervisor was and their view as to how much
information to share. So that needed to be addressed across the board, the same
amount of information needed to go to everybody and it shouldn’t have been
dependent on who your supervisor was.
Ms. Woodbury: How did you deal with that?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: We found a central way to communicate information about vacancies –
we did an update on the status of all vacant positions at our monthly Clerk’s
Office meetings and thus took it out of individual supervisor’s discretion and
made it an office wide information item. As to ways to address the fact that
vacancies took too long to fill, their proposal was for us to develop a timetable
that set forth a timeframe for announcing the vacancy, screening applications,
interviewing applicants and making selections.
Ms. Woodbury: That’s very organized.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, it was. Another issue they raised was that there were no African
Americans employees in the IT office. Well, that was true. The reasons behind it
were varied and in some cases discussing them would have violated an internal
applicant’s privacy. So when they went to discuss what we should do about it —
in that case they said hire an African American. They didn’t really have any
ideas about how to go about doing this because it was really beyond the scope of
the Committee, but they just wanted us to know we needed more diversity in our
IT office.
The Committee presented 26 issues to the management staff with all the
supervisors and managers at a meeting. From the Committee’s first meeting with
employees to the presentment of the 26 issues to the management/supervisory
staff took about nine or ten months. Angela and Edward had been briefing me
after each meeting. But the briefings were just to let me know they were making
progress and to let me know if they needed any information or resources to
continue the work of the Committee. We did not discuss issues that were being
raised nor did we discuss what any employee had told the Committee. After the
Committee did an oral presentation on the report to the management/supervisory
staff and distributed copies of the report, they left so we could discuss it. I have
to admit, my first reaction was that the Committee had done a great job. I said
“We asked them to come together as a group and raise the issues they think we
need to address and also give us suggestions for how to resolve the issues. They
did this and were very thoughtful in the way they approached their work and I
think we have a clear picture of what we need to work on.” I told them I had
some reservations about a few of the recommendations but in general I thought
they did a really good job. I have to admit that some of the management team
members looked at me like: “Are you crazy? They just basically said we’re
doing a terrible job and this is a terrible place to work and we don’t know what
we’re talking about…” I realized I needed to hear them out try to keep them from
taking the report personally. So I listened to all of their concerns about the report
which ranged from “The employees shouldn’t be telling us what to do”, “Do they
seriously think we should thank them for this?” “In their view are we doing
anything right?” to a more thoughtful reaction of “I think the report is very
accurate.” So, I said “I appreciate all of your candid reactions. I think that we
need to look at this as the whole Clerk’s Office that has embraced this process,
raised the issues and suggested solutions. We need to step back and take the time
to reflect on the report and then come back and discuss it with less emotion.”
Someone said “I have thirty-issues about them such as some employees are
chronically late, others have bad attitudes… I said “We just need a little bit of
time to digest this; but this is the deal: nobody goes back to an employee or any
employees and gives their candid reaction; nobody separates themselves from this
group at this point and says… ‘Well I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do.’
We are going to act as a group, as a unit. But we need time to let this sink in. I
know there are hurt feelings right now but we can’t ignore all their hard work or
the opportunity to make some positive changes.” I said “Quite frankly, I’m
looking at this and saying twenty-six issues? I was hoping for maybe ten or
twelve. But you know what, they had to courage to do this and they …” [Tape
Ms. Woodbury: When the tape stopped right then, you were talking about …
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: The reaction of my staff.
Ms. Woodbury: The reaction of the management staff of the Clerk’s Office to the twentysix issues that had been raised by the committee, the Employee Management
Committee and how did you eventually respond or deal with their report?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Well, I asked the management staff to think about the report and that we
would regroup in a few days and everybody could then give a more thoughtful
reaction to what should be the next step. We got together probably a few days
after that and it was good to have had that little…
Ms. Woodbury: … cooling off period?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, absolutely because I was very impressed with our management team.
When we got back together all of them could see some basis for all 26 issues.
They did not agree with all of the recommended solutions and in some cases
thought some of the issues were a perception issue and not a factual issue. But all
of them pretty much saw where the employees were coming from with the issues.
So we agreed that at the next Clerk’s Office meeting, we would have the
Employee Management Committee present the report to the whole Clerk’s Office
and we would outline a process for addressing the issues. We decided we were
going to take each issue and discuss it and look at the recommended solution and
see whether we needed more information about the issue because we really didn’t
understand it or if it was so clear cut that you could just start to work on it
immediately. Because there were a couple of things that were raised, for example
the reference I made earlier to the lack of African American employees in the IT
office, that needed more discussion. Were people concerned that African
Americans had applied and not been selected? Were they concerned that African
Americans weren’t getting the training that would be necessary to go into IT? A
lot of the issues were pretty straight forward. We could put up a timetable for
addressing those issues. We agreed that there were some issues on there that
were probably always going to be issues in one sense or another. For example,
communication. You can always improve on communication. You can work on
it and think you have it solved but you have to be evaluating it on an ongoing
basis. You always have to keep going back to it… and ask “How’s it going now?
Are there other ways that we can do this?” Because sometimes you implement a
way to open up communications and then it doesn’t work after a while. It needs
to be tweaked and looked at in a different way. But at this point the issues had
been presented to the management team but they hadn’t been presented to the
Clerk’s Office as a whole. Now clearly, because the Committee was made up of
representatives from the Clerk’s Office, even though employee representatives
had been asked not share specific issues that were raised at the meeting they were
free to share impressions about the meetings in general. The request not to share
specific information wasn’t supposed to be a gag order or anything like that. In
fact, the meetings were open so anybody could come in and if you just wanted to
listen and to hear what people were saying you could do that. There was not this
whole sense that the report would be this huge revelation…
Ms. Woodbury: A mystery as to what they were going to say?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. It was more a matter of what management’s reaction would be to
the report and the recommendations – would we agree with the majority of
recommendations or not. When something exists for nine, ten months and
employees can come and go and be a part of it, you know, word gets out and in
fact, part of the benefit of that type of situation was that it didn’t hold as much
power as it would have if it had been a tightly held secret and people had no idea
of what was going on. Most employees had attended at least one meeting and in
many cases more than one meeting so they had a general idea of what was being
discussed. I remember talking to one employee just casually over coffee one
morning who said: “Yes I went to the first couple of meetings but gosh they were
complaining so much I didn’t go back to some of the later meetings.”
Ms. Woodbury: Let me ask you, Edward and Angela were part of management, right?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right.
Ms. Woodbury: And so were they also participating with you once the report had been
presented by the committee in deciding how to respond?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. But to their credit they didn’t direct the process. They just shared
their perspective on how the meetings had proceeded and how their thinking had
evolved. For example, Angela said that the first time she heard some of the
issues she wanted to challenge their validity. Instead she practiced patience and
decided she would just bite her tongue and listen. She said once she got past that
first reaction, she tried to focus her efforts on things the office could do to
improve operations. At the Clerk’s Office meeting, the Committee presented the
report. They shared the list of the 26 issues with the recommendations to address
the issues with everybody in the office. We decided that we would from that
point forward have a report from the Employee Management Committee at every
Clerk’s Office meeting outlining our progress in addressing the issues. And that
we would come up with timeframes and interim and milestone goals in order to
address those issues. One of the issues was that our employees felt that they
didn’t see enough of me because I was so busy with the judges and taking care of
other things. They wished I was around more because they wanted to know if I
really knew what was going on. Was I interested in making sure that things did
go well? I had gone from being Chief Deputy, where I was much more visible, to
being Clerk where I wasn’t as visible. So I knew I had to find a way to be more
visible and interact on a regular basis with the staff. They also said that they
wanted to hear more from me. The year before, we had revamped our monthly
Clerk’s Office meeting in response to employees’ requests that the individual
supervisors give an update on their sections. As a result I did not have as much
opportunity to speak at our monthly meetings and I didn’t realize that for some
people that might be the only time they had to hear my view on issues or ask me
questions. Rather than go back to me doing the reports on each section, we
decided that we would have all of the supervisors or whoever was doing reports
put them in writing and circulate them in advance of the meeting. Thus rather
than just do an update on their sections, the supervisor would be available to
answer questions and participate in a discussion.
Ms. Woodbury: Give people a little bit of time to think about it and form the questions.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. And then I could do more of the global issues about what’s going
on and recognize employees who were doing a good job and things like that. I
also shared conversations I had with judges — clearly not confidential ones — but
anecdotes and complements I had received about the office. Our staff also
wanted to know more about judges – their backgrounds, their personalities – so we
instituted a “Meet the Judge” program. When a new judge was appointed, we
would invite them to a luncheon and they would tell us about themselves and
answer questions. The program was such a success that we decided to include all
the judges. We worked backward from the judges who had been on the bench for
a few years to the most senior judges and the judges appreciated the opportunity
to get to know our staff a little better and vice versa. The issue about African
American representation in the IT office was a bit more complicated. What we
decided to do was to review our qualifications for the various positions and see if
there was anything in the skills and abilities we were looking for that was causing
a lack of diversity. We decided to review where we were sending vacancy
announcements to make sure there were no issues there and to look at our training
policies for any gaps there.
Ms. Woodbury: Were there any African Americans already on the staff who wanted the
opportunity to work in IT?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. And so we talked about having some cross training in IT. Let
employees who were doing a different job, but who wanted to spend maybe a
couple hours a week, that’s all we could really afford at the time, in the IT office
to see whether they had the ability and were interested in learning more about IT.
And ultimately we added that cross-training. We did select an employee, an
African American employee, a year or so later for an IT position. So, we just
decided that we were going to take each of those issues and address them one at a
Ms. Woodbury: On a schedule?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, on a schedule and at every meeting, I’d say “Okay, perhaps the
Employee Management Committee can speak about this” and then I would talk to
them about where we were on certain things. And as we took care of issues, we
would let the staff know that we checked it off the list – it’s completed. That was
probably at least a two year process.
Ms. Woodbury: Of going through all of their issues and possible solutions?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right. We addressed them in a systematic way and we had an actual
institutional answer as to how we’re going to improve communications.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, was the original committee disbanded after it issued its report?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: No, we institutionalized the committee for probably the next… I think that
committee operated over the next five years or so until we got to the point where
employees didn’t think we needed it anymore. There were other ways of
addressing issues and we didn’t have to have a specific Employee Management
Committee to do that. And I remember thinking at that point, wow, that’s cool.
Ms. Woodbury: That they were comfortable bringing these issues up in other ways?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, and the way we figured out that the committee was obsolete was
when I said at a Clerk’s Office meeting, “Okay, it’s time for these committee
members to rotate off the Committee and we need new members for the
Committee.” The committee members served two year terms. Several people
said that they didn’t think we needed a Committee anymore and that was the
reason no one was applying. So we talked about that at the Clerk’s Office
meeting and after some discussion one employee summed it up by saying, “We
have other ways of getting this information out to you and we’ve finished the
original list and the solutions we put in place are working.” The general feeling
was the Committee was needed at the time it was constructed but it was no longer
needed. If the need arose again, it could always be resurrected. So the Committee
which had served a major purpose in addressing organizational issues was
disbanded. But there were several areas that I wanted to make sure we kept on
top of. One of these areas was communication. I decided I wanted to try an idea
that I had been considering for some time. The idea was to start having “Open
Forums.” Open Forums would be open meetings in the Clerk’s Office lunchroom
twice a month where there wasn’t an agenda but everyone who wanted to could
attend, bring their lunch and ask me about anything they wanted to know or tell
me anything they thought I should know. As long as it’s not a personnel issue, I
would talk about anything else related to the organization or the judiciary. As it
turned out, the Open Forums worked out very well. Because, as it turned out,
there were some employees who still had some things on their minds, who
wanted to make sure I had heard about how they had been treated twenty years
ago. So in the beginning, the Open Forums were a mix of old issues and new
ones and a lot of roundtable discussions. But then, we got to the point where our
employees wanted new information about the future and how it was going to
impact them but they didn’t know what to focus on. I would usually start off the
Open Forums by saying “What would you like me to discuss today… what do you
want to talk about?” Increasingly, they would respond “Nothing, we don’t have
any issues.” They just wanted to know what I was thinking about as to future
projects and such. I started to bring a little agenda with me of all the issues I had
been involved with since the last Open Forum and other topics I thought might be
of interest. I enjoyed these Open Forums for so many reasons. I got to get
information out to them in an informal atmosphere and receive timely feedback
and have some one-on-one time with employees that I would not usually have
had the opportunity to meet with and that was good. I continued the Open
Forums through the rest of my time as Clerk because it was an effective way…
Ms. Woodbury: To stay in touch?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. Yes, for people to talk to me one-on-one and for me to hear
firsthand and to do things very timely because every two weeks we would have
one. Another outcome of the Employee Management Committee that I really
enjoyed came in the area of education and training. I had wanted for some time
to put together a group of employees to discuss Stephen Covey’s book The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People. I wanted the group to be a mixture of
supervisors and line employees – staff that I didn’t interact with on a regular
basis. The original Committee had done such a great job that it was the perfect
group to work with in exploring the seven habits in depth. The Committee
members had demonstrated all of the really good habits of effective people so it
was a natural fit. We had one session a month for 8 months and I learned more
from them than they did from me. That was probably in early 2000 that we did
this training.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, I had a question just to follow up on the team organization that
you talked about earlier today. You said when you started, or I guess once you
became Clerk of the Court, you decided to setup a pilot program, and there were
five judges who used the team organization for their courts and then you said
after two years it became generally accepted; is that right?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes and it really was… Jim had actually introduced the concept when I
went out in 1989, and then we kind of had to step back and reintroduce it. It
actually got implemented before I became Clerk.
Ms. Woodbury: The pilot program?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, before I became Clerk.
Ms. Woodbury: And then what was the process by which it became generally accepted
and utilized by other judges in the court? Did the five judges talk about their
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, and I tried to get Judge Robinson to put something on the agenda or
in his general comments about how successfully the pilot program was
proceeding. You know, asking him to talk in advance of the meetings to one of
the judges participating in the pilot and see if they would say something about
some of the positive aspects of the program. Feedback from judges to judges
makes a stronger impression than hearing it anywhere else. One of the things that
we learned from the judges in the program was they felt like they did have more
support because now when it was a docketing issue or case processing issue, it
didn’t disappear in this black hole of operations. The judges could pick up the
phone and call down to one of the team members and ask them “What happened
to this pleading? I don’t see it on my docket and the attorney presented it to me in
court today.” That helped us learn that some of our attorneys file first with us and
then go up to chambers or the courtroom and give a copy of the pleading directly
to the judge. Our procedures mandated that all pleadings be put on the docket no
more than 24 hours after they were filed. Since the 24 hour time frame had not
elapsed, the clerk was not at fault. In this case the judge then called the attorney
and told him not to deliver a copy to his chambers in the future. In another case,
the same thing happened and when the judge called down to check on the
pleading, it had been more than 24 hours and the pleading had not been docketed.
It wasn’t docketed because the clerk was a little back logged. The judge
reminded the docket clerk of the importance of timely docket entries and it really
made an impression on the clerk. She realized that her backlog impacted the
judge’s ability to do his job and she made an extra effort to reduce her backlog
and stay current. That communication with the judge did more to reduce the
backlog than her team leader’s pleas to her to stay current. But the best part of
having judges’ communicate directly with our support staff and not just through
their courtroom deputy was that most of our communications with the judges
were very positive and complimentary.
Ms. Woodbury: And hearing it from the judge.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Hearing it from the judge was amazing. Plus, we used to joke that the
only time the judges came through the Clerk’s Office was when they got off the
judges’ elevator on the wrong floor. If they accidently pushed the first floor
button, the elevator would open up right in the middle of the Clerk’s Office
Operations Section and their usual reaction was “Oh… this isn’t where I’m
suppose to be. I don’t know these people.” But now because they had more than
just courtroom deputies supporting them, they knew us. So the judges would find
themselves on the first floor and they would look around and say “Hey, Mary Jo,
how’s it going?” In the past, many of our judges enjoyed coming down to visit
their courtroom deputy. With the team based approach to supporting them, they
came and visited the docket clerk too, often just to say hello. So, it ended up
being a really good experience and a good way to get ultimately better support for
the judges and more realization by the employees about the importance of the
work they do.
Ms. Woodbury: That the judges were their clients? They felt a tie.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. And around the same time, which was a little bit after this when I
first became Clerk, we started talking about a vision statement.
Ms. Woodbury: A vision statement?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: A vision statement for the Clerk’s Office. We went through several drafts
and we came up with something that we ended up putting on a little laminated
card that everybody had a copy of because it was a result of input from everyone
in the Clerk’s Office. Our vision statement highlighted how we would continue to
use technology to improve our goals of giving timely and accurate information to
our customers. Our mission statement said our primary role was to assist in the
administration of justice and uphold the highest standards of customer service.
Drafting the two statements was an interesting process to go through because we
wanted to develop statements that everyone felt they had a stake in implementing.
We went through many drafts and discussions and the final product was
something we were proud of and that we felt represented the office well. A
recurring comment from some of our employees had to do with our use of the
phrase “assist in the administration of justice.” One clerk said, “I never thought
that the work I was doing was assisting in the administration of justice. I thought
I was making a docket entry or filing a pleading. The thought that the accuracy
and timeliness of my work was assisting in the administration of justice made me
sit up and take notice. It kind of brought the whole thing together.”
Ms. Woodbury: What the court was doing?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right, what the court does. What the big picture was and not just in their
little part.
Ms. Woodbury: How it matters to do a good job?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. At this time in the early 90s was the time when we were really
developing IT. And, for the first time a judge had a need to know someone other
than their courtroom deputy and/or their operations team because they depended
on IT so much. All of a sudden, judges were telling me, “Nancy, I visited your IT
shop. They’re very knowledgeable. In fact, they even helped me with my home
computer.” The Clerk’s Office had never had that type of relationship with
judges before. We always were just thought of as clerical staff. Now, we had
people on our staff who knew more than the judges did about an area that was
critical to their case management. That was really eye opening for the judges
about being truly a team and having a partnership with the Clerk’s Office. Judges
were at various levels of interest and experience with technology. Our newer
judges came on understanding benefits of technology and having the experience
to operate a computer. Our older judges knew they didn’t understand the
technology and didn’t need to, but they had someone down in our IT office who
would walk them through…
Ms. Woodbury: Who could help?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: And show them or someone in their chambers how to do a spreadsheet if
that is what they needed to do. That you couldn’t just pick up the phone and bark
out the orders. You had to pick up the phone and say “Hey, Nick, I’m having a
little trouble with this and I really need this and perhaps you could come up and
help me?” IT was leveling the playing field somewhat and this was from my
perspective a big turning point in the relationship between the Clerk’s Office and
the judges.
Ms. Woodbury: Nancy, was there a procedure in place at any time where when a new
judge was appointed to the bench, there was some way of introducing that judge
to what the court staff did? How did they get to know the procedure of the court
and get to know the people who worked there?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: In 1985 Judge Lamberth came on board and the procedure at that point
was to send him a lot of information about how his caseload was determined,
how new cases are assigned and the local rules and that sort of thing. Judge
Lamberth was the last judge appointed until 1994 when we got five new judges.
So we decided that we really needed to do a formal orientation program because
supporting one judge and doing it informally and answering questions as they
came up was one thing, but five new judges was a much bigger proposition. So
we sat down and put together an orientation program for them and we had four of
the judges come over in advance of their swearing in to go through a general
orientation. (The fifth judge was confirmed several months later and we had a
separate orientation for that judge.) The orientation for the four judges took a full
day in the judges’ conference room and we introduced them to the different areas
of operations in the Clerk’s Office so that we could support them the best way we
could. That was a first for us so we put together notebooks for all the judges with
contact information and background information. We had at that time Judge
Friedman, Judge Kessler, Judge Urbina and Judge Sullivan, all attending that
orientation. Judge Robertson, who was sworn in on New Year’s Eve, was part of
the five that came on board that year. His confirmation was later than the other
four so that is why we did a separate orientation for him. That was also a very
successful experience for us because they saw from the beginning that we were
organized and that we had information for them and that we could assist them. It
wasn’t feeling your way through it the way we had done it in the past. Instead we
designed a professional program it and it was very well received. We got a lot
good feedback about what was helpful, what they needed to know more about
and what we could expand on. I just remember sitting in that meeting with them
and feeling like… it’s so nice to have these one-on-one exchanges with them and
it was also nice to have the four of them together because one would ask a
question and another one would go… “Oh, that’s true, I hadn’t thought about
that.” And again, it was just a good group of judges to bring on board.
Ms. Woodbury: Did the Federal Judicial Center play any role in the orientation of new
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes, they do a program we call the “Baby Judge School,” where our
judges are invited once they’ve been… I believe it’s once they’ve been
nominated… I think it’s even before they’re confirmed. They are invited to go to
a session. The FJC scheduled it so that there would be a group of other judges,
about fifteen judges or so at the same session.
Ms. Woodbury: From other districts?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Yes. And they did it in conjunction with the Administrative Office
because part of the presentation was the personnel side, such as the judges’
retirement program, health benefits and things they should sign up for and things
they needed know about. And it would also cover the Judicial Conference and
the committee structure and how judges get on Judicial Conference Committees.
They had the chairs of the different committees come to talk to them about that
information too. They were much more global and they had done that for a
while. That had been done before we started our own orientation program but
they certainly didn’t get into the day to day details…
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Of how the particular courts work?
Ms. Woodbury: Right.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Your court?
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Right, exactly.
Ms. Woodbury: Okay, Nancy this seems to me like a good time to stop for today.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Okay.
Ms. Woodbury: And I will follow up with you to schedule our next interview.
Ms. Mayer-Whittington: Okay.