[End Tape 2 for 6/10 session]
Interview of James F. Davey
Session #4 – June 19, 2008
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society
of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is James F. Davey. The interviewer is
Steven P. Hollman. This interview was conducted by telephone on June 19, 2008, commencing
at 4:00 p.m.
Mr. Hollman: I thought we’d start today, if it’s okay, talking a bit about the judges on the court
and how the composition changed over time and what that did to affect the job of
Mr. Davey: Okay.
Mr. Hollman: So, tell me about the structure of the court in terms of who was Chief Judge when
you started and his relationship with other active members of the court.
Mr. Davey: Judge Curran was the Chief Judge at the time of the study that I participated in,
and he was also my first Chief Judge. I think I told you earlier that when I was
voted in as Clerk it was a 12-to-3 vote with the three voting against me being then
Chief Judge Curran, Judge Sirica who would be the next Chief Judge, and Judge
Hart, who would follow him, follow Sirica. And that pretty much indicates that
the old-timers weren’t ready for a change, except Judge Hart. I still don’t know
why he voted against me.
But in any event, when Chief Judge Curran — back then, the rule was that
you got to be Chief Judge based strictly on seniority. And as long as you were
under 70 years of age, even if you only had three months to serve when the last
Chief Judge stepped down, you would become Chief Judge. The shortest tenure
that I recall, I had seven Chief Judges during the period 1970-1990, and the
shortest one I recall, I’d have to verify, would be Judge Smith, who served only a
year. They have since changed that rule, and — because it was just a revolving
door of old judges. [Laughter] And again, I’m not sure of this, but I think you
have to be under 65 to be Chief Judge, and there’s a term limit on the number of
years you can serve so that you don’t get into the reverse situation where a young
guy inherits it at 45 and has it until he’s 70, for 25 years. I think its six or seven
years now. But the changes are big improvements over what it was.
The chiefs, back to Judge Curran, he wasn’t a very strong Chief. He had
no real administrative inklings. And I remember that, as a result, or during the
course of the study, they formed an executive committee headed by Judge Hart,
and I forget who the other members were. Judge Gesell comes to mind. But I’m
not sure; I don’t have my notes. But the executive committee, in effect, was the
committee that we as study members contacted rather than the Chief Judge and
our dealings were through them, so it wasn’t a very powerful post and with
respect to the Chief Judge, when Judge Hart got to be Chief, by then we had
overcome any differences he might have had with me.
And, let’s see, when we got the — we no longer had the — when we got
to Judge Hart we no longer had the executive committee. But there was the — oh
— Judge Hart explained to me the power of a Chief Judge. We wanted to take
the court reporters out from under the thumb of the individual judge and put them
under the Clerk’s control. Now, frankly, I wasn’t literally, personally looking
forward to that because court reporters are a unique breed. They’ve historically
been associated with the judges, and I wasn’t going to get any more pay taking
over that headache. But, organizationally and administratively, it made sense to
have them report to a non-judge rather than being on their own. And that nonjudge, in this case the Clerk, would be able to manage them more effectively.
Some judges have had heavier caseloads than others. Some judges, I mean
heavier times in court just by nature of the way they conducted their business. I
think I mentioned Judge Gasch didn’t feel like he was doing his job unless he was
in the courtroom, and if he’s in the courtroom, people are talking, and if people
are talking, the court reporter has to take it all down. And in the early days, they
didn’t have transcribers. Most of them didn’t have transcribers. So their court
reporters were not only taking it, the stuff down, but in their free time, they were
transcribing it. And you can see how cumbersome and tiring that would be
although the court reporters were making more money than the judges.
But back to Judge Hart, we came up with a proposal that made all kinds of
management sense to reorganize the reporters under my control and he said, “Jim,
I’m going to show you the power of the Chief Judge.” Back then I was not
allowed to attend executive sessions except if I had a particular point to make to
them. And that led to some miscommunications and all. You know I’m, in
effect, operating as a CEO, and they are the board of governors, board of —
chairmen of the board. And I’m never in the room when they’re making policy.
And I would — I don’t know if I was even given copies of the minutes of their
meetings initially. But eventually, I was able to get the minutes, and although
other courts were more progressive and began to have their clerks sit in as the
secretary of the meeting, in D.C. it was the junior judge who had that
responsibility, and they didn’t want non-judges around. I think because it would
show — [Laughter] reveal too much of how they made policy.
And it wasn’t until Aubrey, well, yeah, just before Aubrey Robinson came
on, there was a new Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge, and she began to
go into the judges’ executive session. And she would become the secretary. And
that wasn’t a tough thing for the judges to accept because she was not a manager,
or whatever; she was just a member of the Chief Judge’s staff.
And, I kept pushing for entry into these sessions on a regular basis. And
Judge Robinson said, “Cool your heels; cool your heels. If we put it to a vote,
you’re gonna lose.” And other courts had begun to do that, progressive courts.
So finally, he said, “Jim, what I’m going to do is just have you come up
one time and not even put it to a vote. And the Gesells and Harold Greenes and
all — maybe we can slip one by them.” And that’s the way, that’s the way I
eventually ended up being at all the meetings. It was never put to a vote. But that
shows you some of the progression in the way of administering the court.
Progress is slow and would have been — without Aubrey Robinson, it wouldn’t
But, so back to your point about Judge Curran. He was, you know, a
likable sort, but he didn’t really care for administration. And I didn’t have a lot of
contacts with him. And then when Judge Sirica became Chief Judge, he too
wasn’t inclined to get too much involved in administrative matters. And back
then, we did not — the individual courts did not control their own budgets. That
was all done by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. So, and now today,
that’s altogether different. We pushed through the years to decentralize that
budget process, and just after I took over, I mean just after I left, full budget
control for the courts was put down to the Clerk’s office. But that took a 20-year
period and a progressive head of the AO, Ralph Mecham. So my point being
there weren’t heavy-duty matters of arguing how much money the Probation
office will get versus the Clerk’s office versus the judges, so there was little —
there were still a lot of things to do on a day-to-day basis. You had to — working
with GSA, you had to be sure there was enough air conditioning in the building
and the security, although security wasn’t a big issue when we first came in.
In any event, Judge Curran and Judge Sirica didn’t really like to get
involved in administrative matters. I can remember when I had to, when I came
in, all deputy clerk appointments had to be approved by the Chief Judge. And
that wasn’t a very good idea.
In some courts it was a lot worse than in our court. Out in Cleveland, for
example, as a deputy clerk position became available they rotated the ability to
appoint that deputy clerk among the judges. They had some major problems out
there. But I would — I would have to go to the court for approval of any
appointments. That changed, and I can’t remember just when it changed but I
think it was under Judge Hart.
I remember Judge Robinson when he became Chief reinforcing the point
that I remember one of the judges was questioning how I was handling the
financial department and the — Chief Judge Robinson, who was not Chief Judge
at the time, mentioned to her that, “Hey, it’s not our job to tell Davey what to do
with the finance department. That’s his job. And if we don’t like what Davey’s
doing, then we get rid of him, but we don’t interfere with how he’s running the
In fact, he came out so strong I wanted to say, I’ll accept your suggestions,
you know, and we can talk about it. But Judge Robinson cut if off at the pass.
But I do remember having, when I came in — in an earlier talk I
mentioned there was a major reorganization needed of the Assignment
Commissioner’s office, pretrial examiners, Motion Commissioner’s office, the
Clerk’s office. And when I presented my proposal to the court, I even went down
by name and position who was being shifted, who would be shifted over to the
Superior Court because of the cases were going over there, and I remember Chief
Judge Sirica asking me, he said, “Mr. Davey, I don’t see that you’re doing
anything for Marion Lewis, who’s been in the Clerk’s office for 20 years or more,
why is that? And by the way, is Marion a man or a woman?” [Laughter] But the
reason I relate it, it showed that the judges were involved in personnel decisions
that they shouldn’t have been involved in, and they would go for the old-timers.
And all that gradually shifted over time and to the benefit of the court. You
know, just letting me make those decisions and holding me accountable.
So, that pretty much went — under Judge Curran and Judge Sirica, I
pretty much could do what I wanted to do without any real oversight. And then
Judge Hart comes along, and he didn’t mess with me in the Clerk’s office, but he
was very active and very supportive of making, trying to make changes where
changes were needed. And one of my management philosophies that I developed
— if you ever wanted to make — you can mess around in the Clerk’s office all
you want over a period of years, okay, but if you want to make major change in
the court as an institution, you have to find a friendly judge. And I didn’t bat a
thousand with Judge Hart, but we did do some major things under his leadership.
And one of the things was improving jury utilization which had tremendous
impact not only financially but on the court’s image.
When I came in the philosophy was we never have a judge wait for a
panel. Whenever the judge calls for a panel we should have enough jurors in the
courthouse to send him or her one. And I mentioned previously that judges
tended to want to start their trials on Monday, so on any given Monday, you’d
have three, four hundred jurors coming in. And it was a truly wasteful, and a lot
of them never, never got into the courtroom, because, you know, last minute pleas
Mr. Hollman: Sure.
Mr. Davey: So what I started doing without any judicial control or without advising the
judges, I just started cutting back, you know, 2%, 3%, 5%, 10%. Crossing my
fingers, you know. And then one of the good things that the Administrative
Office let me do, they let me hire, they knew I couldn’t do everything on my own,
and I don’t, I should take that back. I never did everything on my own. My
whole philosophy was to get a team that could work it, but, let’s put it this way,
when I took over, it reminds me of my little-league team, you know, the shortstop
picking his nose, the second baseman throwing rocks. [Laughter] You know, not
really paying too much attention to the goal, and everybody doing their own
thing, and you know, happy in what they’re doing. But the thing was to try and
get them to pick their nose while they’re on the bench. [Laughter] and um, but
the Administrative Office gave me a management assistant at a grade 13 level,
which was pretty high to help me and that was both good and bad. It was good
that I had somebody that had some management experience that could, you know,
help me with some of the details. It was bad that others in the Clerk’s office
resented a newcomer coming in had that high a grade and when it turned out that
the newcomer had some personal issues, that didn’t help matters. However, one
of the things that the management assistant did do is we developed a formula
based, analyzing jury usage over a period of years. One thing that the clerk’s
office was very good at was keeping records. Nobody ever looked at them, but
they had records of how many jurors came in and when they went into the
courtroom. Not only how many went into the courtroom on a given day, you
could figure out when they went in so you could get, oh you know, 10 o’clock,
some of it is just intuitive. Ten o’clock is going to be your busy time, and so on,
but it was very helpful to have that kind of data. So based on analyzing all that
data over a long period of time and making allowances for criminal panels and
civil panels, we developed a formula. If you had three criminal and two civil, you
bring in X number. If you had six criminal and two civil you bring in Y number.
And that was designed to make sure that 90% of the time, if a judge called, he’d
get the jurors, the panel on time. And it worked.
And so — but then, oh jeez, I don’t know whether it was Harold Greene or
Judge Gesell, they had to wait. And they complained to me, and they complained
to Judge Hart. And, you know: “Davey, you know, you’re counting pennies and
you’re missing the big picture. They’re only so many judges in the court system.
There’s a whole bunch of jurors. You know, bring in the jurors.”
And so I went to Judge Hart, and you know, I explained to him the
formula and the whole bit. And you know, he says, “Well this makes sense, but
we’ll make one exception. What we’ll do is we’ll follow this formula, but if a
judge when he requests a panel” — you know, they have to request it a day in
advance — “guarantees it, then you’ll use the formula for all the others but you’ll
guarantee this judge they’ll have a panel.”
So — well, you know what that led to with some judges — all the time,
every one of their panels was guaranteed. And you know, they abused the
system. But it was still, still better than, a lot better than what it used to be. But
without Judge Hart helping me out with that — the formula and the “guaranteed”
— we’d have reverted back to the old system of jurors don’t count, only judges do.
So Judge Hart was a wonderful person to work for from an administrative
standpoint. If I — he was always accessible, and he dealt with matters, and he
dealt with them quickly and efficiently.
Just a couple of quick stories about Judge Hart. It’s a small one but it’s
funny. A guy came in and thought he could file a case with our court. And my
new case desk said, Mr. Davey, we have someone here and he really — our court
doesn’t have jurisdiction. And, you know, we’ve got to tell our deputies, you
don’t — you’re not the lawyer, you know, don’t argue with him. But this one
was so clear. So they brought him in to me, and I called up Judge Hart, and I said
“Hey Judge, I’ve got an attorney here who thinks he’s got a case that was within
our jurisdiction, and we don’t think it is.”
“Bring him up.”
So I brought him up and sat outside, and about five minutes later the guy
comes out. And Judge Hart has a, had a case dismissed stamp prepared because
he handled pro se matters and most of those were as Chief Judge he took them,
and he dismissed a lot of cases. So rather than writing it out all the time, he just
stamped it. So I take it the lawyer who wants to file an appeal, but we haven’t
filed it yet. And I told him, the lawyer riding down the elevator, “You know,
most courts measure their backlog from filing to disposition. In th[is] court, we
measure ours from disposition to filing.” [Laughter]
But he was great. A prisoner had filed a petition complaining about
something at a prison. He, Judge Hart, called the prison up and [said], “Deal with
And we had another set of cases where Filipinos were eligible for some
relief if they proved they helped us out in World War II. And it turned out a scam
developed. And I don’t know whether it was me or one of my deputies, as I recall
it was me, but I could be wrong — I noticed they would send their complaints in,
and they’d send a picture of themselves in a uniform to prove that they were of
service, they had served. I noticed the damned uniform looked the same on all of
them. It turned out some guy was bringing these people in, putting the uniform
on them, taking a picture. Judge Hart raised hell with the Veteran’s
Administration. Finally got that one cleaned up.
But he was, he was just wonderful and he cared about — and the judges
respected him, which meant a lot. And so he was a great Chief Judge.
And then, want me to go just through the Chief Judges or — ?
Mr. Hollman: I’ve got a couple of follow-up questions for you before you do that.
Mr. Davey: Sure.
Mr. Hollman: First, you mentioned in passing the question of security. And it just caused me to
wonder whether there ever were any security incidents that you recall?
Mr. Davey: No. I mean, you could walk into that courthouse and walk into a judge’s
chambers. And I don’t — well we had a security incident that probably would
have occurred even with the security and that was under Judge Hart’s reign when
some, a couple of prisoners took over the cellblock downstairs. But that wouldn’t
have been prevented by all this security at the doors and — you know what I
In fact I remember Judge Gesell saying one day, he said when they were
discussing more stringent security, you know like putting guards or you know,
checking people before they came in, he says, “I’m going to die on my way to the
courthouse getting hit on C Street.” [Laughter] So no, I don’t recall any
incidents where somebody wandering in off the street caused harm.
Mr. Hollman: Or any incidents involving criminal defendants?
Mr. Davey: The criminal defendants, yes, you know, there was that cellblock takeover. And
that was under Judge Hart’s reign. And I remember that he was, he — Judge Hart
was managing the crisis. And again, you’ll have to forgive me, I forget the
outcome. But I do know that the prisoners in the — we had a huge cellblock
downstairs and they would, the way it worked would be that the prisoners would
come in from the jail in a bus, and they’d go into the basement of the building
where there’s a series, several cellblocks, one for men, one for women, and the
like. And then, the prisoners would be escorted to the courtrooms by separate
elevators that ran from the cellblock, and they would go into a smaller cellblock
behind each courtroom, if you get the picture.
So, when these prisoners overcame the deputy marshals in the main
cellblock — I think they got his gun, and I don’t know how many deputy
marshals were being held hostage — but what I do remember is Jim Palmer, who
was a very good looking and smart, um, didn’t turn out to be too smart in this
case, though — he was the chief deputy marshal and he was on his way to, he
thought, to becoming the marshal. And independent of Judge Hart’s control of
the situation, Palmer decided to negotiate on his own, and when Hart found out,
he not only got rid of him for the day, he told him, told the marshal never to let
him come back into the courthouse. And I remember when Judge Hart left, Judge
Jones was then Chief, and he had to deal with Palmer wanting to get back in the
courthouse. But that’s the only prisoner one.
And we did have the time when the, that wasn’t a security thing, no. So in
terms of security we didn’t have any incidents that I recall that on their own
would warrant increased measures other than the general, you know, obviously
some things were happening in government and all the government buildings
were getting more secure.
Mr. Hollman: On the question of court reporters being shifted from the judges to controlled by
the clerk’s office?
Mr. Davey: Yes.
Mr. Hollman: How did the court reporters react to that?
Mr. Davey: Well, number one, the proposal was killed, 14-0. I didn’t finish the story. Judge
Hart said, “Oh, I’m going to show you how powerful a Chief Judge is.” Did I
Mr. Hollman: Yes, you started, yeah.
Mr. Davey: Okay and he, we uh, he invited me in to present the case to the judges, and the
vote was 14 to 1 against. With Judge Hart voting for. He said, “Jim, I told you
I’d show you how important a Chief Judge was.” But years later I did assume
responsibility, and I did get a manager, court reporter manager, former court
reporter, and the court reporters fought it tooth and nail. I mean this, Berk Brown
was his name. Nice guy, former court reporter, he was trying to be fair to all the
reporters, and then they were just blowing him out.
[End TAPE 1, Side A; Begin TAPE 1, Side B]
Mr. Davey: Then there was the scandal that wasn’t. I don’t know if you want to get into that
at this point. But we didn’t have enough court reporters to take care of our fifteen
active judges and our five to seven senior judges. So, in fact the Administrative
Office — I remember when Judge Hart was Chief Judge. This was back in ’73,
and this is one memo I wish that I had kept. The AO, by ’73, they had concluded
I was significantly overstaffed, and I was, but not as much as they thought. And
what I wanted it to do was to shift the staff as the workload shifted to the Superior
Court and also just not to fill vacancies rather than lay somebody off.
And they — the problem was, Steve, back then, the staffing formula that
they used to staff courts with personnel in the Clerk’s office, you get one deputy
clerk for every hundred filings, and that was how they worked it. And generally
that worked out all right. However, my court, see now it’s my court, how ‘bout
that? [Laughter] Never say that around some judges. But our court was, had too
many judges for the caseload. And remember that’s one of the main findings of
our study. So I couldn’t argue it both ways. On the other hand, if you go based
on filings, what I, what I showed them — this would be the simplest way of
explaining it — New Jersey District Court and our District Court had the same
number of filings. New Jersey had ten judges, I had fifteen. Well, when I go to
unlock the door to the courthouse to begin business that day, I need more people
than the New Jersey court just because I’ve got more judges. You follow me?
Mr. Hollman: Yes.
Mr. Davey: Even if my judges don’t have as many cases, I still got to get my courtroom
deputy, a court reporter, and whatever. They didn’t take that into account. They
didn’t take how many jurors you brought into, brought in. They didn’t have a
system of weighing cases. Like Watergate was just one case. That’s all I got out
of that. So eventually, eventually, they devised a formula that took into
consideration number of judges, number of senior judges, the types of cases and
the like. But when I say eventually, I’m talking over a 10-year period.
And so I’m fighting these people as we’re going along, and they — in
terms of court reporters where I think we started this — they came over with
their, they — the Administrative Office — came over with their data showing
how much time, how many dispositions there were, our judges compared to other
judges, and whatever. And they concluded that we only needed eight or nine
court reporters for our 15 judges. And I mean that was incredibly ignorant of how
things work. So, but statistically it worked out. So I said, I got tired of fighting
them and I brought them over to the Chief Judge’s chambers and let them explain
to him. And then we talked a long, a lot, and I said, “Judge Hart, let’s get down
to the nuts and bolts. What they’re saying here is that you and Judge Corcoran —
one of our other judges — have got to share a court reporter. And you decide
whether you want to take mornings or afternoons. And Judge Corcoran gets the
other.” And it was just, you know, just incredible. But whatever.
This leads up to, okay, they finally agreed that I needed some extra help
for our senior judges, that they didn’t count in the formula. But they wouldn’t let
me have real reporters that know how to take down, you know, with their
Mr. Hollman: Right.
Mr. Davey: We even had maybe 13 stenographic and 2 steno masks, you know the ones that
would just talk into a mask?
Mr. Hollman: Uh huh.
Mr. Davey: Okay, they wouldn’t let me have those kind of people. And they let out a
contract, the Administrative Office, with — they sent it out for bid. And we got
this outfit that — they gave it to the lowest bidder. And this, I got more damn
complaints, I’ll try to keep it short. But it shows you what the courts and all had
to go through before we got into the decentralized process we have now. These
people would come in with their tape recorders, and they’d set them up. And they
wouldn’t even pretend to take down, they would just record it, and then they, in
fact, some of them would laugh. You know, they had no idea how to act in a
courtroom. And then they would take their tapes back to the office, and they’d
have some other person transcribe. Well, we started having troubles, getting
transcripts, and I finally, I went over to the place where they did business and I,
the first thing I saw was, I noticed on the door that the IRS had some claim
against them. And I go in there, and Steve, I wish I had my Minolta camera that I
couldn’t remember last time with me. I mean there were tapes and boxes, and it
was just incredible. And these foreigners, and I don’t, I’m not saying they were
illegal immigrants or what, but, you know, they got their headphones on, and
they’re trying to type. And fortunately, the senior judges were only hearing civil
cases and not criminal cases, because most, a lot of these transcripts could never
be produced. And I can’t tell you how many, how many we had to retry. I don’t
think it was a significant number. But that was one of the prices we paid for
having control being exercised by a party not knowing what really goes on in a
So my history with the AO is a rather difficult one. I’m not saying that it
was impossibly difficult. I had to educate them, and they got to thinking I was a
pain in the ass. And, you know, whatever it took. So the answer to your question
I think you started with, when the court reporters got under my control, and I
hired a manager, it was difficult. And he ended up having to go out early with
And then Dawn Copeland took over, and by then we had smoothed things
out, and it was working fairly good. And, you know, she would be more
amenable to switching people around. But court reporters were always very
difficult from a management standpoint.
Mr. Hollman: Tell me about the, tell me about the interaction of the judges in the executive
sessions and whether that was a revelation to you?
Mr. Davey: No, I didn’t see — how do I put it? ‘Cause most of the time that I was in there
was under Judge Robinson. All the time. And he ran a good show, you know
what I mean?
Mr. Hollman: Right.
Mr. Davey: So, a lot of what might have been going on before wasn’t going on under Judge
Robinson. So I don’t have any, you know, really great stories to tell about those
executive sessions and I wouldn’t anyway. I know you didn’t ask for specifics
but there would be, there would be heated arguments. Judge Sporkin was kind of
a maverick, and you know, he’d wander in late and not pay too much attention
but then, you know, get into some discussions. For the most part, though, they
weren’t — there wasn’t anything bizarre or heated going on.
Judge Robinson was respected, although I do remember him saying, “You
know, Jim, Judge Gesell just doesn’t think we can run the court without his help.”
That was true, and Judge Gesell would always have his view. And Harold Greene
would be independent.
And, but some, a lot of the big issues like whether we should have a
federal defender, a lot of the judges opposed that, because, I won’t say because,
but there was, you know, the idea of the Fifth Street Bar, you know, we’ve got
these guys that are doing a good job of representing defendants. They know the
system, and we know them. And the federal defender would come in and cause
problems. You know, raising issues. But Judge Robinson got those through. As
I say, I’m sure that if I had been in the executive session in the early years, there
would have been a lot more disagreement.
Mr. Hollman: Was Robinson the Chief immediately after Hart?
Mr. Davey: Excuse me?
Mr. Hollman: Did Robinson become Chief immediately after Hart?
Mr. Davey: No, Judge Jones, wonderful guy, became Chief Judge. And he and I had a good
rapport. He wasn’t in there very long. You know, I wish that I — I should have
— but he died. And my recollection of Judge Jones, he was well respected by the
Bar and by his fellow judges, and it was kind of a calm tenure. But it wasn’t too
And then after him came Judge Bryant, and he served for quite a while.
And he, I really think that we didn’t make much progress in terms of court-wide
projects like the federal defender, automation and all. Judge Bryant, I mean he
was a beautiful man, and I loved him dearly, but he couldn’t make a decision
easily. Especially when it came to personnel issues. I’d have people appeal,
when they got disciplined, when he became Chief some of the, let’s put it that
way, minorities in my office thought that they could get a better deal from him
than they could from me. So they would appeal to him. And I remember having
one case, this employee, Eleanor Farrar, she just was a mess from beginning to
end. And she caused problems for everybody. And she, you know, she filed a
complaint against me and she’s going to go to the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission. I said, “Eleanor, you’re wasting your time. The EEOC
doesn’t have jurisdiction.”
In any event, she had a case pending before him, it seemed like a couple
of years, and that, really, it really was creating problems for me because she was
such a misfit, and I had to put up with her. And so, under Judge Bryant, there
weren’t any real initiatives taken from an administrative standpoint, either on the
court, you know, and that’s where you go play in your sandbox down in the
Clerk’s office where they leave you alone. And that’s — we started the — we
started the automation under Judge Jones. That was the beginnings, but furthered
it under Judge Bryant.
I do remember one night, I got a call real late, not real late at night, around
5, 5:30. There had been a prison break in the D.C. prison, and they had the — I
think the head warden was a guy by the name of Hardy. I don’t know if you’ve
got this in your notes, Steve, of cases. But they had him at knifepoint, and they
wanted to see Judge Bryant. And they were aggrieved about the conditions there.
And the call came into my office, and I had — I remember going up to see Judge
Bryant, and they said, I actually remember him saying at one time, I don’t know if
it was this time, he says, “Jim, every time you come in here, I’ve got more
problems after than when you walked in.” So I told him what the situation was,
that they wanted to talk to [him]. And he had to think about it. And he finally
agreed, but only on the condition that he would not take up any of their individual
cases that landed them in prison, but he would hear them on their problems in the
court system, I mean in the general conditions. So they brought the prisoners
over, and one of them had Hardy still at knifepoint. And they put him in a
separate room in the courthouse. And there was — five or six or seven of these
other guys. And so they set up, we set up to have the hearing, and before the
judge came on the bench, one of the deputy marshals realized that they hadn’t
searched these guys.
And so, in the courtroom — and there wasn’t a real, my recollection,
wasn’t a lot of people there because it was late-breaking and people had gone
home, and all but one of the prisoners said, “Well, if you’re gonna search us, do it
like they do in jail.” And they stripped buck naked in the courtroom. [Laughter]
And then we got over that, and the judge took the bench, and he made it clear to
them he would not listen to any of their individual grievances, but he would hear
them on their overall grievances. And so we had the hearing and he, you know,
questioned them, promised to follow through. And the prisoners had enough faith
in him that they released Hardy. And so he put that fire out, which I’m not sure
other judges would have done that. But I — so under Judge Bryant not a lot, no
major initiatives in terms of making the court a better or more responsive
institution. And I don’t say that in a negative way, just in all there’s another,
which brings up another point.
And then he was followed by Judge Smith, and Judge Smith and I had had
a couple of run-ins before that I mentioned. And Judge Smith had been Chief
Judge of the local court. And then when he came over he was just another judge.
And then when I didn’t do something for him that he thought I should have done,
he told me that if I worked over at the Superior Court, he’d have fired me a long
time ago. So I wasn’t really looking forward to his tenure as Chief Judge. In fact,
I updated my resume for the first time since going there. And, but I got lucky.
He only had a year and he called me in soon after he became Chief. He says to
the effect that he didn’t want to be bothered with administrative matters, let, you
know, let me take care of all that and we’d get along fine. Which was a-okay
with me. And then he only lasted a year, and then Judge Robinson came on.
And then between when Hart was Chief and when Aubrey was Chief,
that’s the golden eras in terms of court administration. I might add that Judge
Hart, when he was Chief Judge — well the Chief Judge of the District Court in
D.C. automatically is a member of the Judicial Conference of the U.S., which is
the policy-making body for the judiciary) headed by the Chief Justice, a nd
normally the Chief Judge of the, each of the U.S. Courts of Appeal and a district
judge, not necessarily a chief but, maybe it was, yeah, a district — one district
judge from each of the Circuits. Well, in our case, we only had one district so we
always had a voice on the Judicial Conference, and that was big when Judge Hart
was Chief because Judge Hart became the Chairman of the Committee on Court
Administration which was the Committee of the Judicial Conference that handled
administrative matters, and we got him to get us a twenty percent pay raise.
But I also remember, it was back during his tenure when we were trying to
get the title of the Clerk changed because we didn’t think it represented what the
Clerk really did in the modern age, and we wanted it to be Court Executive,
which is more descriptive, or Clerk/Court Executive. And I remember Judge Hart
saying, “I’m not going to push this one Jim. Why would you want to get rid of
the ancient and honorable title of Clerk?” [Laughter]
And I said, “That’s the problem with it, it’s ancient and honorable, but it
doesn’t represent what we need.” And they still, there are a number of courts
now that do have the title, they’ve done it locally — Clerk/Court Executive, or
just Court Executive, and among your peers, you know they’re — they’ve got a
leg up on you. I never made it. [Laughter] And it took me a while to get into the
executive session. That was two things that you got judged on. Whether you got
into the executive session and what your title was.
Mr. Hollman: Well, but at least you remained ancient and honorable.
Mr. Davey: Yes, that’s right. With the emphasis on ancient.
Mr. Hollman: So who followed Judge Robinson as Chief Judge?
Mr. Davey: Judge Penn. I remember when I told him I was going to retire, he said, “Jim, you
and I had a deal. You weren’t going to retire until I did.”
And I said, “We never had that deal.”
After, oh yeah, that was another interesting one: Judge Penn. And Judge
Penn truly was not an administrator. And Judge Robinson was truly concerned
about what was going to happen when Judge Penn became the Chief Judge. One
of the things we did, I had a beach house in the Outer Banks in North Carolina,
and I had initiated years before, taking my management team, we’d have
management retreats, we’d go down there, let your hair down, and come up with
ideas on how to improve things. Judge — I proposed to Judge Robinson that,
why don’t we get you, Judge Penn, myself, Nancy, who was my Chief Deputy,
LeeAnn Flynn, Judge Robinson’s Administrative Assistant and the chief
probation officer to go down. And the theme of the two or three days was going
to be looking to the future, what are the changes that are going to happen in the
court, and how do we plan for them. And just try to get Judge Penn geared up to
the role. And so we went down to my beach house, and it turned out to be a
fantastic seminar. We laid out things, and it was really something that any
organization should do when there’s, you know, expecting big change. Not that it
had made any difference after Judge Penn got to be chief, but at least it was a step
in the right direction.
But Judge Penn took over and by then Judge Robinson had taken on most
of the major issues, and down in the Clerk’s office we had come along pretty
Reverse Chronology of Imporant Cases During the “Davey Era,” 1975-1990, Tab 16. 18
well. And we were one of the most automated courts and modern management,
and so we were — things were in pretty good shape when Judge Penn took over.
And I remember Nancy, Nancy was, and he loved Nancy and Nancy loved him.
And so my recollection, my understanding is that the tenure, his tenure as Chief
Judge was good.
Mr. Hollman: Okay, I think that actually is sort of a natural breaking point.
Mr. Davey: Okay.. 1
[End of TAPE for 6/19 session]