For my first written communication with the members of NASJE, I wanted to address a reality I think many of us know deep within, but rarely stop and give it the consideration it deserves. I want to talk about being a judicial educator. More to the point, I want to share my thoughts on what a special profession we are a part of. In Austin I talked with the Fundamentals class about these topics. I wanted to extend my observations to a broader audience.
For over twenty years, I was a professor in the university setting. I loved it. I taught courses including Constitutional Law, Criminology and Government-subjects that mattered to me and that I found fascinating. I relished the opportunity to think creatively about important issues, to interact with and bring out the best in students and to be a part of creating a better future. My final teaching position was a small school in Georgia, where I created and ran my own program. As I said before, I loved it. But my wife wanted to return to her native Missouri. We wanted to start a family and she wanted our child to grow up surrounded by an extended family. She asked if I would be open to moving to Missouri if the right opportunity presented itself. I agreed, thinking that the possibility of something coming up in Missouri was remote at best. Not long after, my wife came to me with news of a job as Manager of Judicial Education for the Supreme Court of Missouri. I applied and was given an interview. I was then offered the position.
Teaching was something I enjoyed and at which I excelled. I was being asked if I wanted to trade it all in on something that was a complete unknown. From a professional point of view, it made sense to stay where I was, in a position I had worked to decades to achieve. For the first time in my adult life, I made a decision based not on what I saw as best for me professionally, but as what I saw as best for other people who were depending on me. I accepted the job in Missouri. However, I took it thinking, “Well, the most interesting part of your professional life is now over.”
As I look back on my thought process, it is astonishing how someone who is supposed to be so smart could have been so clueless.
Even though I had never heard of “Judicial Education” before I learned of this job opportunity, I was about to about to get a crash-course about a field that I have come to regard as one of the most worthy and meaningful professions I have ever encountered.
As a judicial educator, I have been able to interact with individuals in the courts who are simply amazing. From the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri to young court clerks taking their fledgling steps in learning their new field, the attributes they display on a daily basis are remarkably similar: a desire to address problems and make a difference in the lives of others and a willingness to work tirelessly to bring about improvement of our system. As a judicial educator, I have been able to help those who work for the courts realize and understand just how essential their role is. Alexander Hamilton proclaimed that nothing has a greater impact on the people’s view of government than the daily administration of justice. Yet most people who work for the courts have no idea how essential their role is in giving life to the principles and ideals articulated by the Framers of our Constitution. As a judicial educator, I have been able to help those who work for the courts see how vital their work is.
As a judicial educator, I have been able to impact things I used to merely talk about in the classroom. One of the messages I presented for decades was the necessity of a fair and impartial judiciary that operated, to the extent that it is possible, beyond the realm of politics. As a judicial educator, I was able to design programs that allowed judges to interact with the public and spread this message. One of the ideas that I used to stress in my classroom was the necessity for collaboration and for individuals within government to learn to interact effectively with each other. As a judicial educator, I was able to create the Missouri Court Management Institute, which brought together judges, court administrators, court clerks and juvenile officers. This venue allowed the different players in our judiciary to learn about, and from, each other, with the intention of improving the quality of justice in our state.
I do not relate these accomplishments as a mechanism of self-aggrandizement, but rather, as a means of challenging each and every one of you to think about the ways that your work as judicial educators has made a difference in the administration of justice. This is what I have done; now, think about all you have done. We are so busy doing the important work that occupies every moment of our days that we rarely stop to think about how essential that work is in improving the lives of the people in our state. Lee Ann Barnhardt and I tried to do this at the conference with our session on a few of the outstanding programs around the nation, but we only identified the tip of the iceberg.
I hope that everyone who reads this will stop, take a moment and think about the importance of your work. Take a minute to recall the initiatives you have been involved in designing and implementing, the effort you have put forth to make a difference and the impact you have had on justice and the quality of people’s lives.
Which brings me to the final point I want to make about being a judicial educator. It has allowed me to become a part of NASJE and to meet some of the most brilliant, energetic, committed and caring people I have ever known. I am in awe of you. I am inspired by you. I have learned how to be an effective judicial educator from you. I have learned how to be a leader from you. I have learned how to be a better person from you.
And that is the message I want to share in my first communication. I am honored to be a part of this extraordinary organization and humbled to serve as your president. Please let me know how I can be of assistance to you. I look very, very forward to this upcoming year.