What’s the “J” got to do with it?
For my first letter from the president, I feel it is important to negate a common misconception about our organization. I heard most recently someone describing me as, “she no longer does judicial education.” Interesting, I thought, then what do I do? Granted, I moved from Judges Education to Employee Education and Development in 2015, thereby expanding my audience type from approximately 180 constitutional officers to approximately 4000 Judicial Branch employees. However, I, as most of us, began my career in the law and then in education of the law. Subsequently, I migrated to what I now understand to be some form of legal education, having an impact on the courts or judicial overall. However, I still have no idea what “Judicial Education” means and I guess this is where the misconception starts. So I asked. According to Merriam-Webster, “the word [Judicial Education] you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”
So I ask again, what is it that I have been doing all these years?
I’ll start with the basics. Merriam-Webster states that, “the term ‘judiciary’ is also used to refer collectively to the personnel, such as judges, magistrates and other adjudicators, who form the core of a judiciary (sometimes referred to as a ‘bench’), as well as the [staffs] employees who keep the system running smoothly. In some countries and jurisdictions, the judicial branch is expanded to include additional public legal professionals and institutions such as prosecutors, state lawyers, ombudsmen, public notaries, judicial police service and legal aid officers.”
So, it seems, if given that definition of judiciary, according to Merriam-Webster, anyone in the business of educating not only the “bench”, but also judicial employees, i.e. “[staffs] employees who keep the system running smoothly,” would be considered judicial educators. Additionally, if I read further on, anyone in the business of educating “additional public legal professionals and institutions such as prosecutors, state lawyers, ombudsmen, public notaries, judicial police service and legal aid officers,” should also be considered judicial educators. Thus, the expansion of education of the judiciary also would expand our role as judicial educators. So, how does this fit with the organization and who, then, should be included in our organization? As we are all familiar with, “the National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE) … strives to improve the justice system through judicial branch education. (emphasis added). NASJE is a leader in defining the practice of judicial branch education and in gathering and sharing resources among educators.” Therefore, by definition NASJE includes all judicial branch education / educators. Paired with Merriam-Webster’s definition above, we have expanded exponentially “to include additional public legal professionals and institutions such as prosecutors, state lawyers, ombudsmen, public notaries, judicial police service and legal aid officers,” as those individuals or organizations we serve in the role of educator.
To quote Dr. Anthony Simones, the 2018-2019 president, “what a special profession we are a part of!” The inclusive nature of our jobs affords us the opportunity to have a large impact on the legal system overall, and makes us uniquely poised to expand our audience types accordingly. The National Center for State Courts in their summary document on Institute for Faculty Excellence in Judicial Education states that “Judicial education plays an important role in the healthy functioning of a state’s judicial system by providing opportunities for knowledge and skills development as well as enhancing personal and professional growth.” We are so impactful, less we forget, as we move through the many offices of the judiciary, that each of us in our work as judicial educators, whatever that title represents to you, have made and continue to make a meaningful difference in the administration of justice.
With this shift in title and definition in mind, I challenge each of us this year to develop a new normal, a better definition, a larger perception of what we do, resulting in a more inclusive membership. It will be a shift in culture, and for some, the shift will be difficult for others seamless but for all of us it is necessary. Judicial Education has evolved and with the progression of our profession comes a philosophical change. Our jobs and our role in NASJE is much more expansive, so, my friends, let’s keep growing!
In conclusion, I thank you for all that you do and remain honored to be a judicial educator. The gratitude I feel in being part of this amazingly talented group of educators is overwhelming. Finally, I am extremely humbled to have been chosen as your president and I look forward to the next eleven months and beyond.
Together, we can change this misconception and create a new culture of Judicial Education.