Meet the Judicial Council’s New Administrative Director: Shelley Curran
Shelley Curran officially took the helm as Judicial Council Administrative Director on Jan. 1, following the retirement of Acting Administrative Director Millicent Tidwell.
Curran has served more than 14 years with the council, having previously served as its chief policy and research officer and director of Criminal Justice Services. Before joining the council, she worked at the California State Senate and Consumers Union (now Consumer Reports).
In a recent interview, Curran shared more about what led her to this position, priorities for the judicial branch, budget challenges, and the importance of diversity in the workplace.
On the importance of public service and why she chose to work in the judicial branch:
"I grew up in a very large family, as one of 10 kids. Thinking about how we could impact the world and what was expected of us were core values my parents instilled at a young age.
I started out after college working in nonprofits. I worked at a homeless shelter for families up the street in the Tenderloin [in San Francisco]. Through that position, I realized I wanted to do more work on the macro policy level, so I went to public policy school and came back to San Francisco to work at Consumers Union. I worked on low-income credit and finance rights and had the opportunity through that experience to work for the State Senate. It was during that time that I got to know the Judicial Council and the work of the judicial branch. I really admired the council’s staff and its leadership.
A functioning judiciary is core to a functioning democracy. Journalist and historian Anne Applebaum frames it well. She talks about how in a democracy, we debate facts, we seek to solve problems, and we legislate solutions, all within a set of rules. And it's our branch that makes sure that we are operating within that set of rules."
On this year's focus for the judicial branch:
"Most fundamentally, our expectation, hope, and drive is equal access to justice. Within that goal, remote access is important, as is litigants being able to get access to verbatim records in court proceedings. Implementation of the CARE Act is also a key priority and is a three-branch government solution, with collaboration from Governor Newsom’s administration, the Legislature, and the judicial branch.
There's a significant move now on issues surrounding water law and environmental law. We're always thinking about courtrooms and courthouses of the future. And then there is AI (artificial intelligence). AI is something that 18 months ago, people were not talking about nearly as much as they are now, and generative AI comes up almost daily now. So we need to be thinking about how AI fits into the branch, the Judicial Council, and our courtrooms."
On the Governor's proposed fiscal year 2024-25 budget for the judicial branch:
"Given the current fiscal environment in the state, we, along with other parts of government, need to be part of the solution. Because of good financial stewardship, we did have some monies that we hadn't spent that we were able to provide back to the Department of Finance and administration as they're making decisions. As a result, essential funding for our critical programs and services was not cut for either the current fiscal year or next fiscal year.
So, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and continue to do the hard work. It's going to be an interesting few months, but it’s not our first rodeo. The branch has weathered ebbs and flows when it comes to the state’s fiscal situation."
On being the first woman and first LGBTQ+ person to hold the permanent position of the council’s Administrative Director:
"I'm looking forward to a time where it's not a big deal and not remarkable, but for now, it is, and representation matters. It brings a little bit of pressure, and I think unfortunately, we're still in a spot where some folks may see someone as getting a position because they checked a certain box, so I'm aware of that. Candidly, I'm not intimidated by that at all.
In our council workforce, diversity is really important to me. The diversity that we all bring to the table—backgrounds, socio-economic, race, gender, ethnicity—is really important because we are better when we are more diverse and we have different perspectives at the table.
And we've been fortunate in California that we've had three female chief justices, and now we have our first Latina chief justice in Chief Justice Guerrero, which is fantastic given the demographics of our state."