Q: You’ve dedicated your career to serving California courts. What drew you to the justice system?
A: I think it goes back to having an effect on people’s lives. There are few things in government that have as much of an effect as justice. And that’s a wonderful thing to be involved with.
Looking back at how far courts have evolved over the years, we've worked very hard at becoming more user-friendly and providing people with greater access to justice. If there’s one theme that I can point to that really makes me feel good about my career, it would be that.
Q: You’ve launched a number of new technology initiatives in Napa, including the exclusive use of digital case files and a fully automated criminal courtroom that updates data in real-time. What's been the impact?
A: Technology has certainly been about the movement away from paper, and all the possibilities that change has provided is just incredible. It’s eliminated a lot of the cumbersome manual tasks and allowed courts to become much more efficient, which has certainly helped us through the difficult economic times.
But more importantly, our clerks are now more available to help people with the legal process, to explain rules, and be available to them particularly as our self-represented litigant population is growing. [In California, more than 4 million people come to court without a lawyer each year].
Q: What do you plan to do next with tech?
The big push right now for us is working with a statewide group developing and implementing what's called a "guide and file." It's an electronic system that will ask people who come to court without a lawyer questions about their case, and based upon their answers, complete their paperwork for them and then file it over the Internet—without them even having to come to the courthouse. We’ve started using this in family law and domestic violence cases, and are working with the statewide group to expand it.
Q: You led the court during one of largest earthquakes in state history in 2014. What was it like to keep the doors open with all that was happening around you? How did staff respond?
A: The earthquake hit at about 3 a.m. on a Sunday, and that was fortunate because nobody was hurt in the courthouse. We said, “OK, let’s be open for business Monday morning and do what we need to do to begin serving the public.” And fortunately, we had a number of volunteers that came down to the court and helped us out, including our judicial officers.
Our historic courthouse was closed and red-tagged, but we have a much newer criminal courthouse, and we were able to set up temporary quarters there. We had employees in every nook and cranny of that building, every closet. I have to hand it to our employees who took it to heart that we were going to be open Monday morning, and they pulled together. And the fact that we had already moved to all-electronic case files really allowed us to continue to function.
Q: You studied history in college before going on to earn your master’s degree in administration. Is there a historical figure or period that most inspires you, and what lessons have you applied to your own career?
A: I am an American history buff. The Founding Fathers are certainly my inspiration—that they were able to have the vision and a dream of a nation based upon the rule of law and a Constitution that we can still go back to today to arrive at answers.
People don't realize how much the Constitution is all about individual rights, and that ties into my work in court administration, because those are the rights that we uphold every day.