Communication key to courts
Published 10:34 pm Saturday, December 21, 2013
It’s not every day you see the top guns in North Carolina’s 2nd Judicial District baking a cake, but that’s exactly what happened at a seminar recently. They baked a cake and won first place for their efforts in a team building exercise, and competition, to remember.
This fall, the Executive Leadership Seminar took place at the School of Government at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Its purpose: to facilitate better working relationships between the various parts of the court system, from judges and clerks of court, to district attorneys and public defenders, in order to make the system run better. The seminar was attended by five districts, and grouped a rural District 2 with the highly populated District 26 (Charlotte).
“Regardless of size, we all have similar concerns,” said Beaufort County Clerk of Court Marty Paramore.
For 30 hours, three separate meetings throughout the fall did not precisely address those concerns, but gave the members of the court system the tools to solve those problems, by determining ways to increase communication, as well as ways to improve the stresses and demands placed on the courts.
But the 2nd Judicial District team has this one under wraps, as evidenced by their culinary victory. This group has been working at communication for a while.
“When I got elected, I kind of felt like people in the system didn’t talk to each other enough — not enough to solve the problems in the courtroom,” said Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr.
Sermons started the Second Judicial Council in 2009. Since, Sermons and District Court Judge Michael Paul, the district’s clerks of court, District Attorney Seth Edwards, the public defender, and a member of the local bar have met quarterly to address court issues, Sermons said.
It’s paid off in a variety of ways, according to Paramore.
One of those ways is through probation cases. In years past, Superior Court administrative sessions would be filled with probation officers and probation violators killing time while waiting for a judge to squeeze their cases in between more pressing court business. Hours, even days, could be spent in the courtroom for something as simple as making a first appearance and having a court-appointed lawyer assigned to a defendant.
The council solved that problem easily by making it possible for probation violators to make their first appearance before the Clerk of Court, who fills out the paperwork if a court-appointed attorney is requested, and has them sign waivers, if not. If the probation violator is being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center, the Clerk of Court will go into the jail to make the probationary first appearance. The streamlining of the process allows defendants, and probation officers, to avoid more than one trip to court.
“It’s saved the clerk’s office a lot of time and paperwork,” Sermons said. “The less, of those things, that you have, the better their time is used and the quicker probation violations are addressed.”
“Now, Judge Sermons can get through that probation calendar usually before lunchtime,” Paramore said. “By Monday afternoon, the probation officers are all gone.”
At another point, the council brought up the need for defendants to have better access to public defenders — people in the less populous counties of District 2 were having trouble finding lawyers who wanted to travel out to the more rural areas of in Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties, Paramore explained. Sermons facilitated the expansion of the 1st Judicial District’s public defenders office to the 2nd Judicial District. The public defender’s office in downtown Washington was opened earlier this year.
The end result, was at the Executive Leadership Seminars this fall, members of the 2nd Judicial District were ahead of the game, honing the skills they’d already realized.
“I was proud to be there as the Clerk of Superior Court from Beaufort County and encouraged in knowing that I am part of a district that has members that all recognize the importance of working to make our court system the best that it can be. Ultimately, I believe each of us, as elected officials, needs to be mindful of our roles in serving the citizens. There are many parts that must work together and it is critical that we continue to look for ways to improve,” Paramore said.
“(The seminar) was a real-life lesson in how different team members need to work together to benefit the entire group instead of doing just what’s good for ‘me.’ The reality is we all have to work together because each person plays a critical role. I have 17 people who work in my office and we all have a certain job to do. We take into consideration what everyone else is trying to accomplish. It benefits everybody.”
For Sermons, in his time as elected official, bringing those people in critical roles together, to find ways to better work together, is a point of pride.
“It’s probably one of the things I’m most pleased about on the administrative side,” he said.
“I was proud to be there as the Clerk of Superior Court from Beaufort County and encouraged in knowing that I am part of a District that has members that all recognize the importance of working to make our Court system the best that it can be. Ultimately, I believe each of us as elected officials need to be mindful of our roles in serving the citizens. There are many parts that must work together and it is critical that we continue to look for ways to improve.