ICM Fellows Program Spokesperson

2018 Class Spokesperson

Shelley L. Organ

Confucius said, "Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work, and to their lives, will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future."

Major General (ret.) William Suter, retired Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States; Mary McQueen, President of the National Center for State Courts; John Meeks, Vice President of the National Center for State Courts' Institute for Court Management; Dan Straub, the Dean of our program; Amy McDowell, Education Program Manager; family and friends, and finally, the biggest class of movers and shakers since the Class of 2011, my fellow graduates.  Good Morning.

It is a tremendous honor for me to represent the ICM Fellows Class of 2018.

I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  I have worked in all levels of Court in that Province over a 28-year career. From the first day that I stepped into the Courthouse, I knew that this is where I wanted to make my career.  Many of my classmates can and do relate to this.

As the only international student in this class, one would think that I may not have gotten as much out of Program as those Fellows from the United States.  I assure you that I have learned as much, if not more.  While there distinct differences, there are more similarities between our Countries' judicial systems.  Like the United States, Canada is a common law country.  We have three branches of Government, and through a long history, checks and balances have been put in place to prevent either branch from gaining too much power or having too much influence over the other branches. 

As in any common-law country, Judicial Independence is the hallmark of Canada's constitutional democracy.  While adjudicative independence of individual judges is working well, we, like many countries, struggle with Institutional Independence of the Judiciary.  This is largely because Courts in Canada primarily operate under the executive model of court administration, where provincial governments provide courthouse facilities and the human and financial resources required to carry out justice.  This can and does result in underfunded courts and directly and indirectly impacts on the perceived independence of decision making.  In today's political environment, judicial independence is more important than ever before.  I mention this today as this year's ICM Fellows Challenge, given to us by Fellows from classes who have gone before us, asked us to consider how the judicial branch maintains judicial independence and separation of powers while being respectfully responsive to the other branches of government.  We were also challenged to identify the specific role of the court administrator in this effort.  There was much discussion and debate on the topic.  I am pleased to say that we were much better prepared to deal with the challenge than we would have been a year ago, thanks to the Fellows Program.

To the Fellows, whom I am proud to call my ICM Family:  We made it!  The path that led us here today was challenging.  However, we rose to the challenge, and it has been one of the most meaningful and rewarding journeys that many of us have embarked on to date.  The program dared us to question our decision-making process, our leadership approach, and the important role that we, as seasoned, new, and up-and-coming court leaders play in promoting judicial independence and public trust and confidence in the judicial system.

As Certified Court Managers, in January 2017, we began the journey to becoming Certified Court Executives and ICM Fellows.  We are a class of representatives who work in all levels of court, from 12 States, with one (yours truly) representative from Canada.  The Distance Learning Phase began in January 2017 and saw monthly webinars, daily  and weekly online chats and debates with our assigned study groups, reading and writing assignments on leadership, evidence-based decision making and management, and the important role the Federalists and Anti-Federalists played in shaping the American Constitution, and ultimately the Judicial Branch.

The next Phase led many of us to Williamsburg, Virginia, in June 2017 for a three-week residency where we were quickly immersed in long days of studying topics such as courts as institutions and as organizations, visioning and strategic planning specific to courts, and how to lead in productive pairs and loosely coupled organizations.  We also learned advanced research and data analysis skills to prepare us for the Court Project Phase.

While it was difficult being away from our families and our work for three weeks, those who participated in the Intersession Fellows track from May to August, which included an additional six two-and-a-half day classes, demonstrated a great deal of discipline in keeping up with their studies while running offices, courts, and households.

Regardless of whether we did the residency or the intersession, we all learned to manage our time and priorities better, and we learned that "life happens."  If you wait for the perfect time to begin the Fellows Program or any significant endeavor it may never come.  As they say in Latin, 'Carpe diem,' seize the day!  And the graduates here did just that.  We know that to achieve success we have to commit significant time to, and embrace, life-long learning.  To do both requires sacrifices and the ability to power through adversity.  There are many examples of the commitment and dedication shown by my fellow graduates, but I think there are a few that are worth special acknowledgment.  First, one individual had obtained a new position with the court in another state before traveling to Williamsburg and was preparing to move his family immediately after he arrived home.  Another classmat was just over eight months pregnant when we gathered in Williamsburg.  She didn't miss a class until just a few days before the end of the residency when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  And finally, two class members were affected by serious illnesses.  One condition affected the class member, and the other a very close family member for whom the individual needed to provide care.  I am happy to say that these four individuals are amongst the graduates today.  I admire you all.

In August, we began the Court Project Phase - the most significant phase.  I say this for two reasons:  first because it was the longest phase and involved the most work; and second, because we each chose a court improvement project, which would be meaningful to our home courts and would have applicability across westernized courts.  Some of us chose topics that would look at a fundamental issue within our courts, such as court performance and employee satisfaction, while other projects looked at anticipated challenges that some courts will be facing with the rise of new technology and inventions including self-driven vehicles and how they could re-imagine traffic court.  Others chose to research topics such as the impact of centralization on access to justice and utilizing technology to increase self-help access.

It was a daunting experience, but with the support and encouragement of the ICM faculty, our Project Supervisors, mentors and peers in our home courts, and each other, we made it through to the final Phase - the Master Class and Presentation Phase - and finally here today.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge our families and friends for their support and understanding while we were away, studying, researching, and writing; and especially while we were mindfully absent yet sitting next to you  You were there for the many steps throughout our journey, and we are grateful.  Without your support at home, we would not have made it here to today.  Our success is your success.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." Dan, Amy, and the ICM faculty, the education and experience you have provided us, was second to none.  You are highly credentialed teachers and experts in your field; you are mentors, leaders, and our friends.  Thank you for providing us with an amazing experience.

Graduates, we will leave here today with the knowledge and skillset required to lead others and to make effective decisions in our respective courts.  We are on our way to the top.  Let us not forget that the reason many of us are here today is that someone took notice of us and encourages us to reach for the stars.  A mentor or supervisor took an interest and saw qualities in us that we didn't event know we had.  Now it is our time to pay it forward.  Let's not forget to reach back and take someone with us on our journey to the top.

Congratulations Fellows Class of 2018.  I look forward to our continued friendship, watching your flourish, and seeing you make a difference in your courts and beyond.

Thank you.