Saturday, October 17, 2015

Mr. Court Administration

A man whom I worked for a good many years ago and who was one of the two most important figures in establishing the field of court administration passed away in August and was memorialized last week at the National Center for State Courts. He was Edward B. McConnell and he was 95 and had led a long and impressive life.

He became the State Court Administrator of New Jersey in 1953, the first significant American state court administrator. The two outstanding chief justices with whom he worked. Arthur Vanderbilt and Joseph Weintraub, recognized Ed's skill and gave him support so that he did administer the courts. He was no backroom manipulator or paper-pusher. In 1973, he was recruited to become the National Center's second head. 

I went to work for the Center the following year and found that Ed was a hands-on leader. I worked in a regional office but when I was involved in drafting any project report that would go to a court or be published, you could be sure that Ed would review it personally and call you with his comments. He didn't mince words and he told you exactly what he thought about the draft and about all the people with whom you were involved and dealing with in the courts.

Suffice it to say that I learned an incredible amount from him. He had gone through Harvard Business School right after World War II but I sensed immediately that Ed had a natural sense of how organizations run and how they should be run. He inherited an organization--the National Center--that was struggling in its early years after Warren Burger had founded it and he turned it around into the dominant organization in its field. Other competitors fell by the wayside.

I also saw how Ed operated in meetings. At times, he seemed like he was sleeping. A sleeping cobra, however. He wouldn't pop off and didn't get involved until he carefully assessed the tenor and tempo of the proceedings and then when he gauged it to be exactly the right moment, he made his move and usually succeeded in getting precisely what result he had been planning to achieve.

Ed established a remarkably adept administrative operation in New Jersey. When I first worked in the state in 1970, I could see immediately that he had become a major figure and achieved a level of respect that few state court administrators or any court administrators have ever gained. In court administration, the other leading giant of the field and the only one comparable to Ed is Ernie Friesen, with whom I've also had the privilege of working. Ernie now is nearing 90 and still out there doing his fine work but we truly are witnessing the passing of the greats.

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