Going Forward Where Others Have Failed: Michigan State University Launches Judicial Administration Program

Article excerpt

In 2003 Michigan State University (MSU) announced the establishment of degree and certificate programs in judicial administration. These programs address the need of court employees and others interested in joining the profession to obtain a credential that judges and others hiring court managers will recognize as providing the knowledge, skills, and abilities qualifying them to administer courts. In so doing, MSU joined a line of universities and law schools that attempted to establish and maintain viable, highly credentialed programs in the fluidly defined profession of court administration. Why has MSU been willing to undertake this initiative when other universities have lost interest or ended their programs?


The State of Michigan has a long-standing interest in, and commitment to, court administration. The Michigan Supreme Court was one of the first court recipients of Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) grants awarded in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. The grant, administrated through a contract with Wayne State University Law School, included educational workshops on court administration topics, such as case management, personnel management, and judicial collegiality.1 The court's belief in court management as a tool necessary to achieve judicial administration and reform was reinforced by the establishment of the State Court Administrative Office and by the court's appointment of Einar Bohlin to direct it. Bohlin, one of the first graduates of the then'fledgling Institute for Court Management (ICM), embodied the belief of judicial administrators that court system superintendence entailed a responsibility for court improvement and reform, particularly of large urban courts. Education was viewed as a less-coercive means of introducing change into the state trial courts. Intent in the early 1970s upon using both judicial education and court administration education as a means to reform the courts, particularly in Detroit, the Michigan Supreme Court took over direct administration of the educational grants from Wayne State in 1975 and established its own program, the Michigan Judicial Institute (MJI), as the continuing education arm of the state court system.

Although MJI workshops addressed typical substantive and procedural judicial education topics such as search and seizure, evidence, and sentencing options, the vast majority of programs addressed administrative subjects for judges, court managers, and professional staff. An entire series of court administration workshops was developed; included were case management, jury management, personnel management, employee motivation and supervision, records management, security management, and change management. These courses in many respects predated or expanded upon similar ICM courses. For example, one of the first court administration courses for chief judges in the country was developed as an MJI course.

Because the profession was so new at that time, there was no defined curriculum. A substantial contribution to the profession of court administration was made through development of these workshops. Fledgling faculty with little or no prior exposure to the courts, willing to learn about the application of their professional specialty to court administration, were brought into the program, and they developed an expertise in court administration that enabled them to become mainstay faculty for ICM, the Federal Judicial Center (FJC), the National Association for Court Management (NACM), and state court conferences throughout the country.

The two key MJI faculty were professors at MSU-John Hudzik of the School of Criminal Justice and Terry Curry of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations. Along with other MSU faculty, they became experts in application of their fields to court administration-budgeting and finance (Hudzik) and personnel and supervision (Curry). …