The experience reminds me of my numerous visits to the local hospital emergency room (ER). Whenever I must go to the ER, I’m scared, I hope for the best, and want it to be over quickly. I want the “left hand” to know what the “right hand” is doing. I expect the “care team” to be beyond competent. I want them to care about me and treat me like I am the most important person in the world. But of course hospital ERs see hundreds of patients a day, every day of the year. Every day is “business as usual.” It has to be. So the reality is there is a clash of cultures – patients in crisis vs. hospital workers doing their everyday, “business as usual” jobs. Yet, most of the time, I feel that those dealing with my health issues care about me as a person. For the time they are with me, they are completely present and not preoccupied with their emails, paperwork or the issues of the previous patient. Anything short of that adds to my anxiety.
I think of the courts as the “emergency room of justice.” The challenges of dealing with people in crisis day in and day out exist in the courtroom, Clerk’s office and at the front door security station. How do court employees cope with user crisis after crisis as routine, while maintaining respect and dignity for each person who walks through the courthouse doors? It is easy to get hardened to each day as “business as usual.”
The good news is that I’ve witnessed that balance in action countless times during my visits to the Trial Court. Consider these everyday acts of empathy I experienced first-hand:
- The “blue shirt” Court Officer who greets the woman seeking a restraining order with a soothing smile and good morning.
- The employee in the Clerk’s office who is patient while a non-English speaking man tries to understand how to complete a form.
- The Probation Officer who cries when a probationer dies of an overdose.
- The Judge who listens with empathy as a homeless woman admits that she shoplifted a pair of shoes for her child.
Actions like these make the Trial Court’s mission of delivering justice real and do us proud. We live in a society where some institutions feel like intimidating monoliths. But it is the people who work in these institutions that make a difference, one person at a time, to the people you serve. The Court has an important mission that is a vital component of our civilized society. To those of you who make that mission come alive when you come to work at your courthouse each day – thank you.
Glenn Mangurian is the Chair of the Court Management Advisory Board. He has over three decades of experience consulting to executives in the private sector.