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October 2009

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


2009 Director's Awards Recognize Judiciary's Employees

The Director’s Awards for 2009 recognize Judiciary employees for their contributions to the federal courts. This year’s recipients includes individuals who have fought for a second chance for offenders, increased public awareness of drug penalties, created their district’s first mobile probation division, and kept their courts up and running through a flood and the largest law enforcement operation their district has known. The 2009 Director’s Award winners are:

For Outstanding Leadership

Given in recognition of a manager’s leadership skills, recipients have shown exemplary stewardship of resources, improved service through innovations, developed workforce programs that increase productivity, and enhanced the image of the Judiciary, among other criteria.

Theodore W. Johnson, Chief U.S. Probation Officer, Western District of Pennsylvania

Johnson, who became chief of probation in the Western District of Pennsylvania in January 2004, brought a new approach to supervision in the district. Believing that probation is a period during which offenders have an opportunity at a second chance, Johnson initiated a workforce development program designed to help offenders find employment or the schooling needed for employment. As a result, more than 70 percent of the 300-plus participants in the Probation Office’s reentry program now find work. Less than 6 percent have re-offended.

Johnson also initiated a number of programs to expand service, address the growing workload, involve the community in offender reentry, and improve supervision in the district. He made exemplary use of resources, saving the district over $1 million through 2009 by combining the pretrial services and probation offices; reducing rent costs; and partnering with state and county supervisory agencies to share the costs of some training and programs.

“Mr. Johnson’s efforts have proven to break the habits of habitual offenders . . . The Federal Court in Western Pennsylvania is now viewed as a vibrant organization committed to the betterment and revitalization of the communities it serves,” said the nominating board of Western District of Pennsylvania judges. “This has been done without abandonment of public safety.”

For Excellence in Court Operations (Mission Requirements)

Recipients of this award have contributed to the economical and efficient operation of the Judiciary, have provided innovations that improve service, or have established community outreach programs that enhance the public’s understanding of the Judiciary.

Sarah Pfeiler, U.S. Pretrial Services Officer, Northern District of Ohio

Project Penalty Awareness is Pfeiler’s brainchild, a program to educate the public about federal drug trafficking offenses and penalties. Many defendants are completely unaware of the severity of the penalties associated with federal drug crimes. Presenting the facts about federal drug laws provides much-needed information to the public and facilitates the fair administration of justice. Beginning in 2005, Project Penalty Awareness has been promoted through schools, neighborhoods, and public and private agencies. The Cleveland Public Schools adopted the program as a permanent part of the eighth grade social studies curriculum in 2008, and other school districts may follow.

Wendy Landry, U.S. Probation Officer, Northern District of Texas

Landry’s oversight of a pilot project to determine if officers could be effective working in the community without the benefit of an assigned office space has resulted in reduced spending and reliance on space and facilities while increasing the probation office’s effectiveness. The district now has the first mobile office division in the Judiciary—with Landry as the supervisor of the nine-officer unit. Officers in the program have learned to use technology more effectively and report improved relationships with clients.

For Extraordinary Actions

Recipients of this award have responded in an outstanding manner to emergencies and other critical situations. They have exhibited bravery and concern for others, displayed creativity and resourcefulness, and ensured that the Judiciary’s mission was met during an adverse situation.

The Office of the Bankruptcy Clerk of Court, Northern District of Iowa

Fifteen members of the clerk’s office of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Iowa are recognized for their response to the flooding and closure of their court on June 12-13, 2008. Thanks to the successful implementation of their Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), court services continued throughout the disaster and essential functions were restored less than 24 hours after the court’s closure.

For the first 72 hours, as flood waters inundated the city of Cedar Rapids, the entire Cedar Rapids staff conducted court operations via J-Port, while the Sioux City staff covered main line phone calls and the majority of case traffic. Members of the court’s Information Technology staff had already transferred operations to replication servers in Sioux City. Meanwhile, the bankruptcy clerk of court worked with the General Services Administration and the district clerk of court to lease space. On June 17, the first bankruptcy pleading was accepted for filing in the court’s temporary location. Staff of the bankruptcy clerk’s office returned to work at the temporary location on June 23, and the first in-court proceeding was held there on June 24. On September 8, court operations returned to a permanent court location in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Robert L. Phelps, Clerk of Court, Northern District of Iowa

Phelps played an integral role in both the largest criminal worksite immigration enforcement operation ever conducted in the Northern District of Iowa and, a month later, in the district’s successful continuity of operations following the Flood of 2008, the worst natural disaster in the history of the Cedar Rapids area.

Both the flood and the worksite operation required a relocation of court operations. Phelps oversaw all clerk’s office operations, procuring equipment and finding and outfitting courtroom and office space. When more than 320 people were held at the local fairgrounds in the worksite immigration operation, Phelps arranged for 26 court interpreters, scheduled personnel, and saw that the temporary courtrooms were outfitted with complete IT, sound systems and recording equipment. When the U.S. Courthouse’s first floor was under four feet of floodwater, Phelps was instrumental in having temporary court facilities and operations up and running in only eight business days. He continues to share the COOP lessons he learned during these events, contributing his experience on a national level.