Courtside Conversation
Robert Carbeck

Interview Conducted and Edited by Dawn Palermo

Robert Carbeck

  • Deputy Court Administrator, Washtenaw County Michigan Trial Court
  • Number of judges at court:  Seven
  • NACM member since:  2019

How did you get started in court administration?
There was a need and I had some experience. I started my court career as a juvenile referee, became a probate register, and then supervised a clerking department. A position opened up in court administration about 12 years ago, and I had both the supervisory experience and the knowledge base to be able to step into the position. I moved up through the ranks and have been able to use my experience in a variety of ways.

What were you most surprised by after you became a court administrator?
There are many personnel issues to deal with day in and day out. I thought the job would be more focused on processes and reports. While there is plenty of that, much more time is spent dealing with disputes, disagreements, and dissension.

Tell us about something that makes your court unique.
Notwithstanding my previous answer, our bench gets along and works very well together. I have come to appreciate how rare that can be. I think our collegiality can be traced to having our two probate judges and our five circuit court judges cross-assigned so everyone gets a chance to do a bit of everything over time. There is a lot of opportunity for consulting back and forth on tricky situations which arise.

How did you first get involved in NACM?
I credit Kevin Bowling, Kathy Griffin, and Frank Hardester, all fellow Michigan court administrators, for consistently pointing out the benefits they have gotten from membership in general and the conferences in particular. Their knowledge and enthusiasm make them excellent ambassadors. 

You attended the NACM Midyear Conference in Charlotte for the first time in many years.  What did you enjoy most about the conference, and what sessions do you recommend court professionals view on the NACM website?
I liked all three major aspects of the conference: the educational sessions, the vendors, and the networking. I saw vendors at NACM that I did not see at my state conference, and they were very interesting. The networking was good too, made even stronger by the number of opportunities we had to collaborate and work together to discuss various topics in some of the sessions. The educational sessions were all great, but I found the sessions on Operations Management: Conflict and Drama in the Workplace presented by Eric Robinson from the University of Georgia especially good. Eric was very engaging and dynamic, and the material was practical and useful.

What made you attend a NACM conference after many years?
The opportunity presented itself as far as my schedule, having money in the budget to attend, and being encouraged by Kevin, Kathy and Frank. The perfect storm!

Why should someone attend a NACM Conference?  Any pointers for attendees?
As I stated above, the three major draws for me are the educational sessions, the networking, and the vendors. But what makes these things even better in the context of NACM is the national scope you get from conferences. You get a wider range of vendors and fellow court managers than you would from local or even regional conferences. I think the sorts of speakers at national conferences are often not available at smaller conferences. My pointers would be to get as involved as much as possible when attending the conference. Sign up to host an educational session, attend the numerous networking opportunities, schedule a “Doctor Is In” session with the staff from the National Center for State Courts, and just generally engage with your fellow attendees as much as possible. It never fails to amaze me how many different ways there are to approach the problems and challenges we all have.

What would you say to someone contemplating getting involved in NACM?
I would encourage any court administrator at any level to get involved with NACM. The conferences are very worthwhile, but NACM also is a great resource for useful materials on a wide variety of topics. Membership is very well worth it.


Dawn Palermo is the judicial administrator at Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court, Louisiana.