Courtside Conversations
T.J. BeMent

Reflections on a NACM Presidency . . . during a Pandemic

Title, Court: District Court Administrator, 10th Judicial District (Georgia)
NACM Title: President, 2020-21
Number of judges at court: 26
NACM member since: 2000

How did you get started in court administration?

I worked for the local District of Columbia government as a fiscal analyst after graduating with my masters. Part of my work was to conduct budgetary impact assessments for all local legislation. There was a legislative proposal to consolidate various administrative hearing functions that were lodged within the numerous government agencies. My work got noticed by the mayor’s office, and when the new program was established with its first administrative law judge, I was asked to join him as the new clerk and administrative officer. Over the next several years we then consolidated the administrative hearing programs from around the district. Five years later we had over twenty-five judges and almost as many staff processing everything from traffic tickets to environmental compliance and unemployment hearings.

How did you first get involved in NACM?

When I was in my first court role, I was both a manager and in charge of a new court program. Having little experience in the courts, I looked around for guidance. I stumbled upon NACM in my first year or so in the position and joined so that I could start getting more information. I also joined the Mid-Atlantic Association for Court Management, MAACM.

In 2003 NACM was having its annual conference in Washington, D.C., and I attended. Everyone was a great help in sharing their experiences. I still remember chatting with Chelle Uecker, who was soon to be president. She took me around and introduced me to people and helped me fit in. I found my work family. Before I knew it, I was listening in on committee calls and then actively participating. I was soon asked to fill a one-year spot on the board for someone who left before their term expired.

My work at NACM and connecting with mentors in the field encouraged me to seek out the Institute for Court Management’s certifications. Not only did I complete the program and become an ICM Fellow, but I am now also faculty and a curricula developer for the program. Being a Fellow also helps me keep connected to dear friends I met while completing the program.

You have been a NACM board member for many years and returned to service after serving. Can you describe what your board service has been like? What has drawn you to continue your service?

As noted earlier, my first stint on the board was to fill an expiring one-year position. After that, I joined the board for a full term. Back in those days, our board roles were based on your court’s jurisdictional type. We often had members who had to step down from the board if they moved to new positions in other courts. That happened to me when I changed jobs near the end of my term. Nonetheless, my first time on the board was a great learning experience. I served with several who would later go on to be NACM presidents—Jude Del Preore, Kevin Bowling, Marcus Reinkensmeyer, Suzanne Stinson—and so many more on the board. Many of these were mentors for me in my early career.

Some twenty years later, I count them as dear friends. When I changed jobs and relocated to the courts in Georgia, I stepped back a bit from NACM although staying active on committees. I got in involved in our state association, the Georgia Council of Court Administrators, GCCA. I joined their board and made my way to become president. I timed my completion serving GCCA with reapplying to be on the NACM board. Years later, here I am reflecting!

You served as the NACM president during a very challenging year. What did you learn from your presidential year, and what do you see for NACM in the future?

To say that this past year was a challenge is an understatement. NACM suffered personally and financially. Personally, we lost several judges and court managers to COVID-19. It is truly tragic. And as an association, the loss of revenue from both the 2020 annual and the 2021 midyear conferences was significant. Thankfully, the early leadership of NACM had invested wisely in a “rainy day” fund that we were able to draw down from to keep NACM afloat financially.

The move to virtual educational content, webinars, and the like mirrored the work our members were doing in our courts. As problem solvers, we took on the challenge and pivoted our efforts. I suppose the lesson I learned as a court manager (and as president of NACM) this past year has been threefold: first, when in such situations, try to over-communicate and keep in touch with your staff (our board) and colleagues (our members); second, be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances (move to virtual events); third, continue to share innovative approaches with another (via webinars, news blasts, etc.). I think this past year has shown how dedicated and resilient court managers are as individuals and as a profession. We have helped keep our courts open and perhaps even expanded access to justice in the process. As professionals, and as an organization of professionals, we need to make note of what we have learned this past year and continue to move forward making access to justice for all a priority.

But just as important as continuing to stay viable is, I have to say that I am proud to be part of our recent work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Admittedly, we are late to the discussion. As court professionals, we are often used to quietly serving in the background. But as an association of professionals, we have a collective voice. And we must use that voice to be part of the dialogue by addressing issues of systemic racism and social injustice in the justice system. There are no easy answers but being part of the discussion and increasing our awareness is a good start!

As part of your presidential duties, you engaged with other organizations. Where did you find NACM could assist other organizations, or where did NACM assist other organizations in the last year? Or can you describe some of NACM’s partnerships?

NACM has a long history with many justice partners. To see them all, I point our members to the Partners page on the NACM website ( We also routinely work with our partners collaboratively. Some of these include the “Dr. Is In” opportunities at our conferences that allow attendees to meet with court consultants from the National Center for State Courts. Or our ongoing work with the National Association of State Judicial Educators, which hosts an annual leadership seminar for state association and partner leaders. We also work with partners to produce various guides, webinars, educational sessions, and more. I am particularly proud of our recent project with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Association of Women Judges on the “#WeToo in the Courts” effort. This project will develop a curriculum for court leaders to address sexual and gender-based harassment in the courts.

What do you see as NACM’s purpose?

I think our tagline says it all: “Strengthening court professionals.” To me, that has multiple layers of meaning. From education to mentorship to comradery, we are here for one another to strengthen who we are as people and as professionals serving our courts.

What would you say to someone contemplating getting involved in NACM?

Just do it! The cost of membership is not extraordinarily high. And very likely your court will pay your dues. Our partnerships with various other associations may also get you a dual membership discount. In my twenty years of membership, my association with NACM and the colleagues I have met have made me a better court professional, a better leader, and a better person. Who doesn’t what that for themselves?


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