Administrative Rank

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By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

The legal community's loss has been the federal judiciary's gain.

David J. Weaver, who holds the dual titles of court administrator and clerk of court for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, once entertained thoughts of becoming a lawyer.

"All my life, I thought that was a very interesting profession that helped a lot of people," Weaver said during a recent interview from his eighth-floor federal office in downtown Detroit.

He was never sure why he wanted to be an attorney; it just seemed like an excellent profession to pursue. And he was waiting on word of his acceptance to a law school when he took a position in a Toledo firm as a runner when reality struck.

"I saw what lawyers did on a day to day basis, and I thought, 'No that isn't for me,' " Weaver said. "Something about it didn't sit right with me."

The Toledo native said he felt lost. But then an opportunity for employment came from the local branch office of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, an entry-level position as an intake clerk in the records division.

And so began Weaver's rise through the federal courts in Toledo, then Cleveland, and on to his current job in Detroit. Weaver, 47, said he later thought he might give law school another try, "but my heart wasn't in it," he said. "I was moving along well in the federal court system, and I liked it, so I just stayed put."

Any regrets?

"None at all," he said.

Although he was born in Toledo, as were both his parents, Weaver's family moved a short distance over the state line to Temperance, Mich. when he was 3 years old. He graduated from high school in 1981, entered Michigan State University and transferred to its James Madison College his second semester.

After graduating with a degree in international relations in 1985, and the law school tap dance, he was hired in 1987 by the federal judiciary in Toledo. Weaver worked his way up, becoming a courtroom deputy for a magistrate judge, then the same role for a District Court judge.

A change came about in the late 1980s -- computers and information technology, or IT -- and Weaver volunteered to integrate the new-fangled machines into the Toledo office.

"I had a little bit of a knack for it," he said.

He worked with the computer guru in the federal judiciary in Cleveland to help work IT into the Toledo office, and then was transferred to Cleveland in 1989 where he worked in the IT Department as a database administrator.

"I remember the first personal computer that walked in the door," Weaver said. "The rest of us weren't allowed to touch it."

He was a self-described computer geek. Weaver said he didn't have an education in that field, but brought a ton of interest, and learned rather quickly.

Again, Weaver moved up the ladder, to assistant IT manager and then operations manager. He assisted in starting the first electronic filing system in the Cleveland federal judiciary, a precursor to the Case Management/Electronic filing system now used in every federal district, bankruptcy and appellate court.

That came about through a huge asbestos personal injury case. Weaver said up to 10,000 paper documents were filed weekly, and keeping track of the documents became nearly impossible; warehouse space had to be rented to store the paperwork. But with the e-filing system, soon only about 500 paper documents were being filed for the entire year.

"Instead of rooms full of paper, now we have servers full of data," he said.

It's since grown to a system where attorneys can file documents at anytime of the day or night, sitting at home in their pajamas, or traveling in China.

Working in operations -- handling staff and court issues -- and IT, Weaver said he was able to grasp and merge the two worlds, which helped him advance again. And in August 1998, Weaver became Deputy Court Administrator of the federal judiciary in Detroit. A year later, he was appointed to the dual role of Court Administrator and Clerk of Court.

Weaver said the dual role of clerk and court administrator in the federal court is a unique position, started in 1990. In state courts, the clerk is elected, and the court administrator is appointed. But here, federal clerks are appointed, hired and fired by the District Court judges. In one role, he manages all non-judicial administrative functions, which includes the Clerk's office, Probation and Pre-Trial Services, and the support services to process the judicial business of the court. In his other role, he keeps the official court records, collects and deposits the monies taken in, and other functions such as procurement, finance, space and facilities, budget, human resources, automation, technology, and court operations.

Weaver describes it as being a CEO of a mid-size company, with the federal judges acting as the board of directors, and the chief judge as chairman of the board.

He jokingly said he has to keep at least 11 District Court judges happy to keep his job.

"But they make it easy, and treat us very well," he said. "They understand we're here to do the business side of the court, the administrative stuff, and they're here to make decisions."

"But if you deal with them straight up, they're going to deal with you straight up," Weaver said. "And they've treated us well from the day I got here. They are extremely smart people."

He need not worry about job security, said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gerald Rosen.

"Dave does everything with the finesse and tact of a diplomat," Chief Judge Rosen said. "Dealing with life-tenured judges is not easy, and dealing with 400 staff is not easy, yet he is always calm, reasonable and able to navigate sometimes roiled waters with great finesse."

Rosen described Weaver as a "terrific guy, very modest and self-effacing, and he is widely respected by every member of our bench, and I think by all the members of the larger court family."

"David has been just a wonderful asset to us over his more than 11 years as Court Administrator," Rosen said. "He is a remarkable resource, and does a great job in acting, effectively, as chief operating officer of our court."

He credits Weaver with a keen understanding of the administrative side of the court and by utilizing technology and other methods to help the District Court function more efficiently.

"We couldn't function without him," Rosen said.

Weaver got a chuckle recently while reading a summary from a clerk's annual convention in 1972 during a discussion of computers and automation. He said one clerk wrote that automation "can not, and should not, play a central role in the administration of justice."

"So from there, to where we are today, it's completely opposite. That's probably been the biggest change I've seen in my career," he said of the automation and technology.

Now, the entire civil and criminal docket is fully electronic.

While many in the older generation -- he insists those people be referred to instead as traditionalists -- have found the new technology a foreign skill, Weaver said there was little resistance to the changes among judges and court staff along the way.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how well people adapted to it," he said. "It's been a sea change in how the federal judiciary operates."

From a simple PC then, to laptops, I pads and a fully integrated e-filing system now. He also has become a booster for the new technology, and has spoken on the topic at many national committees on that and other issues from being Court Administrator and Clerk.

Weaver said the federal court in Detroit is one of the 10 largest federal trial courts in the country, "so we have a lot of activity, a lot of staff, and it's challenging."

One of those challenges is money. While state courts have not been funded as well as the federal courts, that is likely to change over the next few years as pay freezes and budget cuts hit the federal system.

"We've taken 6 to 9 percent budget cuts across the board this year, and cuts are projected to be 10 to 20 percent next year," he said.

The court's annual budget is about $30 million.

Weaver said approximately 400 people work in the court, including judges, their staffs and secretaries; the clerks office' probation; and pre-trial services. His district includes not only Detroit, but satellite federal courts in Ann Arbor, Bay City, Flint, and Port Huron.

With a budget that large, Weaver said the money aspect frightened him the most when he took over. But he said he has been able to deal with it and learn. What he finds most taxing is dealing with the hiring and firing that is inevitable in any job.

As a person who likes to fly under the radar, Weaver approached Rosen before agreeing to an interview, but Rosen encouraged him to do it for the court.

"I think it's important to get information out about our court," he said. "A lot of people don't understand who we are, or what we do at the federal level, and Chief Judge Rosen is very committed to get more of a public face for us."

Circumstances have helped that endeavor, too. The District Court handled cases involving the Christmas Day, 2009 underwear bomber who landed at Detroit Metro Airport, and a few cases connected with the scandal surrounding former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

But it all boils down to a guy who loves his job.

"It's a great place to work," Weaver said of his post with the U.S. District Court. "We have great people who are committed to the court and public service. And the judges are wonderful. It's just a very unique place to work, and it's a little bit different every day."

Weaver and his wife, Trish, live in Monroe and have two children - Ellen, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, and David Jr., a high school freshman. Weaver stayed south of Detroit to be near his mother, who lives in Luna Pier. His father is deceased.

For fun, Weaver listens to audio books on the commutes to and from work, plays pick-up basketball games when his shoulders cooperate, takes family vacations to Florida, and dotes on his family.

"We're kind of homebodies, really, we just like being with each other."

Weaver said he hopes to spend another 10 years or so with the U.S. District Court end his career.

"If I make it that far, that'll be 20 years as clerk, and I think that's more than enough for me, and more than enough for them (judges and staff)," he said with a smile.

Published: Thu, Jan 6, 2011

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