New administrator positive on past and future of 61st District Court

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY CYNTHIA PRICE

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Gary Secor uses words like “delighted” and ”honored” when he speaks about landing his new job as 61st District Court Administrator.

 “I know the 61st District Court is already considered an exceptional court around the state,” Secor says.

And there is every reason to believe that Secor knows what he is talking about, since he has spent the last 20 years in the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO), working on special projects and budgetary matters which have familiarized him with courts across the state.

His work at the SCAO, from which he retired immediately before starting at the 61st, was broad and intensive, involving a variety of court improvement programs and a broad-based technology upgrade related to child support enforcement which took him into virtually every Michigan court. He comments, “I know what’s going on around the state.”

All of that is fairly amazing considering that Secor originally set out to be a social worker.

It is the legal community’s gain  that he changed his mind even before receiving his bachelor’s degree in social work from Michigan State University — at the point that he did his senior internship, in fact.

After a stint in the army, where he was a platoon sergeant, Secor started out his court career as a Juvenile Court Probation Officer in Ionia County. He moved fairly shortly thereafter into being Juvenile Court Administrator and Referee. He distinguished himself during the ten years he spent at the Ionia district court, from 1975 to 1985, in part by taking leadership positions in state organizations such as the Juvenile Court Administrators Association and Juvenile Justice Association.

By now immersed in his court career, he next took a position as Friend of the Court and Circuit Court Referee for Ionia’s Eighth Circuit Court.

Having always wanted to work for the SCAO, Secor was pleased to start at the state office as an analyst at the Friend of the Court Bureau back in 1991.

He had not been on the job very long when he was assigned to a broad special project as the operations manager for the Child Support Enforcement System project. This challenging project entailed overseeing contracts and budgets and supervising from 130 to 160 state and contract staff people. He learned about computer technology and how it can support an organization, and though he found it stressful, it was also “rewarding and worthwhile.”

His next assignment was to work on the Detroit Recorders Court and Third Circuit Court merger, and from that time forward he spearheaded a wide range of court consolidation and improvement projects.

His career at the SCAO followed a pattern of performing routine duties such as reviewing specialty courts’ budgets and progress reports, alternating with being pulled out of the office to lead projects covering a broad range of court needs.

Without a hint of arrogance, Secor says, “I guess when they had a special project, they figured I was the guy for the job.”

Secor worked on the Trial Court Performance Measures, which was chaired by 17th Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan, as well as a series of assignments on drug and specialty courts, which became his passion.

“I attended a drug court graduation in Barry County when I was first assigned, and starting right then I was hooked. I see all it does for people’s lives and especially their families, what an exceptional alternative to incarceration with all the services and support you can give offenders.”

The aggressive drug and sobriety court “hybrid” in Kent County was a substantial draw for Secor. He is now writing grants for federal money to support expanding those courts to cover those with “co-occurring mental disorders.”

Clearly, his charge at the 61st includes reducing costs and finding additional revenue in these times of municipal economic hardship. He met Monday morning with Grand Rapids Police Department to review ways to save money on  joint programs, such as the Domestic Assault Response Team, and they are investigating the cost savings of automated citations.
He is assessing programs across the board which have been successful in other courts, drawing on his own experience. He says that in terms of improvement — “There’s always room for improvement, even in the best courts” — he would like to concentrate on customer service. “I’ve always been a proponent of customer service, being courteous, being efficient, being helpful.”

On a personal note, Secor has lived for decades in Lake Odessa; he married wife Beth 23 years ago. They have two children, a daughter who is a senior at Columbia College in Chicago, and a son who was attending Calvin College but is now taking a break from academic studies. He also has an older daughter who lives in nearby Grand Ledge. Beth Secor is a second grade teacher, and Secor shares that one of her passions, animal rescue, is likely to prevent them from ever experiencing empty nest syndrome. “We have four rescues at the house right now,” he says, “two great danes, a doberman and a havanese.”

Secor loves his home, which is on a little lake, so has not considered relocating over the years. “I used to have to drive to work almost 40 miles to the east, now I come back about 30 miles to the west,” Secor says.

To obtain the 61st District position Secor interviewed intensively with panels of judges and district court staff. He expressed his gratitude to Judge David J. Buter, Chief Judge, and Donald H. Passenger, Chief Judge Pro Tem, as the final decision-makers. “I feel very strongly that we’ve got a great administrative staff and a great bench.,” Secor comments.

“I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to get up every morning and come to work,” he adds.

And since starting as administrator in April, Secor has made a uniformly good impression with everyone he meets. Court Clerk Vickie Morren comments, “We are so happy to have him at 61st.”