Mark Goodner sat down with Jennifer Bozorgnia to discuss The Municipal Court Clerk Certification Program
MG: Jennifer, thanks for sitting down with me today to discuss clerk certification. With a goal of encouraging professional development and educational growth within the court clerk profession, program participants achieve certification upon successful completion of each of the three levels: Level I (CCCI), Level II (CCCII), and Certified Municipal Court Clerk (CMCC) or what we sometimes call Level III. Now there are only about 130 CMCCs in all of Texas. Jennifer, you are number 47! How did you get started with the certification program and how has it helped you?
JB: Hi, Mark! Thanks so much for inviting me to participate today. The clerk certification program is one I hold near-and-dear to my heart, so any opportunity to share how it’s impacted my career is always appreciated. My CMCC certification is one of my proudest professional accomplishments for so many reasons! As you mentioned, I truly believe the program elevates our profession – from increased public confidence in our judicial system to a heightened understanding of how our roles and our courts support a positive quality-of-life for our communities.
As a brand-new Deputy Court Clerk in the small-volume court of Kennedale in the 2000’s, I was incredibly fortunate to work for the BEST Court Administrator of all time. Not only did she encourage my involvement in professional organizations like the Texas Court Clerks Association (TCCA) and the Texas Municipal Courts Association (TMCA), she also provided the resources necessary to begin pursuing my certifications – registering me for education through TMCEC, offering me study-time while at work, and cheering me on throughout every step of the process. Because I took advantage of what she offered, I was able to achieve Level I and Level II certifications within 6 months of one another and immediately began pursuing Level III, thereafter. While rigorous, the Level III journey was so rewarding!
Throughout my pursuit, I applied gained knowledge to improve processes and anticipate potential downfalls for my court in Kennedale. I was well-prepared for promotional opportunities and therefore, appointed as the Court Administrator and City Magistrate when the positions opened. I learned a ton and established meaningful relationships with clerks across the state. I used all of this when applying for a management role in the City of Irving’s Municipal Court – which, ultimately, led to my next professional chapter.
During the observation portion of the CMCC program, the Irving Municipal Court graciously hosted me to fulfill my large-volume requirement. While there, I fell in love with the team, their organizational culture, and their approach to customer service. When the management role was posted for them, I knew it was right for me, BUT I was disappointed to learn that I didn’t qualify because at the time, I lacked the formal education requirements for the position. REGARDLESS, I chose to apply anyway – using my recent CMCC certification in lieu of that formal education requirement… and it worked!
Ten years later, I’m now serving as the Director of Court Services for the City of Irving, a large-volume court, while leading a team of more than 35 dedicated professionals! I’ve used the discipline acquired during the clerk certification program to also achieve my CCM designation through the NCSC and complete my Master’s degree in Public Service and Administration through Texas A&M (Gig ‘em!) I’ve been able to take multiple leadership roles in TCCA and help cultivate the future of our profession by partnering with organizations like TMCEC and TCCA to facilitate ongoing education on meaningful and relevant topics.
Ultimately, I’m saying all of this not to impress anyone, but to impress upon EVERYONE three main takeaways:
1. As Court Clerks, our ongoing education and professional development is essential to building the public’s perception that we will always support a mission dedicated to the fair and impartial administration of justice;
2. As with any opportunity presented, you will only get out of something what you are willing to invest into it. The clerk certification program is a tool at your disposal. Use it! And lastly;
3. As leaders in public service, always remember that people may forget your name or the exact details of what you do, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel. I’ll never forget my first Court Administrator and what I felt she did for me (thank you, Bobbie!) Always be THAT type of leader – the one that always encourages growth and becoming better. Just in this, you will, undoubtedly, leave an impact!
MG: Thank you. Obviously, you are very active with TCCA and the certification program. You just told us how it has helped you personally with your own career. As a court administrator, when you encourage clerks to go through the certification process, how does that help their growth as court professionals? Do you notice a difference in the effectiveness of the court as they move throughout the process?
JB: Oh, that’s a great question! I believe there are so many perspectives to consider when answering this, but from my experience in both a small and large-volume court, I think it all comes down to confidence. Every court, no matter their size, is constantly tasked with overcoming challenges. Our challenges in Irving are much different than those that were present while I was in Kennedale.
For example, in Kennedale our resources were limited. Our judge and prosecutor were contracted, part-time, allowing us to schedule dockets only once per month. We were a staff of three – two clerks and a marshal, and we were cross-trained to assist with water utilities when billing clerks were out of the office. To be even more efficient, as the Court Administrator, I was appointed to also serve as the City Magistrate to review and conduct all statutory proceedings arising from an arrest by a KPD officer. Our general fund budget allocation was minimal and our special revenue funds (such as Court Technology and Building Security) were only as healthy as the number of citations issued (and the amount we collected).
However, in Irving these specific obstacles are factored in much less. Due to our size, though, we have other concerns to consider instead. For instance, we’re a constant target for the media’s scrutiny of the judicial system, our team is specialized by division – leaving them at a disadvantage to fully understand caseflow management from beginning to end, we’re always balancing operational efficiency with the motivational factors of more than 35 different team members– and that’s just to name a few!
Overall, no obstacle is greater in one place than the obstacle in another, it’s just a different obstacle – regardless of the organization’s size. This is why I think clerks’ professional growth and effectiveness are primarily achieved when they gain confidence; confidence in the knowledge learned throughout the program and confidence in reliable connections made with other clerks across the state, whether through TCCA, TMCEC, TMCA, etc. Ultimately, in my opinion this gained confidence strengthens the ability for them to make effective decisions. When I encourage clerks to complete the certification process, my hope is that they become empowered to not only make decisions wisely, but also equipped to defend those decisions using the appropriate tools taught to them throughout the program.
MG: I imagine some new court employees considering certification are worried about taking that on while others can’t wait to get started. I personally think it is such a fantastic way for someone to turn a job into a profession and a career. If someone is just entering the profession and is considering beginning the court certification journey, what advice would you give them?
JB: You hit the nail on the head, Mark. I deeply believe the certification “journey” helps transform our job into a career! To better understand this transformation, we can take a quick look at the origin of the word “career.” According to dictionary.com, it’s derived from the Latin word, carrus, or chariot, and later evolves to “signify the path chosen as one’s life’s work.” With that definition, it could easily be construed to mean that our job becomes a career when we choose to use it as the vehicle, or method, to achieve our life’s work.
For those just getting started or for those considering the journey, I’ll leave you with this bit of advice – first, make the commitment and just do it. Do it even when you don’t feel like doing it anymore. I guarantee your reward will far outweigh any reminder of how hard you thought it would be to accomplish it. Second, share your journey – the good and the bad. Let us celebrate you when things are great and let us encourage you when they’re not. You never know how your story could positively impact others around you. Lastly, don’t forget to approach the certification program as your vehicle to transform your job as a court clerk into your career as a public service professional! It won’t happen overnight, but nothing worth working for ever does. Embrace the process of your journey and you’ll, inevitably, result in being better because of it.
MG: Thank you so much for sharing your story and your thoughts, Jennifer. Those looking for more information can find it on the clerk certification page of the TMCEC website. The TCCA website is an abundant source of information, as well.