Marshalling COVID Response and Tackling Jury Diversity, Pierce County Court Administrator Named Court Manager of the Year

Pierce County Superior Court Administrator Chris Gaddis has been named 2021 Court Manager of the Year by the Washington State Court Management Council for his leadership and innovation in response to the COVID pandemic and for his extensive work on jury diversity both statewide and in the community served by his court.

“Chris is an innovative thinker and problem solver. He is particularly gifted in the areas of communication, technology and strategic planning,” wrote Pierce County Superior Court Presiding Judge Philip K. Sorensen in his letter nominating Gaddis for the award.

The Court Manager of the Year Award is presented to a manager or administrator who demonstrates leadership of regional or statewide impact beyond what is expected of an individual court manager.

Even before the pandemic hit Gaddis had organized numerous drills to prepare for continuing court operations in different types of disasters, Sorensen said. Gaddis “marshalled our entire response to COVID… Within weeks of mid-March 2020 we created an entire virtual courthouse. All of our judicial departments were designated with a web broadcast channel on our website as we balanced safety with access to justice and open court.” Then when the court began preparing for in-person proceedings, Gaddis organized large scale mock trials, mock voir dire [jury selection] and mock jury orientations, with health department visitors attending and providing input, to determine how the court could function. The broadcast simulations were followed across the state.

“Combined with creating remote access to justice that has now become commonplace, Pierce County’s ability to dispense justice was able to not only survive, but in certain case types, to thrive during this pandemic,” Sorensen wrote. “There was no roadmap for a pandemic, but in Pierce County, there is now.”

Gaddis has also taken on statewide court leadership roles — he is serving his second term as president of the Association of Washington Superior Court Administrators — and shortly after being hired in 2016 he began actively working on local and state efforts to improve jury diversity in Washington. He joined the statewide Jury Diversity Task Force, designed a project to examine jury summons responses in Pierce County, and was a featured speaker at a Supreme Court symposium on jury diversity. When the jury summons project revealed which Pierce County neighborhoods had low jury response rates, Gaddis championed outreach efforts to specific areas to help increase awareness and participation. He also established three Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committees focused on both juries and internal court operations.

“Chris has led our court in new and exciting directions,” Sorensen wrote. “He has led us and much of the state in managing the crisis we all face.”

The Court Management Council is a statewide forum in which court officials work to enhance the administration of courts. The Court Manager of the Year Award was established in 1987 to honor outstanding court managers, and is awarded each year to an individual whose leadership has been transformative on a regional or statewide basis and who has mobilized and unified others to take action for improvement of the state judicial system.

-Washington Courts