Mari Kay Bickett is chief executive officer of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, based in Reno.
What is the council?
We are a national organization, a judicial membership organization—and actually the largest and oldest judicial membership organization in the nation—that does education, technical assistance and research for the judiciary and other allied professionals in the field.
You told me that there’s a reason both juvenile and family courts are mentioned in the name. What’s the difference?
They are different, and juvenile court is usually a court where a young person has committed some sort of infraction, some sort of offense, criminal or some kind of offense like truancy. … Family can handle all of those issues that the juvenile courts handle, but in addition they will handle the issues around divorce, custody, child support or any other thing that might be family related.
You do training for judges?
We do training for judges and other stakeholders within the system as well.
There is another major judicial organization in Reno, the National Judicial College. Does anyone ever confuse the two?
Heck, yes. We get confused with them all the time, and I can understand that, because number one, Reno has two very well-respected national judicial organizations right here on the university campus. When we first started, the Judicial College and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges were in the same building. But we grew exponentially and had to spread out. I have a staff of a hundred—75 of which are in Reno—spread between two offices, and 25 in Pittsburgh. That’s our research division.
You’re housed on the UNR campus. Are you involved with the campus?
Oh, yes. In fact, just recently we did healthy communities outreach with UNR around sexual assault on campus. We had a community symposium, and we worked with law enforcement and with the resources on campus. You know, parents want to know that their kids are safe on campus and want to know that they can get the help that they need if something like this might happen. And so we talked about victim trauma and how you should be sensitive to these cases. And in fact, they’ve set up a system where UNR has trained some of their staff on how they’re handling the investigative park of it. We’ve helped them with that training. So we work collaboratively with a lot of things, but that’s one of the most recent.
Why should a barber or a waitress care about your work here?
Well, I think that our entire community should care about the council and our work, because I do think that we embrace the idea “Healthy courts create healthy families,” which in turn create healthy communities. And I don’t know who wouldn’t get behind that. But there is going to be a point from the time that you’re born till you leave this Earth that you’ll probably walk into a courthouse for some reason. If your sister was involved in a relationship that was violent and needed to leave that relationship, wouldn’t you want a judge that knew the dynamics of domestic violence and knew the services that were offered in this community? If you were getting a divorce, you went into a relationship, for better or worse, and now you’re in a courtroom, spilling the most intimate details to a person on a bench in a black robe, wouldn’t you want someone that was knowledgeable about the law in that area but also compassionate and treated you with dignity in that kind of situation? So we should care about the quality of our courts and how they are run and how we’re treated. You want dignity in a courtroom, and you want due process, and that’s what healthy courts can deliver.