When Lois Patricia Bodden joined the courthouse staff as a messenger in 1990, there were three judges of the Grand Court and two magistrates in the Summary Court.
Fast forward 26 years: Mrs. Bodden, better known as Miss Patsy, has retired as supervisor of the Criminal Registry and then supernumerary during a year of staff transition. Cayman now has a chief justice and seven other judges in the Grand Court, while Summary Court matters are presided over by a chief magistrate, two other full-time magistrates and five magistrates who serve part-time.
Obviously, there have been some changes over the years.
Miss Patsy’s job also evolved. As messenger, she was kept busy delivering and picking up packets between the Law Courts Building, the Government Administration Building (in those days, the Glass House) and the Legal Department, located in an office building on Dr. Roy’s Drive.
She later applied for and was promoted to clerical officer. No more walking around town. Her responsibilities now included logging charges brought in by police officers and putting files together for the next day’s court proceedings.
“In those days, we had to log every charge into a record book, assigning a case number and making sure names were correct. We had to manually type up warrants and court lists for each day’s sessions. JEMS made the work much easier,” she said.
JEMS is the Judicial Enforcement Management System, a computer program the courts began using in 1999 to record a defendant’s name, address, date of birth, charges and case number. It stores the information so that it can be called up again with the click of a button instead of having to be retyped.
Since the launch of the Judicial Administration website, court lists are posted daily online; lists are still printed for magistrates, court staff and the bulletin board, but there is no longer the need to photocopy them for attorneys and members of the public.
Over the years, Miss Patsy earned promotions to executive officer I, executive officer II, and then supervisor of the Criminal Registry. She enjoyed her work at every level because “I love dealing with the public.”
She said she honed her public relations skills before joining the court staff when she worked with Melba Nixon in a gift shop on the waterfront. “She taught me that the customer is always right. Even when they’re wrong, they’re right,” Miss Patsy joked. For the staff in the Criminal Registry, the “customers” can be defendants anxious to get their bail forms; stressed parents, spouses or friends inquiring about a defendant’s case disposal; members of the public upset about a traffic tickets or impatient to find out where they’re supposed to go to deal with whatever brought them to the courthouse in the first place.
“You have to try to make them smile,” Miss Patsy believes. Her soft voice and gentle manner, combined with a willingness to listen, almost always eased tensions. The occasions on which she had to call for assistance from security officers were rare.
A significant development in the history of Cayman’s judicial system was the establishment of the Drug Rehabilitation Court, which involves intensive supervision of participants over a period that usually lasts for more than a year.
One potential source of tensions was the crowding that occurred when people came to pay fines. The cashier’s window was barely 5 feet across from the registry counter. By 9:30 some mornings the narrow space could be jammed with people trying to form a line for the cashier and others trying to get through the line to the counter. Administrators solved that problem by moving Judicial Finance to the ground floor of Kirk House across the street.
Space behind the registry counter also started getting crowded; that situation was resolved when the Civil Registry was moved to Kirk House, third floor.
The workload in the Criminal Registry does not come only from the number of cases brought in, which is only half the story: there is also the number of times case files have to be handled, stored and retrieved for further mentions, new trial dates, adjournments and, often, sentencings. Registry staff have developed systems to make sure no file goes astray; if something does get misplaced, they backtrack until it is found.
One device that helps is the use of different color file jackets for different courts, such as deep purple for young persons.
A significant development in the history of Cayman’s judicial system was the establishment of the Drug Rehabilitation Court, which involves intensive supervision of participants over a period that usually lasts for more than a year. Progress is recorded in each person’s file, so file management is critical. This challenge was met by the appointment of one staff member to serve as drug court officer.
Overall, the work was demanding, but never dull, Miss Patsy summarized. “I enjoyed working in Judicial Administration, but the time has come to leave,” she said on her last day.
Future plans include helping her husband, Winston, with the family farm and some community involvement. But if the Criminal Registry ever has a sudden emergency, Miss Patsy will be glad to come back and help out.
This story has been amended from the original.