Finding the Right Path in the ‘New Normal’
When Laurie Dudgeon joined Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts in 2007, she knew it was where she needed to be.
“Once I found my spot here, it felt like home,” said Dudgeon, a 2012 CSG Toll Fellow who was named director of the AOC in 2009 after serving as deputy director of the agency for two years. “I think the job here definitely draws on my background as an attorney and draws on my background in the executive branch.”
Dudgeon earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1991 and her juris doctorate from UK in 1994. She practiced law—focusing on constitutional law, employment law, administrative law, and commercial and residential real estate law during nine years in private practice in Kentucky and South Carolina.
She began working in state government in 2005—first as a staff attorney in the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet then as director of the Office of Drug Control Policy—but there was something about joining the Administrative Office of the Courts that just fit. But while she may have found her home in state government, she still draws upon the path that took her there.
That background in the executive branch before moving to the judicial branch helped shape her desire to work more closely on process-related work across branch lines.
“I think frequently, we have a tendency within our branch to isolate ourselves from the rest of state government because we are so worried about crossing that policymaking line,” she said. “I think it’s very important that we have a very open dialogue with members of the legislative and executive branches. “
But Dudgeon believes a good understanding of how the court system works is important for legislative and executive branch officials to have in their policy work. “It’s very easy to not understand what an intricate role the judicial branch plays in the balance of state government. What can be the best policy on paper may not have the effect that’s intended if you don’t understand how that law is going to be applied.”
When the Kentucky General Assembly is in session, “it’s all hands on deck” at the Administrative Office of the Courts, Dudgeon said.
“They have a lot of questions, data requests,” she said of Kentucky’s legislators. “Being responsive to those requests is very important to us.”
The relationships her team has developed with staff of the legislative judiciary committees has been a key to making sure what the legislature intended on the policy side has the right effect on the process side.
Those good working relationships are even more important these days with the changing economic climate and the so-called “new normal” to which everyone in state government across the country are trying to adjust. She administers the $365 million judicial branch budget, so she knows how tight that budget is.
Dudgeon has had to find new paths to accomplish things the Administrative Office of the Courts needs to do.
For example, the agency has been spread out over seven buildings, but will move into a renovated Home Depot building in Frankfort this fall in a lease-to-purchase deal that’s actually less than the current lease rate. She also was able to get one-time restricted fund money for renovation.
“If one path doesn’t work, you can frequently find another path to meet the same goal,” she said.
Another challenge she is facing is the desperately needed upgrade to the court system’s technology. The legislature granted the agency authority to issue an agency bond to upgrade technology and Dudgeon said it will have a pilot project for electronic court filing before 2013 is out.
As director of the AOC, Dudgeon oversees nearly 3,300 employees, including 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. That’s a lot of people, but Dudgeon learned early in life that relationships matter.
“I grew up in a small family business and the people they worked with were their family,” she said. “Knowing the people you work with is key to my management style.”
Her parents, Robert and Suzanne Kidd of Somerset, operated a small family business that her great-grandmother and grandfather started after the end of World War II.
“It was the first tire business in that part of the state and was visionary for its time, as families began buying cars after the war,” she said.
Dudgeon and her two younger siblings worked at the business after school and during summers and holidays.
“My grandfather was devoted to his community and had a strong sense of civic responsibility. I learned the value of personal relationships and the importance of good customer service from my parents, who taught me that being a strong manager is about building cooperation, not dictating from the top,” she said.
That philosophy also allowed her to get to know one of her mentors, Chief Justice John Minton, a 2010 CSG Toll Fellow.
Dudgeon said it’s an honor to serve as AOC director during Minton’s tenure as chief justice.
“Chief Justice Minton has led us during the most financially difficult time in the history of the court system and he sets an example every day with his integrity, professionalism and respect for all employees of the Kentucky Court of Justice,” she said.
While Dudgeon will be busy over the summer moving AOC offices under one roof and addressing the challenges associated with the conversion to e-filing, she’ll be equally as busy with her two children, Kathleen, 14, and Tate, 10.
“Your social life is their social life,” she said of her children. “It certainly does keep me connected to this community.”