On the rise-- Court administrator took 'long road' to the top spot

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

As the oldest of three girls, Paula McGlown grew up with "a really strict father" who wanted the best for his daughters. He taught her the value of an education, and that good things come from hard work.

Consider those as life lessons learned and as a mission accomplished. After starting her career on nearly the lowest possible rung in Genesee County 68th District Court in 1996, McGlown has risen through the ranks from a court reporter to court administrator, overseeing the $5.5 million operation and managing a staff of nearly 40 employees.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd end up here," McGlown said when asked if on day one as a court reporter she'd end up running the show.

But it would be naïve and unwise to call McGlown's ascension easy, or consider her an overnight success. In between that first day in court and now, she has worked very hard, obtained a bachelor and master's degree, and fought for every inch of success she's attained.

McGlown, 44, was born in Flint and attended Beecher schools. Her mother stayed home and raised her and two sisters, while her father toiled at a local Buick plant. He has since retired from the shop, and her parents also celebrated 46 years of marriage.

But growing up as the oldest daughter was not easy. To say he was strict would be an understatement.

"He pretty much had me on lockdown," McGlown said. "He didn't want anything to happen to us girls. He instilled proper values in us."

And being the first child, McGlown said she was expected to set the example for her younger sisters. "The first child is like practice" for parents, she said.

But practice makes perfect, and McGlown took those lessons to heart. She landed on the honor roll at high school. After graduating with honors from Beecher High School in 1983, McGlown said she had no real clue of what to do with her life. She thought she might like to be a television newscaster, but ended up moving to Colorado, where she had family.

McGlown landed a job at George Washington High School in the Denver Public Schools system, where she met a man and married when she was only 20 years old. But the marriage ended, and McGlown moved back to Michigan in 1993.

"I missed home and my family and decided to come back," she said. "I was ready to come back, and you really miss your family and need their support when you go through something like that."

Once back in Flint, McGlown began looking for a job, and after a series of odd jobs, she landed a position at General Motors, ordering parts.

"It was not up my alley, nothing exciting, but it paid the bills," she said.

McGlown did that for about three years, but a friend of hers in the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office told her about an opening in the 68th District Court as a judicial recorder for then Judge Raymond Branch. McGlown said there were 21 applicants for the job--and she was the one who was offered the position.

So in September 1996, she was training to learn the ins and outs of courts, its special language and terms and other facets that were foreign to her.

"I was clueless," she said.

But McGlown was helped by other experienced court recorders, and soon was able to record court testimony, type court transcripts and other duties of a judge's right hand woman.

"I found it all so interesting," she said. "I had never been in a courtroom before, and it changed my perspective of life."

McGlown realized she had led a "very sheltered life" after sitting in on arraignments, preliminary hearings and other court matters. Her own parents would not let her hang at the house of friends if their parents drank or smoked.

"Anything negative, my Dad didn't want us around," McGlown said.

He would screen her friends, and if they didn't pass Dad's test, she could not hang around with them. Now, after working in court, McGlown realized why her father was strict.

"I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have until I came here and saw what he was trying to protect us from," she said. "I had a greater appreciation for Dad after that."

McGlown spent three years as court reporter, and learned the process, not only on the judicial side, but also picked up things from the administrative side as well. In 1999, Judge Branch lost in the election, "and if a judge loses, you're out of a job," McGlown said.

But the current court administrator, Lynette Ward, had an opening in her office, and McGlown applied for the position of administrative assistant. She was selected in January 2000. Ward took her protégé under her wing and taught her the job from top to bottom. Soon, McGlown was performing tasks she had only seen from afar.

"I learned so much from Lynette," she said. "She showed me what a court administrator does."

But after a few years, the city of Flint began experiencing huge financial problems, and it was eventually taken over by the state. That led to a smaller budget and fewer people to do the job.

"We had to look for cheaper ways to do business," McGlown said. "We were all pitching in."

McGlown and others took on additional duties to keep the court running as smoothly as possible.

McGlown also began thinking about her future, and saw the need for a college degree. She entered Northwood University in an accelerated program and received a bachelor's degree in business administration in 2006, graduating cum laude.

"You can't compete with just a bachelor's degree, so without a break I went into a master's program," McGlown said.

Three months after getting one degree, she started on a path to get another. McGlown said she had heard about the master's program at Central Michigan University, so she applied there and was accepted. She earned a master of science in administration, with a concentration in public administration, in 2008. She had a 3.6 grade point average at CMU. For those four or five straight years in school, McGlown knew she would have to give up a lot of things.

"But I felt that if I sacrificed now, it would be worth it in the future, and put myself in a place I want to be. I was very proud of that. I worked my butt off, but it paid off," she said.

During her college years, McGlown was also named Administrative Services manager for the court, performing more functions and moving up the court's ladder. And in January, 2008, she was selected as deputy court administrator. After starting almost at the bottom, and working her way up while getting an education, McGlown said she believed she "had a lot to offer" in that job.

"I believed I could make a difference here," she said. "And from what I learned in school, and from Lynette, I could put into practice. At one point, Ward had left and another person was put in the court administrator position, but in 2009, that person left.

McGlown then applied for the court administrator position. There were nearly 50 applicants, and McGlown prevailed again, taking over the top spot in July 2009.

Also, several months earlier, she married Mike McGlown, a former probation officer and court office supervisor for the 68th District Court. The two met in high school and coincidentally, both landed jobs in the court. He retired from the city several moths after she was named Court Administrator, but is now a probation officer for the 52-1 District Court in Novi. The couple lives in Flushing.

"He was always my best friend," she said of her husband.

As for her court duties, McGlown said the past seven months have been very good. McGlown said she has good relationships with the judges and staff, and works closely with her supervisors to get their input.

"I've worked so hard to get here, and I'll work hard to get better."

With the economic difficulties facing Michigan and Flint, operating within the budget is a challenge, but McGlown said that is her most rewarding part of the job.

"You feel like you made an accomplishment," she said.

She also takes pride in seeing her staff grow and pitch in to get the jobs done. If someone has done an exceptional job, McGlown said she will put a hand-written note and a bag of chocolates on their desk to show them she appreciates their hard work.

McGlown said she has learned something from all her former court administrators. But the hardest part of the job for her is the "frustration of having to do more with less. Less people. Less money."

McGlown said her goals would be to have better relationships with city of Flint administrators, and improve the court's caseload numbers and the court's revenues.

"I want this court to have a good reputation, that our work is accurate and that we do things the right way," she said.

Another factor in McGlown's determination then, and her drive now, was seeing a woman in charge of the court.

"That lit a fire under me," she said, and helped her get through those long days at work and long nights and weekends in college. "That was something I wanted really bad back then, either here or in another court.

"Just to see a woman in an active leadership role made me think that would be something I'd like to do one day, not for the power, but for the respect, and to make the right decisions for the court."

Published: Wed, Apr 28, 2010

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