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“It’s great to be working for the third branch of government."

Breaking the Ice: Court administrator’s role has statewide reach

Name: Jeff Shorba

Title: State court administrator

Education: Undergraduate degree, Carleton College; law degree, Harvard Law School

As state court administrator, Jeff Shorba helps coordinate operations of the state’s judiciary, working closely with 10 judicial districts, 106 court locations and 317 elected judges.

“It’s great to be working for the third branch of government,” Shorba said. “It plays a really important role in the lives of Minnesotans who come to the branch for justice or for a resolution of their cases and controversies.”

Yet few people outside the system, Shorba said, are aware of its structure or office, which handles finance, technology and other services that keep the courts running.

“Sometimes that’s good, to be under the radar,” he said. “Sometimes you want to brag a bit about your organization.”

Shorba, a member of the administrative policy-making state Judicial Council, has been state court administrator since 2012 after a decade as deputy administrator. His experience includes working as associate general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Shorba led the transition to, as of July, a full electronic filing system and now is looking to re-engineer processes to take advantage of that system.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Be direct, especially this time of year with the Legislature in session. It’s really helpful if they’re direct and to the point. I’m usually pretty responsive.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. Most of my daily reading has to do with work things or news-related issues. We’ve been going through re-engineering efforts and culture change, so I did recently read a book on effective leadership by an Oxford University professor named Archie Brown, “The Myth of the Strong Leader.” His finding was that the most successful leaders in history haven’t been those who necessarily consolidate power and maintain tight control on decision-making, but rather the most successful ones are those who collaborate, delegate and negotiate.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. A big part of my job is meetings, so one of my pet peeves is what I would call meetings without a purpose. I’m a firm believer in only meeting when necessary and having a firm agenda set forth at the beginning.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I have a cabin, so I like spending time away from the work setting occasionally and getting outside, whether it’s winter or summer, enjoying the outdoors, trying to disconnect a bit, though there is Wi-Fi there.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would take them to see or do?

A. I grew up in Chanhassen when it was a church, a school, a grocery store and I think maybe two bars. Now I get lost going there because it’s grown so much. Probably one of highlights of going to Chanhassen is going to see something at the dinner theater. That would be what I would do.

Q. Has an event or person been an inspiration to you?

A. I would say my boss, the general counsel at the Justice Department (Federal Bureau of Prisons), who encouraged me to explore management positions. He thought I had some skills in that area and encouraged me to move outside the attorney ranks.

Q. If you’re not at your desk, where are you likely to be?

A. In a conference room at a meeting, or a lot of my time also is spent on the road. We have 106 locations where the judicial branch operates across the state, more locations than any other part of Minnesota state government. I spend a lot of time meeting with judges and staff. It’s really a big priority of mine to do face-to-face outreach so I can talk a little bit about what we’re doing in St. Paul but, more importantly, hear from judges and staff around state about their issues and concerns and questions.

Q. What’s your first impression of the Capitol renovation?

A. It’s amazing and one of the highlights is the Supreme Court chambers. The four murals that outline the ceiling of the courtroom were terrifically restored. It’s like a great art exhibit right there in the courtroom.

Q. What’s your favorite hidden place at the Capitol?

A. I’ve got a new hidden place because as part of the renovation the historic chief justice’s chambers are now next to the courtroom. It’s beautifully redone. Sometimes the chief justice lets me sit there. Part of it was used as a conference room and by others in the Capitol. When they were trying to restore it to what was historically accurate, the chief justice had had a chambers there, so now that’s back in her (Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea’s) possession.

This article has been updated to correct the number of elected judges.

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