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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

County's Courts Administrator Takes New Post

Judiciary: Sheila Gonzalez will leave after 14 years to become liaison for state and regional departments. She earned a reputation as a top innovator.

February 28, 2001|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheila Gonzalez is resigning after 14 years as executive officer of Ventura County Superior Court to become the state's first regional courts administrative director.

The new job will give Gonzalez, 57, sweeping administrative responsibilities in 10 counties extending from Central to Southern California. She will be the liaison between the state Administrative Office of Courts in San Francisco and courts throughout the region on issues of technology, finance, legislation, human resources and innovation.

But her departure is a blow to Ventura County's courts system, where Gonzalez earned a reputation for her inventiveness, powers of persuasion and ability to streamline services.

She started a free legal clinic in Ventura's courthouse, put kiosks in malls so that traffic tickets could be paid electronically, oversaw the computerization of the case filing system and installed a video network allowing judges to arraign defendants in jail by closed-circuit television.

In 1989, under Gonzalez's direction, Ventura County courts became the first in the state to combine their municipal and superior administrations.

"She is the finest courts administrator in the country," said Presiding Superior Court Judge Bruce Clark, who was on the panel that hired Gonzalez in 1986. "She works for 27 independently elected officials and has a staff of over 300 people. She has accomplished what the judges want and created tremendous enthusiasm from the staff. As a result, we serve the public better than we ever have."

And that's why William Vickrey offered her the job.

"She brings tremendous experience that is recognized throughout California and across the nation," said Vickrey, administrative director for the state's courts system. "We are looking for someone who can communicate effectively. I think Sheila brings the energy, insight and creativity to help us work together to administer justice equally across the state."

The new regional administrative office will be based in Burbank and is expected to open in August or September. Vickrey said a similar office might be opened in the future in or near Sacramento to cover Northern California courts.

Gonzalez, who will leave her job May 1, will handle courts in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino and Inyo counties.

"I feel privileged to have the opportunity to create and manage the first regional office," said Gonzalez, who will earn $150,000 a year, about the same as her current job. "That is the kind of thing that challenges me. I like being out in front of issues. It really suits me."

The Cleveland-born Gonzalez began her court career in 1968 after getting restless with staying at home with her young daughter. She was hired to file parking tickets in Glendale Municipal Court.

"I almost quit I was so bored," she said. "On a daily basis, I tried to come up with different ways to do the job and improve productivity. . . . That is why I have probably stood out somewhat; I always looked at it from a business sense."

In 1974, she became assistant administrator at Glendale Municipal Court and the top administrator in 1980. She was hired in Ventura County from a pool of 100 applicants.

Her honors include the Warren E. Burger Award given by the National Center for State Courts in 1993 for outstanding achievement in the field of court administration. In 1996, the Ventura County court system won the Arthur Andersen Award for customer service, beating out 200 companies and large corporations around Southern California.

"She is a visionary and able to implement these visions. But her true ability is her personal skills," Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn said. "She could be elected to public office--like Congress."

Gonzalez, who will continue living in Camarillo, said she will be a resource for Southern California courts.

"My main mission is to create a partnership between trial courts and administrative offices of courts, and also to give technical assistance and be a positive force," she said. "If the courts identify a need, I will be available."

As for the co-workers that she'll leave behind, Gonzalez said, "I will miss them all desperately."

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