Court admin who does it all set to retire
ALPENA — After 42 years of doing a little of everything, Alpena’s 88th District Court administrator is losing her marbles.
Mary Muszynski, wearer of many hats as the hub of a courthouse where up to 7,000 court cases flow each year, will retire at the end of June after more than four decades of organizing, reporting, teaching, and keeping the work of Alpena’s courts flowing.
A handful of glass marbles at the bottom of a jar sit beside a sign on her desk that reads, “The day I lose all my marbles is the day I’m outta here.”
“I tease the girls, tell them that I’m taking two out,” said Muszynski, who, despite counting down the days until retirement, gets misty-eyed at the thought of leaving behind the people with whom she has served the county for close to half a century.
As court administrator, magistrate, backup court recorder, drug court coordinator, and CEO — Certified Electronic Operator — Muszynski has to know a little of everything that goes on in every court department. In larger cities, she said, one person may do only one job, but rural courts require an all-hands-on-deck mentality.
Muszynski sends report after report to the state, crunching numbers and compiling data about every aspect of court life. She stays on top of the court’s finances, generates drunk driving reports, hires and fires personnel, works with attorneys, tracks traffic and civil court regulations, communicates to commissioners, calms angry people at the counter, oversees probation officers, and, she said, keeps Judge Thomas Lacross in line.
“He’s going to miss my notes the most,” Muszynski said. “‘See me,’ with a smiley face.”
Sometimes her notes mean the judge will be scolded for forgetting a change in a law or court guideline handed down from the state. Such changes seem to come every six months, said Muszynski, whose job includes tracking every new mandate and making sure attorneys, judges, the prosecutor’s office, and other court participants keep in step with state orders.
A recent spate of Michigan criminal justice reform bills restricted police arrests, limited judges’ sentencing options, and modified probation practices, among other changes. While defendants see only the end result of those changes, court office workers have to adjust their practices on the fly and watch hours of training videos — sometimes with popcorn, Muszynski said.
New hires in the court office need to work five years before they fully know the job, Muszynski warns them.
She remembers the 200 traffic court documents, carefully typed on her electric typewriter when she was still a teenager, sent back by the state because of errors as simple as an “O” in place of a zero.
Once-laborious reports now zoom off to the state with the push of a finger, thanks to the technology making court functions more efficient since the arrival of the court’s first computer program in 1989.
“It was like heaven,” Muszynski said. “We thought we were really something.”
Even with improved technology, court work still requires the processing of thousands of cases each year, traffic tickets to lawsuits to criminal charges all requiring careful data entry and paperwork at each stage of the court process — all of it overseen by Muszynski.
After more than 42 years in the court office, as court administrator since 1988, Muszynski said she has a lot of knowledge in her head she can’t simply hand over to the coworkers she’s leaving behind.
Some “hard-core training” since she announced her impending retirement has somewhat prepared the office to welcome Elizabeth Skiba — currently a magistrate for the Alpena District court — as court administrator once Muszynski steps away.
Coffee on the deck, pampering her puppy, and time with eager grandkids await the soon-to-be retiree, who is ready to “do what I want, when I want, and nobody to tell me, ‘No.'”
In the meantime, she’ll count marbles and keep the court clicking along.
“Courts give the impression we’re not a good place to be,” Muszynski said. “But we’re here to help people. We try to give them everything they need.”