Last night, we bid farewell to one of the foundations of our organization: Jeff Hobbs. Jeff was part of the original team at the Midtown Community Court. He is retiring after 24 years of service to the project.
It took a measure of courage to join the Midtown team back in 1993. There was no track record of success at that point, no proof to document that this new approach to justice would work. But Jeff recognized the potential. His signing up was an important piece of the puzzle, helping to give life and meaning to what before had simply been some abstract ideas about rethinking misdemeanor justice on a piece of paper.
From the very start, Jeff was a major presence. He was really the person who put the "community" in the Midtown Community Court. His sense of humor and can-do attitude helped create a sense of team spirit among staff. And his gregariousness and ability to improvise helped engage local residents in ways that no courthouse had ever done before.
But perhaps the biggest thing that Jeff brought to the table, which he talked about last night at his going-away party, was a sense of love and respect for those who came into the building as defendants and left as clients and sometimes even friends. Before anyone here had ever heard of "procedural justice," Jeff showed us what it meant to communicate to the public with clarity and dignity. We owe him a big debt for this.
We also owe him a debt for his decision to stick around. Jeff was one of the very first people to choose to make a career at the Center for Court Innovation. His example showed that the Center was an institution with staying power that could nurture and sustain its staff over the long haul.
When I first met Jeff, I was in my mid twenties. I was a newcomer to New York and to the world of criminal justice. He could easily have seen me as a rival or an obstacle or just a pain in the ass. Instead, showed me kindness, helping to educate me about the realities of life on the ground in the justice system. I was far from alone in this. Jeff may have been one of a kind, but I have no doubt that we will be seeing his influence on hundreds of people -- colleagues, graduates of Midtown's fatherhood program, community leaders, and justice reformers around the country -- for years to come.