People, not paperwork, are key to grad’s court job
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Imani Steward always thought she wanted to be a police officer or detective while growing up watching TV shows that featured them.
Steward found there are other ways to help people through the justice system that don’t get as much attention but can be as valuable.
The April graduate from Grand Canyon University landed a job this summer as a court clerk in Phoenix Municipal Court.
“We are behind the scenes. We’re the glue that keeps law enforcement and the public working. Without us, people can be issued a ticket and just throw it away. We keep them abiding by them,” said Steward, of Goodyear.
Through her academic work in Justice Studies and student work in the offices of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), she jumped right into the tasks of the court and its steady stream of challenging situations.
“I like to assist people who don’t really understand the law; there are a lot of people who don’t understand the fundamentals,” she said. “I help by guiding those who are not familiar what to do with law enforcement or the court.”
For example, she helps issue warrants for those who don’t appear in court — they don’t realize they can settle it by talking with a judge or court-appointed attorneys. Or, if they have a speeding ticket, many are surprised when Steward tells them they can take defensive driving classes to reduce damage to their driving records and make payments if they can’t afford the ticket.
“There is a lot of satisfaction, especially when assisting the elderly in these kinds of cases,” she said. “I also assist people who are very young, like teenagers who get reckless driving who think they are going to jail. I explain to them, ‘Hey, you are not going to jail, but you do have to own up to the consequences, and this is what you can do to fix that problem.’ I give them alternatives so it won’t happen again.”
She encounters some very upset people.
“I do realize not everyone is happy to speak with me. But the people who are satisfied with my assistance are the people that really want the help,” she said. “Some people have a long criminal record and that’s on them, but some people really don’t want to be in trouble with the law and I enjoy helping them because they are willing to work with me.
“I like the people who say, ‘I messed up, and what can I do to fix it?’”
Steward said she learned these people skills as a student worker at GCU, and it’s what convinced her to get into court administration. She helped CHSS leaders with projects and data analytics and led other student workers.
“They taught me how to be professional – that was my biggest takeaway,” Steward said. “I learned to maintain professionalism and how to apply that to faculty and to students, and I carried that into this job.”
Adam Eklund, Director of Program Operations and College Assessment in CHSS, said Steward is an example of the excellent training outside the classroom at GCU.
“Our CHSS student worker program is designed so that students can learn and develop a variety of leadership skills that we know will prove valuable to future employers,” he said. “We were very fortunate to hire Imani and have her grow with us during her undergraduate experience.”
Justice Studies graduates often go on to law school or become police officers, investigators and corrections officers.
But Steward said her lower profile job is just as satisfying. She hopes to one day advance into court administration management.
One of the highlights is when she can assist victims, using knowledge from a favorite GCU course that explored criminology and victimology.
“That’s what I deal with right now, a lot of criminals and victims. It is so satisfying to help victims who have been through traumatic situations,” she said. “For example, if someone is victimized, maybe they want to get a restraining order on their perpetrator. I tell them how they can get orders of protection and tell them their limits.
“Even though we are not on the street, we do so much just to make sure someone doesn’t break the law again.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.