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Joe Cairone, a three-and-a-half decade veteran of the First Judicial District who has served as its court administrator for four years, has announced his retirement. Dave Lawrence, who has served as the FJD’s chief deputy court administrator since 1992, will be taking over for Cairone beginning early next month. Like Cairone, he has been an FJD employee for well over 30 years. According to President Judge C. Darnell Jones II, the court administrator is effectively the FJD’s chief executive officer, and is the district’s highest nonjudicial official. The position has been in existence since the mid-1990s, when the state Supreme Court oversaw a reorganization of Philadelphia’s court system. Though not a member of the FJD’s administrative governing board (AGB) – also created during the mid-1990s FJD restructuring, and chaired by the president judge and comprised of the FJD’s various administrative and other head judges – the court administrator regularly consults with the AGB and helps implement its directives, Jones said. He or she also helps oversee courtroom technology and caseflow management issues for the FJD’s 125-odd judges, and human resources and labor relations for its roughly 2,000 nonjudge employees. “Joe Cairone has left this place in wonderful condition, yet because of the myriad issues that continue to confront the FJD, the court administrator has to be ever-vigilant and flexible,” Jones said. “It is like being the CEO of a corporation,” Cairone said of the post he is leaving. Cairone said yesterday he will be taking a brief break from the working world, but is not leaving the FJD to take a job in the private sector, as was the case with, for example, Mary McGovern, the former director of the FJD’s Complex Litigation Center who late last year left the city’s court system after 28 years to become the assistant dean for administration at Drexel University’s newly created College of Law. “I think he’s just looking forward to being a gentleman of leisure for a short time,” Lawrence told The Legal in an interview yesterday. Cairone said that he has received a number of job offers, but hasn’t accepted any of them. “My plan is to take the summer off, and then determine what’s best for me in the fall,” he said. Trial Division Administrative Judge James J. Fitzgerald III said that he expects the Cairone-Lawrence transition will be an easy one, as the pair have worked together since the 1970s, and been in particularly close tandem in recent years. Both men boast bottom-to-top institutional knowledge of the FJD. Cairone, 56, received an undergraduate accounting degree from Temple University and then ran an accounting business for several years before joining the court system in 1972 as an aide to Judge John McDevitt III. He then rose through the ranks of court administration before ascending to its top position in 2002. Lawrence, 55, got his first FJD job 36 years ago – as a clerical assistant in the criminal branch – when he was a Temple undergrad. Like Cairone, he held a variety of roles in court administration before being promoted to his current position in 1992. Gene Cohen of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, who stepped down from the common pleas bench in early 2005 after roughly 17 years with the FJD, described Cairone as a “charismatic” leader who embodied the ideal of the “selfless civil servant.” “He was never one to exercise favorites,” Cohen said, adding that Cairone kept the court system running “without the overwhelming political influence.” As court administrator, Cohen said, Cairone had the ultimate say with respect to the hiring and firing of personnel (with the exception of personal judicial staff). But Cairone managed to be “nonpartisan in everything that he did,” Cohen said. “The man was extremely politic without being political.” According to Lawrence and Fitzgerald, one major upcoming project that Lawrence will have to oversee involves statewide unification of the various counties’ criminal case management systems. And as court administrator, Lawrence will also have to help manage City Hall’s transition from an open, to a secure, facility, a change that has been scheduled for some time but is still several months away. “The fun thing about my current position, and future position, is that you get to become engaged in all different types of activities,” Lawrence said. Lawrence, a native of the city’s Roxborough neighborhood, currently lives in the Fox Chase area of the Northeast. A widower, he has three kids and three grandchildren. Cairone, who grew up in North Philadelphia, also lives in the Northeast. He and his wife of nearly 34 years have two adult daughters. Both are moving back to the area for the summer, and Cairone said he is eager to spend time with them. Though neither are attorneys, FJD higher-ups say that’s never been an issue. Fitzgerald said that Cairone’s accounting background has been particularly important in recent years, as the FJD has had to tighten its belt as a result of City Council- and Mayor’s Office-approved budget cuts. “We’ve had to do more with less, and Joe has showed us how to do that,” Fitzgerald said. Jones described Lawrence as the consummate “approachable individual.” “One of the jokes around here is, if a question comes up and nobody knows the answer, I say, ‘Call Dave Lawrence,’” Jones said.

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