Hampshire County Chief Court Officer retires after 28 years as chief

  • Debra Patten, front, who is the chief court officer for Hampshire County, arrives at her retirement party, Friday, May 4, 2018 at Wiggins Tavern. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Debra Patten, right, the chief court officer for Hampshire County, arrives at her retirement party, Friday at Wiggins Tavern. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

@ecutts_HG
Published: 5/4/2018 10:48:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Up until the very last minute, Hampshire County Chief Court Officer Debra Patten led by example.

Serving as the chief for 28 years, Patten said she wouldn’t put a task off on another officer that she wouldn’t do herself.

So as court officers, judges, clerks, probation officers, lawyers and former colleagues started to fill Wiggins Tavern Friday evening to celebrate her retirement, Patten stayed at the courthouse to deal with a last-minute issue. Arriving 40 minutes after the official court closed, Patten walked into the tavern to a round of applause.

“She was so well respected by all the judges and attorneys. It was pretty incredible. They would always go to her if they had questions,” court officer Bill Halford said in advance of the party.

In his approximately 16 years in Northampton, Halford said Patten has been a great supervisor and a wonderful, caring person who takes great pride in her work.

“We’re going to all miss her,” Halford said. “She was a great person, great leader. There is going to be a big void there and tough shoes to fill, whoever the next chief is going to be.”

As one of the most senior chiefs in the state, Patten would often get phone calls from other courts throughout Massachusetts looking for advice on various courthouse scenarios, Halford said. Patten is the state’s longest serving chief trial court officer. She retired Friday after 31 years with the trial court.

Patten became a trial court officer in 1987 after working at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction under then-Sheriff Robert Garvey.

She served three years as a court officer before being promoted to the chief position — something she hadn’t really considered. She said she is indebted to Garvey and credits him for helping her choose her career path, mentoring her and helping to bring out the best of her abilities.

“Sheriff Garvey, he inspired me,” Patten said. “He gave me the confidence to think I could do this job at such a very young age.”

Toward the beginning of her career in Hampshire County, Patten also served in law enforcement for the Air National Guard at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield.

“I always wanted to serve people, and I knew there were a lot of different aspects on how you could help people,” she said. “I really feel as though I got the best advantage here at the trial court because you have all aspects from the various divisions that are offered.”

During her tenure as chief, Patten said she grew and developed into a better leader, all the while staying true to her values and being actively involved in the day-to-day workings of the courthouse.

“People that know me and who worked for me know that I strongly value integrity and commitment to the trial court and its mission,” she said. “I have maintained the standards and worked with the security department team to implement new policies and procedures to keep up with the new challenges presented.”

Patten also credits Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula M. Carey as well as Jeffrey Morrow, trial court director of security, and Paul Alvarado, regional assistant director of security, for her success. Patten described herself as fortunate to be able to work with the many trial court employees who she said made her job easy.

Court officer Jim Shea said he’s known Patten since he was in high school and never imagined that one day she would be his boss.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I got to come to Northampton because I knew what a tight ship she ran,” he said.

The two didn’t always get along, though. Shea said that coming in as a “young kid” he wanted to do things his way but Patten quickly set him on the right path.

Many spoke of Patten’s hands-on work ethic and her perfectionist streak.

“If you are having an issue, she’ll sit down one-on-one and try to solve a problem if there is an issue with employees,” Halford said. “She gives credit where credit is due and if you need discipline, she’ll take action.”

While many spoke of Patten’s skill in maintaining a “tight ship,” Superior Court Clerk Harry Jekanowski Jr. noted Patten’s enviable golf abilities.

“I would give my left arm to golf as well as she can golf,” Jekanowski.

Off the green, Jekanowski said throughout Patten’s years as chief she has listened to the needs of the public and the defendants.

“She looks people in the eye and very easily commands a person’s respect as a result of her personality and professionalism.”

“Under her tutelage, she raised the professional bar of her staff to where it is today: very high,” Jekanowski said.

Patten, along with her late Assistant Chief Robert Burke, excelled at being able to defuse volatile situations, Jekanowski said.

“She’s always expected a lot of herself and other people. More often than not, they rose to the occasion,” Jekanowski said.

Nancy A. Foley, first assistant clerk for Hampshire Superior Court, said that during her tenure Patten has brought the security department up a level.

“She’s always been very good about being right in the mix of something, good or bad,” Foley said. “She never shied away from her job.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.


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