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Vander Kooi retires as court administrator

Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe Nancy Vander Kooi is retiring as court administrator after working in the legal arena since age 16.

WORTHINGTON -- Most people are relieved when Friday comes around, but come Monday are headed back to work. Nancy Vander Kooi, however, plans to be sitting outside Monday morning, drinking coffee and listening to the birds sing.

Today is her last day as Nobles County Court Administrator -- after working in the legal arena since age 16, Vander Kooi took an early retirement offer and plans to relax this summer.

As much as she has enjoyed the fast pace of the court administrator's office, Vander Kooi said she is looking forward to a few slower days.

"By fall I'll probably need to find something to do part-time, but I'm in no hurry," she said with a smile. "I have a long list of things I've been putting off."

Vander Kooi started working at a law firm when she was 16 as part of an office education program through Worthington High School. She attended the community college, then started at the court administrator's office in 1991. She was named the court administrator in 1995.

As much as she liked working in the legal system, she was never tempted to head the attorney route.

"I thought about becoming a paralegal," she admitted. "But I would have had a long commute to take the classes and I didn't want to do that."

Even though she is retiring as court administrator, she isn't planning on giving up the weddings. As a justice of the peace, she generally officiates at 30 or so weddings a year.

The other court administrators in the area, who are officed in Pipestone and Luverne, don't want to do the driving, Vander Kooi said, so she filed the paperwork to continue her justice of the peace wedding duties.

"They are fun," Vander Kooi admitted. "Weddings are the one time you get to see people that really want to be there."

She has performed the ceremonies in parks, at Pioneer Village, in private homes and gardens, and once on a pontoon boat.

"Every now and then a couple will catch me off guard and show up in T-shirts and running shorts," she laughed. "And there I am, all dressed up."

Not that her job revolves around weddings. As court administrator, Vander Kooi had a variety of duties that ranged from commissioning and overseeing juries, assigning work in the office, taking responsibility for the financial activity and keeping things running smoothly in general.

During a jury trial, a court administrator acts as the go-between for the judge and jury.

"I summon jurors, get them oriented, send out forms to qualify them," Vander Kooi explained. "I arrange for bailiffs and clerk during the trial."

After a jury trial, the court administrator is responsible for entering information into the JSI -- a state jury information system used for statistical reports.

A court administrator makes sure that at the end of each month, all the money taken in by the office is sent to the appropriate recipients -- divided between the state, local law enforcement and anywhere else it belongs. The office staff makes sure convictions are sent where they need to go so the secretary of state knows who can vote and the department of public safety knows who can drive.

In her years at the Nobles County Court Administrators Office, Vander Kooi has witnessed a variety of changes in technology, in crime trends, in laws passed and in habits of the court. Even the office has changed.

"When I started, the county was in the planning stages of the Prairie Justice Center," Vander Kooi explained.

The move to the new facility was well-organized and went smoothly, she added.

A big change in crime trends has been the number of drug-related cases now making their way through the system.

"The drug cases have increased significantly," Vander Kooi stated. "So has the seriousness of the offenses. There are so many more felonies than there used to be."

She worked on three murder trials while working for Nobles County, which she finds a bit disturbing. In the previous 20 years before she started, there hadn't been a murder case in Nobles County.

Technology has made the job easier in most ways, offering interactive television for hearings and centralized reporting systems for court documents.

One thing that used to be a bit complicated, however, is now much harder. Finding interpreters.

"It used to be that we would occasionally find out we needed an interpreter while we were doing a hearing. Now we just automatically check," Vander Kooi stated. "It is a common procedure."

The court has a Spanish interpreter on hand every Tuesday, which is traffic court day, but some of the African dialects are tougher.

"It is hard to even find interpreters for some of them," Vander Kooi said. "In many cases there is no one local to use, and we have to get them down from Mankato or the cities."

Each district court used to be responsible for finding it's own interpreters, but now the Fifth Judicial District has an interpreter coordinator, who is housed in Watonwan County.

There are a few interesting programs coming up in the future, such as the e-citations project, but Vander Kooi is content to leave the handling of them to another. Rather than hire a new court administrator, Nobles County will share Rock County's. Pipestone County shares their court administrator with Murray County, and other rural counties do the same.

"I think it will work fine," Vander Kooi stated.

Even with a camping trip in the works and her anticipation of some slower days ahead, Vander Kooi admitted she will be a little sad to walk out the door this afternoon.

"I've worked with a lot of the attorneys for a long time and gotten to know them quite well," she said. "I'll miss the people and the public."

But she has a plan.

"I let them know I could do some bailiff work, maybe in the fall," she said with a smile.