WOODLAND — After 20 years of working for California’s courts, Jim Perry is calling it a career.
The Yolo Superior Court executive officer announced his retirement last week, setting a departure date of May 1.
“It will give me a chance to connect with my family more,” said Perry, the father of three children ages 10, 12 and 14, whose wife Tammy recently returned to her teaching career. “I have lots to do.”
He will leave having guided the court through some of its toughest financial times, including $5 million worth of budget cuts over the past four years that have required creative measures for doing the same amount of work — and perhaps more — with fewer resources.
“What all of the judges have appreciated most about Jim Perry is he has been very careful with our finances. He has done an exceptional job of keeping judges fully informed,” said Judge Steven Basha, Yolo’s presiding judge. “He has improved each year both in his ability to interact in a positive manner with people, and in his administrative skills. He is going to be missed.”
Perry also has been lauded for successfully advocating for additional judgeships in the Yolo courts, as well as for his contributions toward plans for building a new courthouse, construction of which is scheduled to begin this spring.
In addition to his CEO duties, Perry has served on several statewide judicial branch committees, including the Domestic Violence Task Force, the Facilities Task Force and the Budget Working Group.
All this from a person who once envisioned himself becoming a therapist.
After a 22-year career in the U.S. Army that took him through tours of Vietnam and Kuwait, Perry accepted a job with the Sacramento County court system while pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling at National University.
He got the degree, but opted to stay with the courts, working his way from court attendant to court clerk to manager of the family, juvenile and probate division.
“I found it a lot like my past experience in management, so I decided to go in that direction,” Perry said. He added that he enjoyed the challenge of “finding root problems and trying to solve them.”
Perry was serving as assistant court executive officer in Placer County when he was approached to fill the vacant CEO position in Yolo County. He arrived here in 2003 and discovered there was much work to be done.
“It was a pretty difficult time. There were significant budget issues,” Perry recalled. Funding for the courts was in the process of shifting from individual counties to the state, and “we were struggling to keep in the black.”
Perry said he put together a five-year plan for stabilizing funding, including the creation of a comprehensive collections program that more efficiently took in the fines and fees due to the courts. For the first time, the courts offered a payment program that allowed people to pay off large fines on a monthly basis, rather than all at once — for some a daunting if not impossible prospect.
Within six years, the courts had established a “rainy day” fund for use during bleak financial times, which became a reality several years ago when the economy took a dive.
Under Perry’s guidance, the courts slashed its spending by offering early retirements and freezing positions when employees left, resulting in a current vacancy rate of 30 percent. Some court services, such as criminal and civil filing windows, have cut their hours so that employees can catch up on work backlogs.
“There are still some tough times to go, but I believe Yolo is in the top five (courts) in terms of being able to sustain itself this year and next,” Perry said.
Though he won’t be around to work in it, Perry was instrumental in the planning process for a new Yolo courthouse, a $165 million, 14-courtroom state-funded project slated for Woodland’s Main Street that will consolidate court facilities currently spread among several sites elsewhere in the city.
A ceremonial groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for early April, with construction expected to take about two years.
In addition to his family activities, Perry said he hopes to involve himself in volunteer work — he’s been approached about giving his time to veterans’ court services — and brush up on his golf game.
“I’m just proud of where the court is,” Perry said, citing employee professionalism and judges who are highly involved both in the courts and the community. “They make it easy for me to do my job.”
Perry’s successor will be Shawn Landry, who has served as Yolo’s assistant CEO since 2003. His duties have included overseeing a variety of administrative functions including human resources, fiscal matters, information technology, facilities, public information, operations, strategic planning and court security.
Landry, who holds a law degree, previously worked for the Administrative Office of the Courts as well as the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida.
“This was a unanimous decision by the bench, and it will ensure continuity in the leadership for the court,” Basha said. “Mr. Landry has earned the respect of all the judicial officers for his excellent administrative skills and remarkable foresight.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene