SJC hires N.C. lawyer to run daily operations of state court system

Supreme Judicial Court

Jonathan S. Williams is the new court administrator for the Massachusetts Courts.

By John R. Ellement and Milton Valencia Globe Staff 

A top deputy of the North Carolina court system, who recently helped steer a reform initiative in that state, has been tapped to oversee the daily operations of the Massachusetts court system, which is undergoing similar reform efforts.

Jonathan S. Williams will succeed Lewis “Harry” Spence, who is retiring after completing a five-year term in what is formally called the court administrator post. Spence was the first to have the job, which was created in 2011 so that the state could have a lead professional administrator in a system historically managed by judges. The current salary for the post is $176,878.


Williams said in an interview with the Globe Thursday that he hopes to bring his same review of the North Carolina courts and the idealization of justice and professionalism to Massachusetts. That effort included looking at better ways to incorporate technology in the courts and providing equal access to the courts. Imagine a system where you can challenge a parking ticket from home or where domestic violence victims can apply for a restraining order from the comfort of a shelter.

Those reforms were specific to North Carolina, but Williams said that Massachusetts shares the same mission of justice and equal access as the state looks at its own reform initiatives.

“The mission of the courts there [in Massachusetts], with justice with dignity and speed, is a very powerful statement and commitment,” he said. “I’ve found these kinds of issues, these kinds of opportunities, run across state lines.”

Williams is a native of North Carolina who graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1985 and from the UNC Law School. He is leaving a post as senior deputy director in the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, where he served as the “chief reporter” to the state’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, a 65-member multidisciplinary group tasked to make broad recommendations for court reform. As chief reporter, Williams helped secure funding and structured the overall work of the commission.

Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, welcomed Williams’s selection, saying he had the professional background needed to improve the court where courthouses need repairs, a new digital recording system is being installed and the budget needs to be defended, if not increased.


“It appears that they really found a true professional, someone who’s got a proven body of work,’’ Healy said.

Healy noted that the choice of Williams is something of a rarity in Massachusetts government hiring — he is not from Massachusetts. “This is a leap for the court system to go outside Massachusetts and find someone who doesn’t come from within the system or who is known politically throughout the state,’’ Healy said.

Williams was selected by the seven justices of the Supreme Judicial Court.

“The justices are pleased to welcome Jon Williams, who will bring to his new position an extensive record of accomplishments in public sector management and a depth of experience in court administration,” Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said in a statement.

He also thanked Spence for the progress he has made over the past five years. “Harry has brought the Trial Court through a time of great growth and change, and we thank him for his exceptional service,’’ Gants said.

Williams will work under Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, who said in a statement she expects Williiams will help the courts continue to “expand capabilities and efficiencies through technology, improving operations, and enhancing the delivery of justice.”


Williams supervised technology, finance, and general services for the North Carolina court system, according to the SJC.

Williams will have managerial oversight for 379 judges and 6,300 employees working in 101 courthouses across the state, according to the SJC.

John R Ellement can be reached at
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