Zabrina W. Dempson realizes making history recently as the first female clerk to manage the busy D.C. Superior Court system has merit, but instead of focusing on that, she wants to make the court a more efficient, customer-friendly place.
“I want to make sure that our judges, staff and the residents of the District are well-served by our court system,” Dempson said. “I want to make sure that our judges have what they need to administrate justice. Our staff needs to be well-resourced to do their jobs and our citizens should have access to justice and treated with dignity and respect.”
Dempson supervises over 600 employees in the Superior Court system, which consists of the Civil, Criminal, Probate, Domestic Violence, Multi-Door Resolution, Special Operations and Family Court divisions and the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program and the Office of the Auditor-Master. The clerk’s administrative functions include maintaining and securing all court records and evidence, supervising non-judicial personnel, scheduling cases and preparing daily calendars, assigning courtrooms to judges, managing juror services and case processing and improving the efficiency of the system.
Dempson became the clerk permanently after serving in an acting capacity since August 2018 after the departure of Duane B. Delaney.
Even though she performed the duties of the clerk, she went through the application process that included interviews with three Superior Court judges and two court executives and accepted their offer for the position permanently on July 31.
Dempson said her time leading the Civil Division and as the court’s senior operations manager prepared her to be the clerk. She said wants to implement a new case management system that will process cases quicker and use the latest technology to meet that end.
“We want to offer remote technology so people can do what they need to do without coming to the court,” she said. “We have already implemented e-filing documents to the court and people can go online and utilize court forms electronically.”
She also wants to deal with emerging issues in the law such as police and streets cameras and how they are stored as evidence and the best way to do that technologically.
Dempson, a District native and Eastern Senior High graduate, got her bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University in 1991 and her juris doctor degree from its law school in 1995.
Dempson practiced law in Raleigh, N.C., and then made the decision, with her husband, to move back to the Washington area. She decided to work for the D.C. court system even though she enjoyed practicing law.
“I did not want to manage a law office and practice law at the same time,” she said. “I wanted a steady paycheck. It was more about security and doing something else.”
Dempson can’t claim to be the first Black in the position, though. Thomas Duckenfield, who served as the president of the National Bar Association and the Washington Bar Association, become the first Black clerk in 1980 and Delaney was the second.
Dempson nevertheless realizes that she will be recognized as a role model, but embraces the role and has words of encouragement for young people, especially women, who want to follow in her footsteps.
“I will tell any young person not to let any obstacles or challenges stop you from doing what you want to do,” she said. “Set goals and follow your dreams. Education is so important to achieving your goals and don’t let money be the driver for success.”