One of the challenges for litigators who practice across state boundaries is making sense of state court systems: not just the culture and norms of the area, but often the structure and administration of the courts themselves. Many states are downright byzantine, with a large number of specialized courts (sometimes with overlapping jurisdictions), and no unified (or only recently unified) court systems. Local courts, covering counties and municipalities, are often under the governance of their host city or county rather than a centralized judicial administrator.
This is a product of history as much as anything, but it leads to obvious inefficiencies. One example making the headlines this week comes from Clark County, Ohio, where the county council has voted against consolidating two clerk of court offices, in part because they use entirely different electronic records systems. The move was originally proposed as a way to save up to $400,000 a year for the cash-strapped city of Springfield, but the city was unable to fund a study to confirm that number. In the end, lawyers, judges, and others will have to continue navigating different court systems with different technological resources.
El Paso County, Texas will convert one of its existing civil courts into a family court in 2019, in order to combat a significant backlog of family cases. The county is currently operating with 1.5 fewer full time family court judges than the number recommended by the state court administrator. It receives about 16,000 family court filings each year.
This is an excellent example of an interdependent court system engaging in proactive planning to combat resource deficiencies. The county knows that it is likely to receive many more family court cases than civil cases in the coming years, and cannot reasonably expect to receive more help in the form of full-time judges. The change both promotes efficient and effective administration of justice, and signals to the resource providers in the state legislature the need for more judgeships.
In another example of external decisions directly affecting internal court operations, the state courts located in Des Moines, Washington reported a 300 percent increase in case filings after the city implemented red light cameras.
The impact of the cameras was “much greater than we anticipated,” [Judge Lisa Leone] told [the city] Council.
The judge said she was “so impressed with every single” member of her staff.
“Just today (May 11) there was a line out the door … every clerk was on the phone taking the time for every one who has questions about the cameras or anything else.”
Judge Julia Gibbons, the Chair of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee, appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday to request $7.2 billion in funding for the federal courts for Fiscal Year 2018. She was joined by James Duff, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The full testimony of both Judge Gibbons and Director Duff are available at the link.
The Philippine Judges Association (PJA) has nominated court administrator Jose Midas Marquez to an open seat on that country’s Supreme Court. Marquez has also served as a law clerk and a public information officer. In announcing the nomination, the PJA noted that Marquez “brought significant innovations and reforms in the dispensation of justice in the first and second level courts.”
There have been instances of American judges going straight from administrative positions to judgeships, but rarely is familiarity with the court’s internal procedures a selling point to Congress and state nominating commissions. Perhaps it should be.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s Religious Services Ministry has agreed to appoint a woman as deputy director of the country’s rabbinical courts sometime within the next three months. The decision comes in the wake of pressure from both Israel’s High Court of Justice and the women’s rights organization Mavoi Satum.
The decision to break the gender barrier for the rabbinical courts, even for a purely administrative appointment, offers some surprising insights into the relationship between the rabbinical courts, Israel’s secular judicial system, and the society in which they both operate. More after the jump.
Continue reading “How a single ministerial appointment provides a window into the institutional character of courts”
I reported last week on Richard Cooke, a newly elected Cook County judge who refused to take his initial assignment at traffic court — a way station at which almost every new Chicago judge cuts his or her teeth. Judge Cooke has now resigned his judgeship.
Courts, like most organizations, place certain requirements on membership. The court system itself may not be able to choose its members (who are elected by the public), but it can — and sensibly does — seek to train and socialize them into the basics of organizational life. For whatever reason, Judge Cooke tried to circumvent at least part of that socialization process, to the detriment of both him and the court system.