Filed 4/2/03 by Clerk of Supreme Court
The Honorable Gerald W. VandeWalle
North Dakota Supreme Court
600 E Boulevard, Dept 180
Bismarck, ND 58505-0530
Re: Planning Recommendations
Dear Chief Justice VandeWalle:
The Judicial Planning Committee has completed its initial work developing planning recommendations for the North Dakota judicial system. On behalf of the Committee, I am pleased to submit the attached Mission Statement (Attachment A), Vision Statement (Attachment B), and Planning Recommendations (Attachment C). These are the products of a collegial and diverse Committee membership, and reflect the members' careful and thoughtful consideration of issues affecting the judiciary.
Over the course of six meetings, the Judicial Planning Committee reviewed a considerable amount of information regarding planning in the judicial environment. The Committee began its study with an overview of the state judicial system and a discussion of the general components of judicial planning. The Committee sought to combine elements of long term planning and futures planning to enable it to consider not only short-term issues affecting the judicial system but also to identify issues and trends that may affect the judiciary farther into the future. Often called "strategic planning", this approach allowed the Committee to begin a process we hope will assist our system in moving beyond short-term planning and crisis management and towards anticipating future demands systematically and consistently.
The first step in the Committee's planning effort was development of a mission statement. The Committee was aided in this effort by review of the mission statement devised by the Committee's predecessor. After discussion of the general purposes and components of a mission statement, the Committee prepared a draft statement, which was distributed to judges and employees of the judicial system for comment. Those comments were reviewed by the Committee and proved useful in refining the statement. Following further consideration, the Committee adopted the attached Mission Statement, which the Committee concluded clearly and succinctly describes the overarching purpose of the judicial system.
The next step in the Committee's work involved development of a vision statement - a statement that represents what the judicial system should look like and be doing in the future. Reviewing trends affecting the judiciary, both present and future, is important in this effort if a vision statement is to be useful not only in realistically representing the preferred future course for the judiciary, but also in describing what future changes are needed to enable the judiciary to more effectively provide judicial services to citizens of the state. To aid the Committee in its review of trends affecting the judicial system, judges and employees were asked to identify the three most significant trends they perceived as affecting the judiciary, possible responses to those trends, and changes they thought the judiciary should initiate over the next five years. Comments received from judges and employees identified twelve general trends, fifteen possible responses to trends, and eight actions considered necessary for the judiciary to undertake in the short term. Using this information, a distillation of trends identified in planning initiatives across the country, and demographic information concerning North Dakota citizens, the Committee prepared, revised, and adopted the attached Vision Statement. The Vision Statement's four segments address the following areas of recommended judicial action: public trust and confidence, technology, dispute resolution, and administrative and operational support structure.
Based upon information reviewed and discussed in developing the mission and vision statements, the Committee assembled planning recommendations in each area identified in the Vision Statement. While all the recommendations anchored in and informed by the Vision Statement are important, the Committee concluded that none can likely be effectively achieved now or in the future unless the judicial system's administrative and operational support structure is changed to provide a more flexible, informed, and cooperative method for administrative decision-making. As reflected in the opening paragraph of the attached Planning Recommendations, the Committee concluded that too often internal policies, procedures, and practices contribute to confused and inconsistent implementation of system objectives and compromise the judicial system's ability to effectively provide judicial services. Perhaps most significantly, the Committee concluded there is a lack of clarity and commitment concerning the system's need to operate as a whole rather than as a collection of independent parts.
The attached Planning Recommendations, in Sections I through III, offer several recommendations in the areas of public trust and confidence, technology, and dispute resolution. While last in the progression, Section IV, which offers recommendations regarding administrative and operational support, forms the bedrock upon which achieving the others necessarily depends. These recommendations were informed in good measure by the discussions at two sessions of the Judicial Conference facilitated by the Group Decision Center from NDSU. At the November 2001 session, the discussion appeared to indicate a general agreement on matters concerning the administrative organization of our system. A common theme seemed to be the need to consider a more refined, accountable process for administrative authority and decision-making. The Committee discussed similar issues and, informed by the Judicial Conference activities, developed Draft Reorganization Concepts regarding the administrative structure and operation of the system. Those Concepts were presented to the June 2002 Judicial Conference and formed the basis for a two day discussion of administrative reorganization. The Committee reviewed the results of that discussion as background for the recommendations in Section IV.
In Section IVB of the Planning Recommendations, the Committee recommends the current Council of Presiding Judges should be replaced by a more broadly representative Council that would have responsibility for developing policies and procedures governing the administration of the district and juvenile court system. Council membership would consist of at least nine members, including the Chief Justice as Council Chair, one justice of the Supreme Court, the presiding judge from each administrative unit to be described below, one judge elected at large from each unit, and at least one lawyer. The Committee concluded that such a representative body would provide a more broad-based vehicle for considering administrative issues and also provide for enhanced involvement of the trial bench through their elected representatives. Lawyer membership would prove beneficial in providing the perspective of members of the bar, who are among those obviously affected by the administrative management of the judicial system. The Committee carefully considered the membership of the recommended new Council with the objective of affording the opportunity for informed, constructive decision-making regarding the administrative operation of the judicial system. The key membership element is the Chief Justice's status as chair of the Council, which the Committee concluded preserves the administrative authority vested in the Chief Justice by the state constitution.
The Committee also recommends in Section IVB of the Planning Recommendations that the state be divided into three administrative units for purposes of assuring effective and uniform implementation of administrative policies and procedures developed by the Council. A presiding judge would be selected for each unit and a trained trial court administrator should be employed for each unit. To ensure a clear line of authority and responsibility and to ensure effective implementation of policies and procedures, the Committee recommends that each trial court administrator should be hired by the state court administrator after consultation with the presiding judge and should be supervised by the state court administrator. Subsequent recommendations address the scope of responsibility and authority exercised by the trial court administrators.
In recognition of the administrative responsibilities of the new Council, the Committee recommends in Section IVC that committees associated with the development of trial court administrative policies and procedures should be established under the new Council. Membership would be determined by the Chief Justice after consultation with the Council. Joint bench-bar committees and other committees responsible for matters other than trial court administration would continue as committees of the Supreme Court.
As previously indicated, the Committee concluded modifications to the administrative operation and support structure of our judicial system were essential to effectively achieve the goals contemplated in the Mission and Vision Statements. While ultimately in agreement regarding the role of the new Council, the Committee discussed at length whether the Council should have broader, more encompassing responsibility for developing policies and procedures for the administration and operation of the entire judicial system. Such an empowered Council was considered to represent a cleaner, more logical method for decision-making concerning administrative practices and procedures. However, the Committee concluded that such an arrangement may pose serious issues with respect to the constitutional authority and responsibility of the Chief Justice and concluded that a more narrowly limited Council, while not ideal, could provide a basis for informed, cooperative decision-making with respect to the administrative operation of the judicial system. The Committee did agree, however, that the operation of the new Council, if established, should be monitored and greater responsibilities for the Council should be considered periodically. This conclusion is reflected in Section IVB(1).
The Committee worked diligently in developing the attached Mission and Vision Statements and Planning Recommendations. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks and appreciation to members of the Committee for their unfailing willingness to commit substantial time and effort to the Committee's work. Their experience, vision, and commitment to improving the judiciary have resulted in proposals that are realistic yet hopeful for change within our judicial system.
If you have any questions concerning the work of the Committee, please contact me at your convenience. I am willing to discuss these recommendations at greater length if you desire. Committee members have also indicated their interest in continuing discussions about the issues addressed in this report with the Supreme Court, the Council if established, and others as deemed appropriate.
Sincerely, William A. Neumann, Chair
Judicial Planning Committee
NORTH DAKOTA JUDICIAL SYSTEM
"TO PROVIDE THE PEOPLE, THROUGH AN INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY, EQUAL ACCESS TO FAIR AND TIMELY RESOLUTION OF DISPUTES UNDER LAW"
The North Dakota Judicial System will strive to ensure the public's perception of the judicial system is knowledgeable and one of trust and confidence in the integrity and operation of the system
The judicial system will institutionalize methods of public education and community outreach that facilitate public understanding of the operation of the judicial system and its role as an independent branch of government.
The North Dakota Judicial System will use technology in a manner appropriate to the dispensing of justice to ensure dispute resolution is fair, efficient, and accessible
The judicial system will incorporate technological advancements into everyday court activities to support delivery of more efficient and cost-effective judicial services and to maintain the delivery of and access to judicial services throughout the state.
The judicial system will institute a paperless filing system that provides public access to case scheduling information and court documents.
The North Dakota Judicial System will routinely review methods of dispute resolution and develop alternatives that enable the timely, cost-effective, and humane disposition of cases
The judicial system will pursue the appropriate use of therapeutic justice programs, such as drug courts, and the development of community and service provider partnerships in support of the programs.
The judicial system will support establishment of a forum for informal, community-based dispute resolution.
The judicial system will explore and implement alternative methods of resolving family law disputes which mitigate the destructive impact on families and children.
The North Dakota Judicial System will develop a support structure that enables it to provide timely, fair, humane, and affordable resolution of disputes
The judicial system will be adequately funded and will be sufficiently staffed by judges and court personnel to ensure accessible and timely judicial services are available to the citizens of this state.
The judicial system will develop an organization and administrative support structure that ensures effective distribution of judicial resources and maximizes the ability of judges to dedicate themselves to providing adequate and timely judicial services.
The judicial system will develop a case management and scheduling process that ensures an effective and equitable allocation of cases among judges, ensures the timely disposition of cases, and recognizes the importance of quality judicial decision-making in the disposition of cases.
A multitude of forces, internal and external, influence the ability of the judicial system to operate effectively and to ensure that those who seek access to the courts are provided equal access to fair and timely resolution of disputes. External forces affecting the courts include population declines in certain areas and population shifts from one area to another; an aging population; a more racially and ethnically diverse population; the emerging interest in and success of specialty courts, such as juvenile and adult drug courts; emerging technologies; and the expectation by citizens and policy-makers that courts will operate both efficiently and effectively in providing timely resolution of disputes. Internal forces affecting the judicial system include policies and procedures that compromise the system's ability to effectively provide judicial services; administrative practices or arrangements that contribute to confused and inconsistent implementation of system policies and procedures; and a lack of clarity and commitment concerning the system's need to operate as a whole rather than as a collection of independent parts.
To effectively identify and respond to present and future demands, the judicial system must consider ways of reorganizing its institutional resources and methods of improving its operation to ensure that the public's trust and confidence in an independent judiciary are well-served.
The following segments make several recommendations concerning actions to be taken or continued to successfully implement change within the judiciary. The Judicial Planning Committee is aware there are initiatives in existence or under consideration in some of the identified areas. These recommendations are, nevertheless, intended to underscore the importance of taking appropriate measures to manage change within the judiciary.
I. Public Trust and Confidence
The public's well-founded knowledge and accurate perception of the judicial system is essential to the continued vitality and efficacy of an independent judiciary. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The judicial system should establish a speaker's bureau through which judges and court personnel can routinely provide information to the public concerning the operation of the courts and the role of an independent judiciary in a democratic society.
2. The judicial system should develop readily available general information about the courts and court operations.
3. The judicial system should develop methods to appropriately assist self-represented litigants who seek access to the judicial process.
4. The majority of citizen court experiences are in municipal court and those experiences contribute to the public's perception of and trust and confidence in the judiciary. Therefore, the judicial system should ensure that municipal courts, as a part of the unified judicial system, provide fair and effective resolution of their cases.
II. Use of Technology
Shifting and declining populations and the allocation of judicial resources underscore the importance of technological assistance in providing adequate judicial services. Technology can serve as a critical tool in support of the fair, timely, and just resolution of disputes. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The judicial system should enhance its Unified Court Information System to ensure access to current, accurate, and complete case information.
2. The judicial system should expand the Unified Court Information System to all counties in the state and extend availability of the system to municipal courts.
3. The judicial system should, through the Joint Procedure Committee or other committees as appropriate, develop procedures for electronic filing of court documents, both at the Supreme Court and trial court levels.
4. The judicial system should ensure public access to all case scheduling information and court documents.
III. Dispute Resolution
Alternative methods of resolving disputes can serve an important role in ensuring that those involved in disputes are afforded appropriate mechanisms for the timely, cost-effective, and humane disposition of their cases. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The judicial system should investigate and implement appropriate alternative, therapeutic justice programs, such as juvenile and adult drug courts.
2. The judicial system should investigate the possibility of providing community-based dispute resolution programs.
3. The judicial system should consider the utility of different dispute resolution processes to address the unique demands represented by an aging population.
4. The judicial system should investigate and coordinate methods of marshaling community resources in support of dispute resolution programs.
5. The judicial system should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of recently adopted court rules providing for mediation services.
6. The judicial system should provide aggressive case management and screening to identify cases appropriate for mediation and to move all cases to disposition without undue delay.
IV. Administrative and Operational Support Structure
A. The administrative and operational support structure of the judicial system must ensure the system's ability to respond effectively to changing demands for judicial services and must ensure that adequate resources are available and adequately allocated to provide timely, fair, humane, and affordable resolution of disputes. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The judicial system should constantly measure judicial workload and system performance and increase efficiency in providing judicial services consistent with the fair, timely, and humane resolution of disputes.
2. The judicial system should support efforts to ensure the availability of court facilities conducive to the fair, timely, and humane resolution of disputes.
3. The judicial system should ensure municipal courts, as integral parts of the unified judicial system, are sufficiently supported and administered to provide fair and timely services and resolution of cases.
B. The administrative organization of the judicial system should reflect a commitment to effective and efficient provision of judicial services while preserving the constitutional authority of the Chief Justice. An appropriate administrative organization should maximize the skills, authority, and responsibility of administrative support personnel; maximize the ability of judges to provide adequate and timely judicial services; and minimize organizational and procedural differences based on rural and urban locations. An appropriate administrative organization should support the development of broad and consistent policies and procedures for the orderly administration of the trial courts. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The present Council of Presiding Judges should be replaced by a Council consisting of approximately nine members. The Chief Justice should serve as chair of the Council. Other members would include one justice of the Supreme Court, the presiding judge of each administrative unit, one judge elected at large from each administrative unit, and at least one lawyer. The State Court Administrator should participate in Council activities in the manner designated by the Chief Justice.
Council responsibilities would include developing policies and procedures governing the administration and operation of the district and juvenile court system. Consideration of broader responsibilities for the Council should take place on a periodic basis.
2. The state should be divided into three administrative units for purposes of assuring implementation of administrative policies and procedures developed by the Council. A presiding judge would be selected for each administrative district. Present judicial districts for purposes of judge election should be retained. The administrative units would consist of the following judicial districts:
- Unit 1: the Northeast and Northeast Central judicial districts.
- Unit 2: the Southeast and East Central judicial districts.
- Unit 3: the South Central, Southwest, and Northwest judicial districts.
3. One trained trial court administrator should be employed for each administrative unit. Each administrator should be hired, after consultation with the presiding judge of the unit, by the state court administrator and should be supervised by the state court administrator.
4. Trial court administrators and administrative staff should have responsibility in all areas of administrative practice and procedure within the respective administrative units.
5. Trial court administrators should ensure compliance with personnel policies and compliance with administrative policies and procedures adopted by the Council and policies and procedures adopted by the judges within the administrative unit which are not inconsistent with Council policies and procedures.
6. Trial court administrators should have supervisory responsibility for all trial court personnel, including state-employed clerks of court. Some of that responsibility could be delegated to local administrative assistants.
C. The committee structure of the judicial system should be evaluated and reorganized to ensure appropriate divisions of responsibilities and methods of reporting. The Committee makes the following recommendations:
1. The current Rule on Procedural Rules, Administrative Rules and Administrative Orders should be evaluated to determine its continued vitality and whether its procedural requirements are relevant and appropriate. Notwithstanding paragraphs 3, 4, and 5, all current committees should be reviewed to determine whether committees could be combined or dissolved.
2. The Board of Law Examiners, Judicial Conduct Commission, and Disciplinary Board should continue under the auspices of the Supreme Court.
3. All committees associated with the development of trial court administrative policies and procedures should be established under the Council and report all proposals and recommendations to the Council. Membership of the committees would be determined by the Chief Justice, as chair of the Council, after consultation with the Council. These committees include the Caseflow Management Committee, Court Services Administration Committee, Jury Standards Committee, Juvenile Drug Court Advisory Committee, Juvenile Policy Board, Committee on Trial Court Legal Research, Committee on Trial Court Operations, and the UCIS Advisory Committee.
4. Joint bench-bar committees and other committees responsible for specialized areas of inquiry other than trial court administration should continue under the Supreme Court. Membership of the committees would be determined as currently provided under applicable rules, orders, or policies. These committees include the Joint Procedure Committee, Joint Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution, Joint Committee on Attorney Standards, Commission on Cameras in the Courtroom, Joint Committee on Civil Legal Services for the Poor, Court Technology Committee, Gender Fairness Implementation Committee, Commission on Judicial Education, Committee on Tribal and State Court Affairs, Judicial Planning Committee, Judiciary Standards Committee, Legal Counsel for Indigents Commission, Personnel Advisory Board, and the Public Trust and Confidence Implementation Committee.
5. The Judicial Conference should be retained as a forum for discussion of issues affecting the judiciary and for educational programs. The Judicial Conference should retain the following committees: the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, the Committee on Legislation, and the Committee on Judicial Compensation.
6. The judicial system should consider adopting a rule governing the role and responsibilities of the Judicial Conference