Mission: Dispensing Timely Justice Within the Rule of Law.
During 2000, many improvements were made across the district to improve the efficiency of the court system. More clerks and other personnel were trained in using the Unified Court Information System (UCIS) for case management and in the use of the ledger card module to support the financial needs of the county clerks of court. Much was also done preparing for the transition of the clerks to state employment on April 1, 2001. This affects the district's two largest populated counties, Ward and Williams. As can be expected with such a major change, the year ended with several still unanswered questions.
Progress was also made in case management. Although the number of open cases increased by about 250 from January 1999 to January 2000, those cases which were older than the established state time limits actually decreased (194 cases in October 1999 and only 140 cases in October 2000). The addition of an excellent law clerk for the district is one of several reasons for this improvement.
Improvements were made in the jury system in terms of the number of people brought in for jury duty and in payment for their service. The average number of people brought into the courthouse for each trial decreased from 30 in 1999 to only 27 this year. That equates to 135 fewer people required to report for jury duty. At year end the NWJD successfully completed testing a procedure which decreases the time between end of juror service and payment for that service. The test used the court's computer network to e-file the jurors' names and addresses to Bismarck from the court's jury computer program, saving time and chance of error. Thirty seven (37) jury trials were conducted this year, continuing a downward trend (43 jury trials in 1999, 44 in 1998).
On the technological front, the district has continued efforts to modernize its office equipment. The purchase of laptops allows the judges to travel with their virtual office whenever the need arises. To facilitate teleconferencing of court hearings, a new telephone system which ties into the courtroom sound system was purchased for the McKenzie County courtroom. The Williston district court phone system was further upgraded to include juvenile court (and in 2001, the clerk's office) and to add voice mail capability. A new, portable, video presentation system allows pictures, x-rays, and objects to be clearly displayed on a large screen TV in the courtroom. It also permits attorneys to present their own computer generated displays. Also successfully tested this year was the use of "real time transcripts" whereby a computer-generated draft transcript is created during a trial or hearing as the reporter types it out on the steno machine.
To help with the occasional lack of courtroom space in the Ward County courthouse, the juvenile hearing room was upgraded to a small court room. The elevated judge's bench increases the judge's safety and the formality of the room makes a greater impression on the juvenile offender. This will also be more useable for visiting judges to conduct small hearings.
Mission: To provide and promote rehabilitation services to delinquent, unruly, or deprived children in the least restrictive manner consistent with the protection of the public interest.
The district's judicial referee handles formal juvenile hearings, child support hearings, and protection & restraining orders, as well as small claims cases. Juvenile and support hearings are held in each of the four chambered cities; by the referee in Minot and by the chambered judges elsewhere in the district. Contracted attorneys provide juvenile indigent defense for juvenile cases, parental terminations, and guardian ad litem services.
Juvenile court started 2000 with a new statewide Juvenile Case Management System (JCMS). As with most new systems, JCMS has had it problems; another program update is due early in 2001.
The juvenile court is now working to get into compliance with the new Federal mandates of the Adoptions and Safe Families Act (ASFA). There has been an incredible amount of training and work done this year to get into compliance with Federal guidelines which have to be followed for North Dakota to receive foster care dollars. Approximately 83 of Ward County's formal cases were deprivation which required "federally correct" court orders. Many of these cases were done by stipulation in the past and that is no longer acceptable. All hearings must be on the record with the proper language and the proper findings recorded. The federal rules also apply to cases that the Division of Juvenile Services has in foster care placements. While this has impacted juvenile court staff, a greater impact is on the referee and state's attorney. The Ward County deprivation referrals continue to climb with more than 60 children in foster care beds.
Tobacco referrals again became a task for the Minot juvenile court when the city judge decided that he had no jurisdiction. However, pending legislation, expected to pass, changes tobacco violation to an infraction and will move it out of juvenile court. The Ward County juvenile court referred 60 youth to the tobacco education class at Uni-Med Hospital. The area of greatest concern is the alcohol referrals. In 1998 there were 277 referrals in Ward County, in 1999 it was 331 and in 2000 we had 410 referred for alcohol possession or consumption. The numbers continue to climb and that is not good news. Another 58 were referred for possession of paraphernalia and 43 for possession of a controlled substance. Because the ND State Lab will no longer verify drug tests for us we have had to contract with a private company to provide this analysis when necessary. We continue to refer runaways to the RAP (runaway alternative program) at North Central. Community service continues to be a consequence for our youth. In Ward County 3,199 hours were completed this year in comparison to 2,485 in 1999. The cost for community service has also been increased from $30 to $36 per the North Dakota legislature.
There is a national trend for juvenile courts to enter into collaboration with the local extension service (4-H Youth Development) to provide programming for needy youth. In cooperation with them, we have added another behavior modification class called Crossroads. It is to soon to tell how it will compare to KEYS and how the youth will respond to it. Restitution collected this year in Ward County amounted to $14,681.85 compared to $15,093.04 in 1999.
We have moved slowly but steadily into "Balanced and Restorative Justice". We have been working more closely with victims who have been allowed into court proceedings to give victim impact statements. The victims seem happy with the process and hopefully will agree to participate in accountability conferences with the youth(s) responsible for damages.
The biggest disappointment this year was the failure to get enhanced community service off the ground. Ward County juvenile court had to turn back a grant to the Children's Services Committee for failure to meet time limits. On the positive side, the Ward County detention facility has completed its first full year and it's been a wonderful addition to our present services. It may have played a part in the drop in referrals.