Chief Justice VandeWalle welcomed everyone to the meeting. The first item on the agenda was the approval of the minutes of the August 24, 2004 meeting. Ted distributed a revised copy of the minutes indicating there were a few minor changes but that they were not substantive in nature. It was moved by Judge Paulson, seconded by Judge Geiger, that the August 24, 2004 minutes be approved. There being no further discussion, the minutes were approved.
Ted Gladden provided introductory comments regarding the budget. He stated the budget was provided to the Supreme Court for informational purposes only so they would know in advance what would be presented at the Administrative Council meeting. He felt the budget was very reasonable and defensive. The Court recently approved and we are currently in the process of implementing a new pay and classification plan that goes into effect October 1. One of the problems that drove us to looking at a new pay plan was that our old one had fallen behind market. To avoid that happening in the future, money has been included in the budget in the amount of $1,135,235 to fund a projected 2.2% per year increase in the consumer price index. That amount funds all of the supreme and district court personnel as well as the Judicial Conduct Commission of our Disciplinary Board personnel. If the Governor were to approve a pay increase for employees of less than 2.2% per year and we have nothing in to keep our plan current, it is going to start slipping as it relates to market. There is a request in and there is legislative support for an increase above that level. The Council needs to decide between the following: 1) reduce our overall request and rely on the legislature to increase our final appropriation for personnel costs at a minimum of 2.2%; or 2) include it in the appropriation request and then ask for the difference, if the authorization is above 2.2%.
Another item Ted brought to the Council’s attention was the juvenile court. Susan Sisk and Louie Hentzen worked closely with the directors of juvenile court to come up with a proposal to fund programs for the coming biennium. What is being proposed is less than what was originally requested but more than their current biennium. The consensus among the directors was that it would meet the needs of the juvenile court.
There was a substantial reduction in the original technology budget request. The reduction will be addressed through strategies of moving some costs into this biennium and deferring some out into the 07-09 biennium.
Ted also suggested that there is a need to get the technology personnel involved in coordinating the purchase of copiers because they are becoming more and more complex. That is provided for in the budget process.
The last item Ted brought to the Council’s attention was the purchase of office furniture. For each new district judge, $2,500 was budgeted. It is anticipated that not all the furniture will need to be replaced, but this will provide adequate funds to replace the older furniture. Employee workstations were budgeted at a higher level because it is more expensive to buy ergonomically correct modular workstations than it is traditional office furniture.
Susan Sisk directed the Council to Attachment 1 of the district court budget. It provides a 19% increase or $9,525,485 over the 2003-05 budget, broken down as follows:1. Salaries and Wages - 7% increase or $2,420,893. 2. Operating Expenses - 11% increase or $1,098,671. 3. Indigent Defense - 118% increase or $5,951,901. The indigent defense budget was developed by the Indigent Defense Task Force. We took the budget that they prepared and made it a part of our budget. This is what is driving the majority of the budget increase. 4. Capital Assets - 162% increase or $121,000. This includes all equipment purchased over $5,000, which includes servers, workstations and copy machines. The large increase is due to cuts that were made in the current biennium. 5. Judges Retirement/ADR/UND-CLR - 8% decrease or ($66,979). There was a decrease in judges retirement because of deaths during the current biennium under the old retirement plan.
The general fund request increased 21% or $9,843,124 and federal funds are decreased by 19%. The reason for the decrease was due to the shifting of drug court funds, loss of guardian ad litem federal funding, and child support work reimbursement is down. Judge Paulson inquired as to the decrease in child support reimbursement to courts because we have always been in the top 10 nationwide. Ted explained that a time study is done every three months which includes the referees, people who take the record, and clerk personnel, so we have very accurate, quarterly time study data. More and more of the obligations are being addressed through wage withholding representing less cases needing judicial attention.
Susan Sisk then directed the Council’s attention to Attachment 2 of her proposal, which is the same information above but does not include the increase for indigent defense. Without the increase in indigent defense, the increase in the overall budget would be 7% or $3,726,459. The line item amount for indigent defense, under this proposal, would still show a 3% increase or $152,875 for the lay guardian ad litem program. This will remain with the judiciary even if indigent defense is removed. Chief Justice VandeWalle commented that under the proposal, the judiciary will keep one-fourth of the appropriation in our budget to take us through the first six months of the next biennium and we would have to contract for indigent defense. After that, the remaining three-quarters of the appropriation would be transferred to the new Indigent Defense Commission.
Susan next directed the Council to Attachment 3, the increases under the salary and operating line items. The Court Improvement Committee is requesting an increase in general funds of $105,873. We use a federal grant every year to contract with UND. UND hires, trains, and monitors our lay guardian ad litem program. The grant does not allow the Court Improvement Committee any money to do any other projects, such as evaluations, training for some attorneys, and fund ICWA projects.
Under Juvenile Services, an increase over the current biennium of $123,100 was included for tracking, cognitive restructuring, and community service.
In regard to IT increases, $155,000 was included for ITV installations. Kurt Schmidt stated this funds five sites where the jail is not connected to the courthouse, which includes Dickinson, Minot, Devils Lake, Grand Forks, and a second site in Fargo. If the legislature approves this, the new sites will be in place sometime after July 1, 2005. Ted commented that this is a project that has been slowly expanding. ITV is being used but not as extensively as it could be. Grand Forks is interested in having the equipment available, in fact, the County agreed to buy the equipment so that they could reduce travel to the State Hospital. We are looking at trying to deploy interactive television to as many sites as we reasonably can to expand its usage. We need to look at a greater use of the technology in the future. It can be used for committee meetings, training, interviews, and a number of non-judicial related activities as well as in the courtroom.
Under Enhanced Records Management, $116,292 was budgeted. This expands the pilot project we will have in Stark and Mercer Counties.
Under Digital Audio, $103,677 was budgeted. Kurt Schmidt commented we have systems in Dickinson, Grand Forks, and Fargo. Based on the successful completion of those three sites, we are requesting funds for four additional sites. This will eventually replace the analog recording. The Southeast District experimented with a portable system, but the project was not successful. Ted stated that this is not a replacement to court reporting. It is designed to replace the analog recording that we have been using and is the next step technologically in terms of maintaining the court’s record electronically. Kurt explained that in digital recording, the audio record is stored to a computer as a digital file, and the person doing the recording takes notes that are tied to the time made. The notes are searchable. Eventually, it would be placed in all the courtrooms because 1) in the future we will not be able to replace court reporters due to the decreasing availability of candidates; 2) it gives us the ability to have the records stored on a common server. If the transcript is done in-house, the record is available for multiple parties to do the typing; 3) you can allow people from remote sites to listen to the testimony over the internet; 4) it allows the judge to tie their personal notes directly to the case. If the judge is taking notes on the bench, they are tied directly into the record of that proceeding; and 5) the use of recording high volume proceedings by court reporters reduces job stress issues associated with keyboarding. These are just some of the advantages as to why we are looking at digital to replace the analog in the high volume master calendar.
After considerable discussion, a motion was made by Judge Paulson, seconded by Judge Dawson, to approve the budget as submitted. There being no further discussion, the motion carried unanimously.
Williams County Law Library - Automated Legal Research
Chief Justice VandeWalle asked Judge McLees to review the issues concerning the Williams County Law Library as outlined in the letter from Judge Nelson to Ted Gladden. The library was established as a joint venture between the county and the local bar association. At a later date, the bar association gave their share to the judiciary with the understanding the county would keep the library up to date. It was one of the top three libraries in the state at the time of the agreement. Judge Nelson has reduced the holdings in the library to a great extent thereby reducing the costs. Judge Nelson believes it is more cost-effective to allow the lawyers to do the research for the judges. He feels that as long as he stays within the budget, the content of the library should be the judge’s call as to providing Westlaw.
Ted Gladden said he came at it from a public policy perspective. Whatever arrangement was made, it was done back without any involvement of the State Court Administrator’s Office. Some of the issues he raised included: Is the library accessible to the public? Is it behind secure doors? Do we have a responsibility to provide it to attorneys as we have not provided it to them in the past? It is not just an issue in Administrative Unit 4, it is a public policy issue of whether it is our responsibility to provide automated research at a cost of $431 per month, per site. If we are going to provide the services, are we going to make a distinction between public and attorney access? If we are going to fund public access or attorney access with tax dollars, then the Administrative Council needs to provide policy direction. In earlier correspondence, Mr. Gladden suggested that Judge Nelson contact the local bar to see if they would be willing to pay the Westlaw charges and, in turn, the state would provide technical support and computer hardware to support the services. He suggested that they try it for a year. There was no response from Judge Nelson. Mr. Gladden indicated Judge Paulson inquired about providing access for contract counsel and was informed that it was not part of our contract.
Following further discussion, Chief Justice VandeWalle indicated this matter was placed on the agenda for discussion only. He stated that the Administrative Council is not an appellate body for the State Court Administrator’s decisions. The Council's role is a policy setting body.
Discussion then focused on court collections. Susan drew the Council's attention to two worksheets. Attachment 1 was a comparison of revenues collected for 2002-2004. Overall collections are up 21% from 2003 to 2004 however that does not take into account changes in caseload. She pointed out that the amounts collected for fines and fees, which goes to the permanent schools trust fund, is up about 3% and has not been adversely affected by the payment priority being used.
Attachment 2 was provided and the request of Judge Paulson. It was a breakdown of indigent defense recoupments, application fees, and ID/facility fees by district. She stated that although the information is difficult to analyze as the amounts outstanding consist of all cases through the present and the collections listed are for the year ended June 2004, the information does give an estimate of assessments by district. One ongoing issue that needs to be addressed is the creation of a best practices guide for recoupment of indigent defense assessments. There are two areas to be addressed: 1) getting the outstanding accounts receivable off the books and establishing a uniform method for assessing and collecting the fees; and 2) looking at the best practices in other states for accounts receivable.
Administrative Unit Activities
Louie Hentzen stated he has met with all of the administrative units and indicated they are doing a good job addressing operational issues and developing their work plans. He then asked the court administrators to update the Council on what they are currently doing in their respective units.
Sally Holewa reported that Unit 3 is continuing the process that they started a few months ago, meeting with the different groups (clerks, juvenile office and the judges) to discuss how they can continue to make their practices and procedures more uniform. She stated on September 30, all juvenile courts staff from both districts will be meeting. They will be looking at the different forms used, how each court decides who is going to various educational programs, and setting priorities as a unit rather than as two separate districts. A judicial retreat is scheduled in November. Topics include assessment of indigent defense costs and jury management.
Greg Wallace reported that Unit 2 has been meeting monthly with juvenile court staff and clerks. The juvenile court has emphasized procedures and identified objectives of where they want to be, what programs they want to be offering consistently, and how they can join together to get the private sector to provide services. The clerks have decided to take one case type at time, flowcharting the procedures of each court. They are seeing differences in everything from service of process to how the judge handles the case. That has also been reduced to writing. Both the clerks and the juvenile court have shown good leadership.
Chris Bleuenstein reported that Unit 1 has been holding unit meetings for clerk operations and juvenile court activities. They have been working on Rule 16 procedures, caseflow issues, adoption flowcharts, and small claims flowcharts, as well as discussing disaster recovery and court collections. He has been to every county in the unit to meet the judges and staff.
Louie reiterated Greg’s comments regarding how the managers in the clerk and juvenile areas have been outstanding in trying to resolve differences within their units. They are thinking not only within their units, but also statewide in helping develop best practices in all areas. Karen Kringle, a member of the Juvenile Policy Board, is going to assemble a work group of juvenile people to develop best practices that can be used statewide. Juvenile court management reviews will be conducted yet this year in Devils Lake, Jamestown, Dickinson, and Williston. Bottineau, Grafton, Valley City and Wahepton will be reviewed in the spring.
For the Good of the Order
Becky Thiem requested that ADR be included in the establishment of the caseflow management plans for each unit. Ted Gladden responded that the bar will be included on issues that relate to ADR as part of the caseflow management committee process.
Becky requested more uniformity on the docket sheets in terms of how things are recorded. Ted asked her to send recommendations to him for the Trial Court Operations Committee as this committee is in the process of finalizing an update to the clerk of court procedure manual.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned. The next meeting will be October 27, 2004.