Justice Mary Muehlen Maring, Chair
Judge Debbie Kleven
Judge Burt Riskedahl
It was moved by Judge Riskedahl, seconded by Jim Fitzsimmons, and carried that the minutes be approved.
Focus Group Process
Chair Maring reviewed the Committee's previous conclusions regarding a focus group process to assess progress by the judicial system in addressing bias issues identified in the Final Report of the Commission on Gender Fairness in the Courts. She noted the tentative conclusion to hold regional focus group discussions, approximately seven, with members of the Committee participating at each focus group meeting. She then drew attention to Attachment C (February 18, 2005) - the public meeting schedule used by the Commission in obtaining comments from the general public and the legal profession. She asked whether the Committee should conduct public meetings as well focus group discussions. She said the focus group process would likely entail inviting specific representatives from the legal community and other interested groups for the purpose of obtaining comments on specific topics from those who most regularly participate in court proceedings.
Judge Kleven observed that there was very light attendance at meetings held in Grand Forks during the Commission's public meeting process. She said most comments concerned complaints about dispositions in particular cases. Staff said the Commission's Final Report notes that attendance at the public meetings was fairly sparse.
Jim Fitzsimmons said his recollection was also that the public meetings were not well attended and most comments seemed directed at dissatisfaction with court decisions rather than issues related to bias.
Judge Riskedahl asked how the objectives of the new focus group process might differ from those of the Commission's. Staff said the principal purpose of the process under discussion is to determine whether the courts have made any progress in addressing the bias-related issues identified by the Commission. The Commission's purpose, he said, was to determine in the first instance whether there were problems related to bias in the system that required attention. Judge Riskedahl said the difference in purpose suggests focus groups consisting of court users and those within the system, rather than public meetings, would be the better vehicle for obtaining useful information. Jim Fitzsimmons agreed.
After further discussions, Committee members agreed a public meeting segment should not be included with focus group meetings.
With respect to the meeting schedule reflected in Attachment C, Chair Maring asked whether focus groups should be held similarly, that is, in eight cities, or whether a broader regional approach should be considered.
Jim Fitzsimmons suggested limited results may be obtained if the process is limited to 4 major population centers. For example, he said if problems continue to exist, it may be more likely that those problems would be found in the more rural areas of the state. Concentration on major populations centers, he said, may limit the ability to obtain that information.
Staff observed that the Commission's focus group process addressed four general areas: domestic law, domestic violence, criminal law, and judicial system as employer. He said the question is whether to replicate this approach in the new focus group process and how to logistically conduct a series of meetings addressing these various areas. Additionally, he said, there are fewer Committee members to assist in the process than there were Commission members who participated in the Commission focus group process.
In response to a question from Chair Maring, Committee members agreed approximately 6 to eight focus group meetings should be held.
In response to a question from Judge Riskedahl regarding scheduling, staff said there may be some difficulty in covering all the noted subject matter areas in, for example, ½-day meetings. Judge Riskedahl suggested, and Committee members agreed, that meetings during the day would likely have better attendance by the target audiences than evening meetings.
Judge Riskedahl wondered if it would, in fact, be possible to hold ½-day meetings and perhaps cover two cities in one day, such as Devils Lake/Grand Forks, Williston/Minot, Dickinson/Bismarck, and Jamestown/Fargo. He said such an approach may be easier to accommodate given the smaller number of Committee members to participate. Committee members agreed a team of two Committee members likely could participate in such a format.
Judge Riskedahl said he would be willing to commit to 2 days if the dates could be scheduled in advance. Jim Fitzsimmons said he could likely participate on 3 days if the process is conducted sometime during the summer.
In response to a question from Chair Maring, Committee members agreed the focus group meetings should be held in August and September.
Jim Fitzsimmons wondered whether there is benefit in Committee members participating in focus group meetings in areas other than where the Committee member is located. Judge Kleven observed that with the new administrative structure, it may be better for her to participate in meetings in Fargo/Jamestown. She said that may be particularly helpful for meetings with judicial system employees. After further discussion, Committee members agreed that to the extent possible members should participate in meetings in areas other than their principle location.
Staff asked how, if the process operates on ½-day meetings, a focus group for employees can be included in a ½-day session along with focus groups for domestic law, domestic violence, and criminal law issues.
Jim Fitzsimmons suggested the possibility of separate focus groups on the law issues and then a statewide or regional focus group process for employees. Justice Maring said the cost associated with bringing employees to a central meeting location may be an issue. Nevertheless, she said it is important to ensure a process by which information is solicited from as many employees as possible. Judge Kleven suggested the possibility of focus groups based in each of the four administrative units.
With respect to gathering initial information, Judge Riskedahl asked whether a survey similar to the one used in the judicial improvement process could be used to obtain comments, which could then form the basis for focus group discussion. Committee members agreed a survey step should be included in the process.
Justice Maring suggested four regional focus group meetings could be conducted for employees in September. She said focus groups involving lawyers and other court users could be conducted in August over 4 days, with 2 meetings on each day. Committee members agreed with the general approach.
In light of the discussion, Chair Maring said the Committee should identify specific dates for the various focus group meetings and develop information concerning the direction and focus to be taken by the Committee team participating in each meeting. She said the Committee should also consider a questionnaire to be distributed to employees.
Law Firm Self-Audit Project - Update
Chair Maring said there is renewed interest in moving forward with the law firm self-audit project through the State Bar Association. She said more information will be gathered concerning a survey instrument to be used as part of that process.
Domestic Violence Benchbook - Training
Chair Maring recalled the Committee's early work in obtaining grant funds to support the development of a domestic violence benchbook for judges and then subsequent discussions at the September 2004 meeting with Bonnie Palecek and Linda Isaacson concerning development of a curriculum based on the benchbook. She said Jeanne McLean from the Law School is completing work on the curriculum and education programs will be presented to clerks of court at their annual conference in early May and to judges at the Judicial Institute later in May.
Committee members agreed the Committee's next meeting will be Friday, May 20.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 10:10 a.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff