Justice William A. Neumann, Chair
Rep. William Devlin
Judge Ralph Erickson
Judge Donovan Foughty
Rep. Nancy Johnson
Justice Mary Muehlen Maring
Susan Sisk, Director of Finance, Office of State Court Administrator
Chair Neumann called the meeting to order at 10:10 a.m. and drew Committee members' attention to Attachment B (March 22, 2002) - minutes of the February 8, 2002, meeting.
It was moved by Bob Feidler, seconded by Ryn Pitts, and carried unanimously that the minutes be approved.
Revised Vision Statement
Chair Neumann drew attention to Attachment D (March 22, 2002) - revised draft vision statement. Staff said the underscored and
overstruck language is based on changes discussed at the February 8 meeting. He said statements of general principle for each segment were added, a segment concerning public trust and confidence in the courts was added, and various revisions within segments were made based approximately on previous Committee discussion.
With respect to the first segment concerning organization and structure, Justice Maring suggested "timely" should be added as a descriptor for resolution of disputes in the general principle (line 2). Doing so, she said would more closely follow the mission statement. Committee members agreed.
Bob Feidler suggested the reference to "organization" in the general principle (line 1) may be better placed in line 6 of the second paragraph. There was general agreement with the suggested change.
With respect to the second segment concerning methods of dispute resolution, Becky Thiem said the revisions were an improvement on the first draft.
Justice Neumann wondered whether the phrase "and recognize the importance of family preservation" in the fourth paragraph may be viewed as an inappropriately political statement. Staff explained the phrase was imported from another vision statement and is not a direct reflection of earlier Committee discussion. Judge Foughty agreed the phrase may be misleading since trial courts generally do not address themselves to preservation of families. In response to a question from Steve Andrist concerning juvenile courts working to maintain family structures, Judge Foughty agreed juvenile courts often deal with family preservation issues. But, he said, trial courts, on the other hand, are often called upon to "break up" families, such as in divorce cases. The challenge, he said, is to do that as humanely and fairly as possible.
Judge Erickson said he did not regard the language as overly problematic, particulary in the area of juvenile law and in light of the general purposes of family law. He said if there is a potential problem, it may be that the phrase may be regarded as pushing in the direction of mandatory counseling and other pre-divorce requirements similar to those adopted in other states. To that extent, he said, the matter may be an appropriate subject of legislation; but it can also serve as a useful goal of part of the judicial process.
Sandi Tabor agreed the phrase accurately applies in the juvenile court context, and for that reason it is a level of detail that may be more appropriately included in a subsequent strategy or objectives document.
It was moved by Sandi Tabor, seconded by Judge Foughty, and carried that "and recognize the importance of family preservation" be deleted from the fourth paragraph.
With respect to the third segment regarding public trust and confidence, Committee members agreed the reference to "operation of the judiciary" in the first paragraph should be changed to "operation of the judicial system."
Rep. Devlin noted the general principle for the segment (line 27) and wondered whether stating that the judiciary "will ensure" the public's perception of the system is knowledgeable and one of trust and confidence is placing an unrealistic burden on the judiciary. It was suggested "strive to ensure" may be a better statement of what the judiciary intends to do by way of the vision statement. Committee members agreed the language should be revised as suggested.
With respect to the fourth segment concerning use of technology in dispute resolution, Justice Maring wondered whether it is necessary to refer specifically in the first paragraph (line 8, pg 2) to access to judicial services "in rural areas of this state." She suggested simply referring to access "throughout the state." Committee members agreed.
Rep. Johnson wondered whether it is necessary to list, individually, all those who would have "electronic, remote access" to case scheduling information and court documents (lines 9-11, pg 2). Committee members agreed a listing was unnecessary.
Connie Sprynczynatyk questioned the need to define the manner in which access is provided, i.e., "electronic, remote". Steve Andrist suggested simply referring to "public" access. Justice Maring observed that "public access" may be perceived as access only through some central locations, whereas "remote" access seems to imply access in a variety of different locations. Judge Foughty said "public access" is likely broad enough to encompass a variety of ways of providing access to court information.
Following further discussion, Committee members agreed the second paragraph of the technology segment should be modified to provide : "The judicial system will institute a paperless filing system that provides public access to case scheduling information and court documents."
It was moved by Becky Thiem and seconded by Sandi Tabor that the revised vision statement, as further modified, be approved.
Bob Feidler observed that, upon reflection, the emphasis on "public" access in the second paragraph of the technology segment does seem to change the tenor of the statement. He said the emphasis at the outset included access for judges, court personnel, as well as the public. Judges, he said, would certainly desire access to all current case information and it would be difficult to conceive of a situation in which the public would have greater access to information than judges. To underscore judge access to information, he suggested that a reference to providing "courts and the public" with access to scheduling information and court documents be added to the second paragraph just discussed.
It was moved by Bob Feidler and seconded by Judge Erickson that the motion to approve the modified vision statement be amended to include addition of the noted language in the second paragraph of the technology segment.
Steve Andrist observed that courts should be encouraged to consider themselves as part of the public. Judge Foughty said if the courts are to be specifically identified, then it would seem necessary to also address access for parties involved in cases.
The motion to amend failed. (4- yes, 6 - no). The main motion then carried unanimously.
Trends Affecting the Judiciary - Concluding Discussion
At the request of Chair Neumann, staff briefly reviewed the trends identified by judges and judicial system personnel which were discussed by the Committee at its previous meeting [Attachment E (February 1, 2002)]. He said the remaining question is whether there are any additional trends to be identified or other trend effects to be discussed that were not mentioned during the Committee's previous review. Committee members agreed further discussion was unnecessary at this time.
Judicial System Budget Components and Process - Overview
Chair Neumann then welcomed Susan Sisk, Director of Finance, for an overview of the judicial system's budget process. Ms. Sisk distributed and reviewed a timetable for the biennial budget request and charts depicting the judiciary's share of the state budget and specific components of the judicial branch appropriation. The information is attached as Appendix A.
Ms. Sisk explained that the budget request process progresses in two phases: one related to staffing reviews and requests, and the second concerning the development of the budget itself. She said each judicial district, through the presiding judge and local administrative staff, prepares its own budget with guidance from her office. She said each initial budget is submitted to her and is reviewed with district staff for possible refinements. She said the preliminary budget is then submitted to the Supreme Court for an initial review, followed by the entire district court budget being reviewed by the Council of Presiding Judges. The budget, with any adjustments the Council may suggest, is then submitted for review and approval by the Supreme Court as part of the entire system budget. She said budget activity is monitored over the biennium to identify any areas of possible over-expenditures and to identify circumstances that may require transfer of funds from one budget area to another. She emphasized that while there are "district" budgets for administrative management purposes, there is, in fact, only one budget for the judiciary as a whole.
In response to a question from Becky Thiem, Ms. Sisk said the each district's budget is "centralized" in the sense that purchases, for example, may be made at the local level, but payment is made through her office. Each district, she said, has discretion with respect to how money is spent within that district's allocated budget except in the area of equipment purchases, which must be approved at the state level.
Judge Erickson said there is a noticeable degree of local control over the district's budget, particularly with respect to determining how the budget is initially assembled. He noted that even though there is a centralized aspect to the budgeting process, it is not uncommon for unique spending cultures to develop among the several judicial districts, spending for education travel being one example.
Judge Foughty said differences in district budgets more often reflect different decisions concerning items to be purchased, such as law library holdings. He said rather than an issue of whether districts have autonomous control over their budgets, the more appropriate question may be why certain purchases are regarded as necessary in some districts but not in others.
Ryn Pitts asked whether state and district judicial budgets fluctuate from year to year and whether there are benchmarks, caseload for example, that provide a level of parity for budgets at the district level. Ms. Sisk responded that the district budgets remain fairly stable from year to year, but the statewide budget has recently increased significantly because several county clerks of court have been brought into the state system.. She said there are typically no particular benchmarks or guidance, other than normal prudence, that govern district budget levels.
Justice Maring noted that current personnel policies govern spending for travel and attending conferences and are fairly restrictive.
Justice Neumann observed that while there is no formal mechanism to achieve budget parity among the districts, some level of parity tends to occur anyway as a consequence of the entire budgeting process. In response to a question from Judge Foughty regarding parity with respect to cost per judge, Ms. Sisk said that will be a subject for analysis in the near future.
With respect to education travel, Judge Erickson explained there are essentially two methods of funding. One, he said, is through the centralized travel budget of the Continuing Judicial Education Commission, which is available to judges on a rotating basis, and the other is district-level funding, access to which is largely in the discretion of each district.
In response to a question from Becky Thiem regarding the twenty-seven percent of the budget attributed to operating expenses, Susan Sisk said operating expenses typically consist of such things as legal research, indigent defense, telephone costs, supplies, jury expenses, and the like. She said a significant portion of operating expenses, about $2.3 million, consists of funding agreement to county for clerk of district court services provided by county-employed clerks.
In response to a question from Ryn Pitts concerning budgeting for technology, Susan Sisk said the judiciary has submitted its information technology plan as required by state law and related budget items will be included in the judiciary's appropriation request.
Sandi Tabor noted the ongoing development of a criminal justice information sharing program, which is intended to provide a mechanism for assembling all criminal justice related information. She said the Supreme Court's role in that program has yet to be defined.
Chair Neumann thanked Susan Sisk for her presentation and invited her to remain for the balance of the Committee's discussion.
Judge Erickson observed that, notwithstanding certain budgeting constraints and dynamics, there continues to be a lack of uniformity of resources within the system, which can be attributed to budgeting formulations at the district level. He noted that some districts have law clerks, while others do not; some districts have judicial referees, while others do not. He said it often seems that decisions about funding for certain things are not based on objective demonstrations of need, but rather on personalities, relationships, and reciprocating decisions among the presiding judges. He said while there is a "judicial system" budget, the manner in which the budget if formulated places significant control in the hands of presiding judges whose primary allegiance is to their own districts. He said the system may be better served if budget decisions were placed with more neutral and detached figures within the system, such as the budget director and the court administrator, albeit with input from the district level. The current process, he said, does function, but a more centralized approach would assist in ensuring the needs of the public are uniformly met.
In response to a question from Becky Thiem concerning the budgeting process in other environments, Ryn Pitts said private sector budgeting operates in a similar fashion. Politics and turf concerns, she said, are present and changes occur reluctantly and generally only when things begin to fall apart. Rep. Johnson said her experience as a school board member was that school budgeting follows much the same path, beginning at the local level and with many of the dynamics discussed about the judicial budget process.
Sandi Tabor observed that one distinguishing difference in the judicial budget process may be that presiding judges seem to be able to bargain over the distribution of personnel.
Justice Neumann noted that under the current organization of the Council of Presiding Judges, the Chief Justice serves as chair of the Council. He said when the district budget is submitted to the Supreme Court for review, the Chief Justice informs the other members of the Court of the discussion by the Council concerning the budget. There are, he said, institutional dynamics that help "wring out" budget requests that are hard to understand or support.
Judicial System Organization and Structure - Overview
At the request of Chair Neumann, staff provided a brief overview of the judiciary's organization and structure, lines of authority, and how policy is formulated (See Appendix B). Staff said the overview is intended to provide general background information in preparation for the next step in the planning discussion. That step, he said, entails an assessment of the judiciary's organization, procedures, and policies with the aim of identifying strengths and weaknesses that may affect the judiciary's ability to fulfil its mission and vision and respond to future changes.
With respect to municipal courts as part of the judicial system, Connie Sprynczynatyk noted there is growing frustration about the inability to provide adequate municipal court services.
Chair Neumann next drew attention to Attachment E (March 22, 2002) - example organizational assessment questions and considerations. Staff explained that the first page of Attachment E ("Organizational Assessment Questions") provides a listing of the kinds of assessment questions and areas of review which have been part of judicial planning efforts across the country. He noted that the listing begins with questions concerning the court's structure and organization, and then moves on to other areas such as procedures and rules, practice and attitudes. The objective, he said, is to consider these areas and questions in an attempt to determine how well situated the system is to fulfil its organizational purpose and respond to changes.
In response to a question from Connie Sprynczynatyk concerning the status and responsibilities of the assistant state court administrators for the trial courts, staff said the positions were created when the rule governing the Council of Presiding Judges was revised to provide more authority to the Council to establish policies and procedures for the trial courts. He said the assistance state court administrators serve as staff to the Council and assist in ensuring that policies and procedures adopted by the Council are implemented. He said the line of authority between the assistant state court administrators and local administrative staff and state clerks of court is regarded as being less than clear.
Judge Erickson observed that the assistant state court administrators have a difficult, unenviable job in that they are perceived as essentially adversaries, " us vs them", by some of the trial court judges. There is, he said, no clear chain of command so there is often tension between the assistant state court administrators and the presiding judges, the trial judges, and local administrative personnel. As a consequence, he said, there is institutional resistance that compromises the administrators' ability to do what they were hired to do. He said administrators should have more authority to administer and implement policies adopted by the Council of Presiding Judges and the Supreme Court. Too often, he said, policies and plans will be adopted and individual judges or districts will refuse to implement them.
Connie Sprynczynatyk asked, if there was only one change that could be achieved in terms of organization or structure, what that one change might be.
Judge Foughty responded that administrators, whoever or however many they might be, should have real authority to do their jobs. He suggested trial court administrators should supervise personnel and lines of authority should be clearly defined.
Judge Erickson noted that there are some judicial districts in which judges will not allow the assistant state court administrators to perform their function.
Ryn Pitts observed that if more authority for administrative staff is desired, then it would seem that a change in structure would be required. Sandi Tabor noted that a change in institutional culture would be required as well. Judge Foughty emphasized that making full use of administrators would allow judges to commit more time to judge work, i.e., deciding cases.
Connie Sprynczynatyk said it appears that changing the manner in which administrators are used might then achieve a number of benefits: improved or clearer relationships with other personnel, improved morale, efficiency, and permitting judges to focus on judge work.
Judge Erickson explained that one manifestation of an unwillingness to consider the needs of the organization is that some judges insist that they start their trials at a time of their own choosing, rather than at the time generally set for trials. The results, he said, often are increased costs and delay for the litigants, lawyers, and prospective jurors, as well as undue inconvenience for the public and staff. In terms of culture, particularly the division between rural and urban judges, he suggested administrative districts be created comprised of hear equal number of rural and urban judges. Then, he said, judges would have to move beyond the rural/urban division and listen to each other in determining how to best meet the needs of the system. He noted that creating administrative districts would not require changing election districts.
Judge Foughty observed that the state could easily be divided in to three administrative districts. With respect to personnel management, he said that there would be more flexibility with respect to clerks of court if the clerks were supervised by administrators.
Steve Andrist asked how those judges who resist relinquishing control over administrative matters would explain their position. Judge Foughty said the most likely explanation would be that the judge is an independent, elected official, vested by the constitution, it would be argued, with control over the operation of the judge's particular court. Judge Erickson added that such judges might also argue that they do what is right for the system, that they must answer to the electorate, and that they better understand locally what is best for the system than do administrators in Bismarck. Becky Thiem said the position is a reflection of the tension between local and centralized control and the concern that central authorities do not clearly understand local issues. Sandi Tabor said the issue is more than one of local control, it is that particular judges wish to exercise "individual" control over the court process. An individual judge, she said, cannot possibly make the best decision for the judicial system.
Justice Maring agreed with earlier statements concerning the need for administrative districts, enhanced authority for administrators, and establishing clear lines of authority for the assistant state court administrators. Additionally, she said there is a need to provide a clear path for implementing rules and polices. It is rarely clear, she said, if rules and policies are implemented as adopted or if they are implemented in a uniform way.
Justice Neumann noted that as elected officials, judges cannot be "fired" in the manner that employees can. Consequently, he said, changing the institutional culture in which judges function may be the best way to achieve change. In the end, he said, moral suasion is the most powerful tool in persuading judges to consider what is best for the judiciary as a whole. Additionally, he noted that the judicial system has been evolving is some hopeful ways, and the challenge is to ensure that the evolution continues.
Connie Sprynczynatyk asked whether the current structure of the judicial system encourages the cultural issues described thus far. If so, she said, a preferable shift in institutional culture likely cannot occur without a change in a structure that promotes a more positive environment. However, she said, possible structural changes must be considered in light of a shrinking resource base.
Rep. Devlin wondered whether there is anything the legislative process can offer to assist in addressing the issues or make changes in the system's structure. Justice Maring noted that the Minnesota Supreme Court was recently given the authority to withhold judicial salaries of judges who fail to fulfil certain responsibilities.
With respect to competing burdens placed on judges, Justice Maring observed that with a reduced number of judges there is simply too few judicial resources to support judges being involved in all matters. She said there are probably too many committees requiring judicial participation and many judges would prefer not to worry about administrative matters. She suggested a need to develop a more rational committee structure, rather than a structure that has committees under the Judicial Conference, the Supreme Court, and the Council of Presiding Judges, as well as a variety of other ad hoc working groups.
In terms of organizational structure, Connie Sprynczynatyk said the discussion seems to point to essentially two elements: trial court administrators vested with real authority and realignment of districts at least with respect to administration. Each, she said, is perceived as having several benefits with respect to more effective operation of the system. However, she said, those benefits apparently cannot be realized unless there is, in fact, some changes to the organizational structures of the judiciary.
Judge Erickson noted there is a difference of opinion concerning the vitality of the Judicial Conference. Some judges, he said, are of the opinion that the Conference should be a policy-making body, with presiding judges answering to the Conference. Other judges, he said, regard the Conference as a simple waste of time. At some point, he said, it may be necessary to decide exactly what the Conference is expected to do. He said trial judges may find it more palatable if the Judicial Conference is the primary entity with committees arising out of the Conference, rather than the Supreme Court. The sense, then, he said, may be that judges would have more input into that process. Additionally, he said, the multiplicity of committees, answerable to different entities, provide for confusion regarding the generation of rules or policies.
Justice Neumann noted that the problematic issues with respect to any entity being given policy-making authority is that the Chief Justice is given responsibility and authority under the state constitution for the administrative operation of the judiciary. He said it is unlikely that the Chief Justice would be willing to delegate too much administrative authority unless there is a concomitant reduction in responsibility for the consequences.
Judge Erickson observed that both the Council of Presiding Judges and the Judicial Conference assume they have a certain level of autonomy, when in reality that autonomy does not exist because administrative authority is constitutionally vested in the Chief Justice. He suggested that what is needed is a conclusion about the nature of the underlying administrative structure, perhaps including a review of the committee structure, with a reduction in committees or combining committee functions, and with remaining committees reporting to an entity that affords opportunity for input by trial judges and justices of the Supreme Court. The recommendations resulting from the process, he said, could then be forwarded to the Chief Justice. The important objective, he said, is to narrow the number of central decision-making bodies to one. He said the majority of trial judges likely would prefer that the Judicial Conference be continued.
Connie Sprynczynatyk suggested the Committee review alternative concepts regarding how the system could be structured based on the discussion. Committee members agreed. Staff noted that a draft concerning reorganization was previously reviewed by the Court Services Administration Committee. Committee members agreed the draft should be included for review at the next meeting.
With respect to committee reorganization, Sandi Tabor said the state bar association recently realigned its committee structure to combine some committees and dissolve those committees that did not meet often. She said if projects then arose that required attention, ad hoc committees were formed to address the particular issue.
Judge Erickson said the critical issue with respect to committee structure is the chain of command, that all committees should report to a single, central entity. Rules and policies thus adopted, he said, could then be more effectively implemented through administrative personnel. He then inquired about the possible composition of an umbrella organization.
Justice Neumann observed that if there were fewer administrative districts, with a consequent reduction in the number of presiding judges, then the central body could perhaps be comprised of the presiding judges and those who serve as the executive committee of the Judicial Conference. That entity, he said, could then perhaps take on the responsibilities of the Council of Presiding Judges. He said the Judicial Conference could continue to serve as an important method for developing internal political leadership for changes in the system and assisting the Chief Justice in determining administrative direction. He said the Conference could also then serve as the umbrella organization to which all committees would report. He noted that in the past the Chief Justice was the presiding officer of the "Judicial Council", the predecessor of the current Judicial Conference, which served as a different manifestation of the administrative authority of the Chief Justice.
Judge Foughty said it may be helpful to have lawyer members on the central, umbrella entity.
In response to a question from staff, Justice Neumann said the umbrella body could exist apart from the Judicial Conference, but would include the executive committee of the Conference in its membership.
Judge Erickson suggested, and Committee members agreed, that joint bench-bar committees would continue to report to the Supreme Court, while all other committees would report to the central entity.
With respect to possible administrative districts, Committee members suggested there could be three districts composed of the current election districts: one consisting of the Southeast and East Central districts, one consisting of the Northeast and Northeast Central districts, and one consisting of the Northwest, Southwest, and South Central districts. Professional administrators with greater authority would be available in each larger administrative district.
Chair Neumann said draft concepts would be prepared for review at the Committee's next meeting.
Justice Maring suggested that, at some point, a review of the status of clerks of court should be undertaken. Judge Foughty reiterated that administrators, vested with appropriate authority, would likely be in a better position to decide how clerk resources managed.
Steve Andrist emphasized that technology will be a critical element if the point is ever reached when there is no physical clerk presence in a county.
Committee members requested that the statute governing clerk of district court services be provided as information for the next meeting.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:40 p.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff