Justice William A. Neumann, Chair
Ted Gladden, Assistant State Court Administrator for Trial Courts
Carla Kolling, Director of Human Resources and Development
Chair Neumann called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and drew Committee members' attention to Attachment B (July 13, 2001) - Minutes of the March 1, 2001, meeting.
It was moved by Dick Weber, seconded by Rep. Hawken, and carried unanimously that the minutes be approved.
Forms Development Initiatives
At the request of Chair Neumann, staff reviewed recent activities concerning the development of court forms. Staff said the Council of Presiding Judges had recently approved and distributed for comment a draft policy establishing a trial court operations committee. The committee, he said, will have several responsibilities, including developing forms for use in the district courts statewide. He said committee membership would consist of clerks of court, judges, and trial court administrative personnel. He noted that the matter of forms to assist pro se litigants was not specifically discussed in devising the committee's forms development responsibilities. He said the Council will review comments at its September meeting and then make a decision on the formal status of the proposed policy. On another front, he said the Court Services Administration Committee, as part of the its study of pro se assistance initiatives, has reviewed selected self-help forms developed in other jurisdictions. He said the Committee has recognized the importance of some level of forms availability for self-represented litigants, but has not yet defined the number and kinds of forms that should be developed and made available. He said the Committee, as a starting point, will review draft forms concerning child visitation issues at its September meeting.
Dick Weber said there seems to be a general reluctance to aggressively pursue the development of forms that would be user-friendly to those involved in judicial proceedings. He said it is the user of the forms who has the most difficulty with the forms and the judiciary must be aware of that fact. He said the problem is particularly apparent in the area of mental health commitment proceedings, in which lay people struggle, often without assistance, to complete the required forms.
Ted Gladden emphasized the importance of consistence use of similar forms within the judiciary, which is advantageous to matters such as case management but is also helpful to those who are "consumers" of court services. With respect to specific forms development efforts, he noted that in the past there were several different kinds of forms regarding domestic violence protection proceedings and disorderly conduct restraining order proceedings, which caused difficulty and inconvenience for law enforcement, advocates, and the courts. In an attempt to develop a uniform set of forms, he said, those involved in the process were contacted and comments requested on suggested form content and structure. The forms, he said, are now routinely reviewed after every legislative session, or more often if problems arise which require changes to the forms. The objective, he said, has been to involve all those who use the forms and ensure there is a regular process for reviewing the forms and implementing them statewide.
In response to a question from Sandi Tabor, staff said the Court Services Administration Committee has received information from Legal Assistance of North Dakota and the Joint Committee on Civil Legal Services for the Poor on pro se assistance issues, including forms development.
Judge Bekken said if forms are to be developed, it would seem that forms for proceedings to modify child support would be the most helpful.
Rep. Hawken asked why there is not a centralized method for developing forms and mandating their use. She said the process seems to be much more complicated than it should be.
Ted Gladden said that even when forms are available, such as those pertaining to domestic violence protection and disorderly conduct, there may be the added obstacle of not having sufficient assistance available for people in completing the forms satisfactorily.
Sandi Tabor expressed concern that forms development may become fragmented with forms being discussed or devised by the trial court operations committee, if established; by the Court Services Administration Committee as part of its pro se study; by the Joint Committee on Civil Legal Services for the Poor; and by other groups concerned with specific kinds of proceedings. Judge Bekken observed that the Court Services Administration Committee may be the group best situated to undertake general forms development because of its role in reviewing judicial services issues. Staff noted that that particular committee has not in the past considered court forms, and only is doing so now as part of its assigned study of pro se assistance efforts. Ted Gladden explained that the proposed trial court operations committee would not be concerned with pro se issues. Rather, he said, its role would be to review internal trial court operations and attempt to develop practices and procedures, including forms, to ensure greater consistency in how courts are functioning.
Judge Hagerty suggested informing the Court Services Administration Committee that this Committee has identified forms development as a priority and that training with respect to the distribution and use of forms should also be considered a priority. Judge Bekken emphasized that user-friendly forms and assistance in completing the forms is not simply a "pro se" issue; it is also a matter of ensuring access to the courts and providing a service to the public.
It was moved by Judge Hagerty, seconded by Rep. Hawken, and carried unanimously that the Chair inform the Court Services Administration Committee that forms development and training staff in the use of forms are considered priorities in addressing public trust and confidence issues identified by this Committee.
Judicial System Resources - Allocation and Management
At the request of Chair Neumann, Ted Gladden explained that the trial court system is composed of 42 judges and 7 judicial referees. He said there are approximately 75 juvenile court personnel and approximately 100 clerks and clerk staff associated with the state-employed clerks' offices. He said there is a court administrator in each of two judicial districts and administrative assistants in the remaining districts. The administrative staff, he explained, provide administrative assistance to the district's presiding judge in areas such as personnel, budget, payroll, and implementation of procedures. There is, he said, a law clerk is most judicial districts and a court reporter or secretary is assigned to each judge. In sum, he said, the system is a relatively small operation with limited personnel committed to a variety of tasks.
Connie Sprynczynatyk emphasized the significant infrastructure and personnel commitment that supports the effort to provide services to the public. The public, she said, expects and deserves access to the courts, but is rarely aware of the substantial "back-office" activity and deliberative effort that occurs in ensuring that services are available.
In response to a question from Dick Weber regarding the origin of trial court administration, Ted Gladden said the concept of professional trial court administrators was developed in the early 1970's and the first state court administrator in North Dakota was hired about that time. Thereafter, he said, administrators with differing levels of training were hired for the trial courts.
Judge Bekken observed that with the number of judges having been reduced as caseload remained relatively stable, there is increased demand placed upon individual judges. With greater demand placed on judicial time, he said, judges have had to become more reliant upon administrative staff to handle administrative tasks previously handled by judges. That, he said, has sometimes resulted in tension between judges and staff. Justice Neumann noted that the tension between judges and administrators is a nationally recognized dynamic that reflects a careful balance between the role of independent judicial officers and the role of administrators in assisting in managing the judicial system.
Issues and Strategies - Continued Review
Chair Neumann drew Committee members' attention to Attachment C (July 13, 2001) - a short list of issues and strategies identified in the Public Trust and Confidence Final Report - for purposes of completing review of recommended strategies. Committee review continued with the issue category Impact of the Media.
With respect to the first strategy concerning establishment of the judicial system generally, and judges particularly, as sources of information about the courts, Justice Neumann noted the possible involvement of the Judicial Education Commission.
In response to a question from Chair Neumann, Carla Kolling said the Commission had discussed the possibility of establishing a Speakers Bureau. She said Keithe Nelson, the State Court Administrator, had suggested that he would establish the Bureau, with the Commission having the role of contacting the various groups, clerks, judges, etc., from which speakers could be selected. She said the Commission had presented a list of potential speakers, but the bureau has not yet been put in place.
In response to a question from Sandi Tabor, Justice Neumann said whether the Supreme Court finds funding to support a public information officer will depend upon whether the need can be adequately demonstrated. He agreed a professionally trained individual is important in effectively providing public information services. He noted that the second and third strategies directed at educating the media about the judicial process and exploring informational programming on local television are also conceivably related to tasks a public information officer would perform.
Sandi Tabor observed that the Supreme Court's recent practice of holding hearings around the state has been very beneficial in providing information about the courts to area residents and students.
Connie Sprynczynatyk said a public information officer could assist in educating the media by offering seminars on the judiciary and judicial process to organizations such as the Newspaper Association. Rep. Hawken agreed and suggested the possibility of discussions with journalism faculty at the various universities and colleges.
Judge Bekken noted that a constant theme throughout several strategies and past Committee discussion has been the need for a person within the judiciary to conduct community outreach and public service functions, in essence, a community/public service officer.
It was moved by Connie Sprynczynatyk, seconded by Rep. Hawken, and carried unanimously that the Committee inform the Supreme Court of its conclusion that an on-staff public information or service officer is critical to effectively implementing the Impact of the Media strategies and recommend that the Supreme Court consider the possibility of establishing such a position.
Chair Neumann next drew attention to the issue category concerning Bias in the System and the three strategies identified for addressing these issues: conducting bias studies, encouraging self-awareness of biases, and encouraging initiatives to enhance cultural sensitivity.
Judge Bekken said all three strategies are being addressed in some fashion by recent education programs. He suggested the Committee should emphasize the need to continue these educational efforts. Staff drew attention to the third strategy regarding cultural issues and the emphasis on Native American experiences with the judicial system. He said the Public Trust and Confidence Final Report underscored the need for a thorough understanding of cultural differences that may affect how Native Americans participate in and respond to the judicial process. Dick Weber noted the increasing immigrant population in the state, which is beginning to find its way into the court system. He said issues of cultural misunderstanding, as well as problems associated with language barriers, will likely result.
Judge Bekken explained that at the recent Judicial Institute judges received a good overview of various cultural issues that affect the judiciary. In that light, he said the judiciary does have an educational process in place that provides a vehicle for addressing most of the strategies in this category.
With respect to the strategies concerning increasing self-awareness and cultural sensitivity, Justice Neumann suggested informing the Supreme Court that there are efforts underway that will assist in implementing the strategies and encouraging the Supreme Court to continue support for these efforts. Concerning the first strategy recommending a bias study similar to the recent gender bias study, he inquired whether the Committee should suggest that the Supreme Court establish a group to review these issues. Rep. Hawken wondered whether universities in the state could be of assistance in this area. Justice Neumann noted that the Final Report's discussion of state survey results indicated that a large percentage of North Dakota residents perceive that the judicial process manifests bias against minorities. Connie Sprynczynatyk said there is a need to assemble data or some level of information documenting the existence of bias, as opposed to the simple perception of bias. Unless there is recognition and acceptance of the fact that bias exists, she said, it will be difficult to achieve success with the strategies directed at encouraging self-awareness and enhancing cultural sensitivity.
Justice Neumann suggested requesting that the Supreme Court consider the possibility of pursuing a bias study and informing the Supreme Court of the significant perception of bias indicated in the state survey results. Committee members agreed. Connie Sprynczynatyk said it may be helpful to include bias information compiled by a group such as the Fargo Human Rights Commission, if that information is readily available.
Rep. Hawken said it would be helpful if a bias-related education program similar to that offered at the Judicial Institute were provided for clerks of court, administrative staff, and other court staff.
With respect to education programs for clerks of court, Carla Kolling explained that clerks were recently involved in a project to develop a strategic plan for judicial education efforts. She said other employee groups within the judiciary were also involved and the objective was to develop long and short term education goals for each group. She said a general strategic education plan was developed and after refinement will be used to design future education programs. She noted that much of what the Committee has discussed concerning various education needs and objectives is included in the plan. For example, she said the plan establishes education goals in the area of professionalism, competence, access to services, and promoting public confidence in the judiciary. She said there was also a recognition that customer service is an important issue with respect to the public's involvement with the courts. To that end, she said a program on clerks and customer service was recently provide at the annual clerk's conference. The program, she said, was conducted by Anna Eidson, a training consultant and motivational speaker who has presented numerous seminars to judges and clerks on customer service in the judiciary. She then distributed a recent article by Ms. Eidson discussing the importance of customer service in the courts. A copy is attached as an Appendix. She noted that Ms. Eidson is scheduled to present two additional seminars to court personnel in the fall.
In response to a question from Dick Weber, Carla Kolling said she could provide a copy of the Commission's Strategic Plan after it has been reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Chair Neumann then drew attention to the issue category Caring for Society and the strategies identified for addressing the various issues.
Committee members agreed the first two strategies (explanations about sentencing and case dispositions and involving judges and others in providing information to the community) should be included in the request to the Supreme Court concerning the establishment of a public information officer. Justice Neumann said the third strategy regarding the provision of complete, shared criminal record information to judges for use during sentencing seems related to information provided through the Unified Court Information System (UCIS). He said UCIS is becoming more integrated with the inclusion of more counties in the system. That, he said, should enhance the sharing of information. It was agreed that the Committee should encourage the Supreme Court to continue efforts to fully integrate the court's information system. While not an identified strategy, Committee members agreed the recently established drug courts should be highlighted as a strategy that clearly addresses some of the issues identified in the Caring for Society category, most notably the perception of inadequate responses to certain cases and the lack of constructive sentencing options.
Discussion then turned to the Jury Service issue category and identified strategies. With respect to the strategy concerning development of methods of explaining the importance of jury service, Committee members agreed this strategy should be included in the request regarding establishment of a public information officer position. Staff explained that the first strategy (continue gathering information through juror exit questionnaires) has been implemented and juror exit information is compiled by the trial court administrative staff. Connie Sprynczynatyk suggested the Committee should review the results of juror questionnaires to obtain a better understanding of juror concerns. Committee members agreed.
With respect to the strategy concerning ways to ease the burdens associated with jury service, staff noted the recent enactment of legislation increasing juror pay to $50 per day beginning the second day of service.
Committee members agreed the strategies concerning use of exit questionnaires and easing the burdens associated with jury service should be recommended to the Supreme Court for referral to the Judicial Conference's Jury Standards Committee for further consideration.
Howard Swanson explained that his office routinely surveys jurors after trials on such questions as counsel performance, how to improve the process, and perceptions about jury service generally. He said he has rarely heard from anyone that has had a negative experience.
Chair Neumann drew attention to the last issue category and related strategies concerning Integrity of the Judiciary and the Judicial Process. It was agreed that the identified strategies have been addressed.
Dick Weber suggested that the Committee attempt to meet more often. It was agreed members would be surveyed for purposes of selecting two meeting dates over the next four months.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff