Kelly Inn, Bismarck
Justice William A. Neumann, Chair
Chair Neumann called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and drew Committee members' attention to Attachment B (February 22, 2001) - minutes of the November 27, 2000, organizational meeting.
It was moved by Sandi Tabor, seconded by Dick Weber, and carried unanimously that the minutes be approved.
Implementation Approaches - Discussion
At the request of Chair Neumann, staff reviewed methods for pursuing implementation of strategies identified in the Final Report of the Committee on Public Trust and Confidence. He said the more immediate issue is the manner in which the Committee will manage implementation of the various strategies. He noted that at the last meeting Committee members reached a tentative conclusion that interested entities or stakeholders would be contacted to determine whether there were activities underway that might affect a particular strategy or whether the particular groups would be willing to commit the resources to implement a strategy. The Committee, he said, would in that scenario essentially fulfill an oversight role as strategies are addressed. One question that arises under that approach, he said, is how to ensure the Committee continues as an integral part in the implementation process. Another option, he said, is for the Committee to take a combined approach, that is, refer some strategies to other entities for consideration while retaining others for direct review and action. He noted that several of the strategies are activities that are internal to the judiciary, while equally as many involve outreach activities or potential collaborative efforts with entities not associated with the courts. Staff also distributed and reviewed a list of examples of pubic trust and confidence initiatives undertaken in other jurisdictions. A copy of the list is attached as an Appendix.
Sandi Tabor said there may some strategies for which the method of referral may be unclear because of the need for coordination or identification of resources. In those situations, she said, it may be worthwhile to hold a meeting with the particular group to outline the Committee's thoughts on implementation and to determine the group's interest in pursuing implementation. Some groups, she said, may have the interest but not sufficient resources, or may need the Committee to coordinate certain aspects of the implementation effort. Depending on the outcome of the discussion, she said, the Committee could then make a decision about how the particular strategy might be most effectively addressed.
Dick Weber agreed with the approaches outlined. He emphasized the need to be proactive in implementing the strategies; otherwise the initiative may lose focus and momentum.
In response to a question from Chair Neumann, Committee members agreed the Committee should assume a hybrid role of referring some strategies to other entities for consideration and retaining others for Committee review and action.
In response to a question from Dick Weber, Committee members agreed the Committee should have some oversight responsibility with respect to those strategies referred to other entities.
Discussion then turned to the list of possible contact groups for strategy implementation included as Attachment D (February 22, 2001). Staff noted that the list was compiled from suggestions at the last meeting and is organized under the various Issue and Strategy categories identified in the Final Report.
Judge Hagerty suggested the State's Attorney's Association and the Peace Officers' Association be added to the groups listed under the Public Access to Courts category.
Dan Hovland suggested adding the Defense Lawyers' Association as a contact under the Lawyers category. He also suggested the recently established Joint Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution be added under the Public Access and Process categories.
Committee members agreed the School of Law should be included as a contact in those strategy categories regarding Lawyers and Civility, Integrity, and Professionalism. It was also agreed the Legal Counsel for Indigents Commission should be included as a contact under the Public Access category. Judge Hagerty suggested the Patter Jury Instruction Commission be included in any category of issues regarding simplification of language.
Review of Issues and Strategies for Implementation Approach
Chair Neumann next drew Committee members' attention to Attachment E (February 22, 2001) - a short list of issues and strategies for purposes of considering priorities and methods of implementation. At the outset, he noted the strategy under the Process category regarding analyzing judicial system resources and considering how resources are allocated. He suggested this may be a priority issue for the Committee to retain and consider, perhaps with the assistance of staff from the state court administrator's office. Judge Hagerty suggested Ted Gladden would be helpful in reviewing how judicial system resources are allocated and managed. She said an accurate assessment of available resources is important in determining whether particular strategies are achievable.
It was moved by Dick Weber, seconded by Sandi Tabor, and carried unanimously that this strategy be retained as a priority item for consideration by the Committee, with assistance from administrative staff.
Chair Neumann drew Committee members' attention to the strategies outlined for Gateway Barriers, beginning with the first strategy - simplifying forms and language use in court proceeding and processes.
Judge Hagerty noted that the judiciary does not have a general forms development group, nor does the judiciary have forms development personnel who are adept at forms construction and presentation. It may be worthwhile, she said, to suggest the establishment of another committee to handle the development of forms. She emphasized that such a group should include expertise in plain language, which is not necessarily an expertise shared by judges and lawyers. Judge Bekken said such an effort likely would need staff to ensure ongoing review and updating of the forms.
Justice Neumann suggested the possibility of referring this strategy to the Court Services Administration Committee for review in concert with its current study of pro se assistance initiatives. An alternative, he said, may be to recommend to the Supreme Court that a separate committee be established to develop pro se forms as well as other commonly used forms. Judge Hagerty stressed the importance of having someone available who can effectively edit and arrange the forms.
With respect to the second strategy concerning information about court protocols and processes, Justice Neumann observed that this strategy is also essentially a public information responsibility; one that could, perhaps, be incorporated within the activities of the Judicial Education Commission.
Sandi Tabor observed that an issue common to several strategies is the importance of information about the courts supplied to the public, which implies the need for a public information officer or equivalent staff with ability to write effectively for public consumption. Committee members agreed such a person would be a worthwhile asset in addressing public information-related strategies. Sandi Tabor said if funding cannot be obtained for a public information officer as a full-time position, perhaps it may be possible to consider contracting with someone to assist in developing informational brochures and pamphlets about the courts. She noted that the Attorney General is seeking funding for a public information officer, one responsibility of which will be to revise the brochures currently distributed by the Attorney General's office.
In response to a question from Chair Neumann, Committee members agreed the Committee should further explore the possibility of providing a public information function within the judiciary through development of information brochures and other measures. It was agreed a funded full-time position, such as a public information officer, should be considered or, if that is not possible, obtaining public information services on a contract basis should be pursued.
With respect to the Gateway Barrier strategy regarding use of technology resources and information kiosks, Committee members agreed to postpone consideration of this strategy. Staff noted that the Maricopa County Superior Court, which had pioneered the concept, recently moved away from the use of kiosks in favor of providing Internet-based information.
With respect to the strategy of using an ombudsperson as an on-site resource for court users, Judge Hagerty suggested providing specialized customer service and related training to at least one person in each clerk of court office. She said that person could also serve as a resource person for forms-related information.
It was moved by Judge Hagerty, seconded by Dick Weber, and carried unanimously that customer service initiatives, coordinated through the assistant state court administrator for trial courts, should be considered.
With respect to the first Representation Barrier strategy regarding a simpler, more accessible system for non-lawyers, Justice Neumann suggested the Committee monitor the progress of the Court Services Administration Committee in its study of pro se assistance issues. Committee members agreed.
Committee members agreed there should be no action at this time on the strategy concerning the impact of removing small claims cases to district court. With respect to the third and last Representation Barriers strategy - encouraging pro bono legal services and developing information about lawyer services - Committee members stressed the importance of adequate dissemination of information about the bar's reduced fee and lawyer referral programs.
It was moved by Dick Weber, seconded by Judge Bekken, and carried unanimously that the State Bar Association be contacted to ensure information about the programs is distributed to clerk's offices.
It was moved by Dan Hovland, seconded by Judge Hagerty, and carried unanimously that the Court Services Administration Committee be informed that the Final Report identified access to representation as an issue and recommended providing a simpler, more accessible system for non-lawyers, and that the Committee be encouraged to consider these matters in its study of pro se assistance issues.
Chair Neumann drew attention to the Physical Barrier strategy concerning the elimination of automated, voice-mail telephone systems used in the judicial district offices.
It was moved by Judge Hagerty, seconded by Dan Hovland, and carried unanimously that the Council of Presiding Judges be informed that this issue was identified in the Final Report and be encouraged to review the use of automated answering systems.
Discussion turned next to strategies for addressing issues related to Education and Civic Literacy. Justice Neumann noted the first strategy, which recommends that the judiciary be involved in providing information about the courts to the public in a variety of ways. Judge Hagerty observed that judges generally do not receive many invitations to speak at service clubs or the like. She said most judges are willing to undertake these kinds of projects but assistance is needed in contacting various entities and arranging speaking opportunities. She noted that in the examples of trust and confidence initiatives provided by staff, LA County has established a Judges Speakers Bureau that sends quarterly mailings to civic, social, and education groups about the bureau. She said a public information person could also assist in arranging speaking opportunities. Judge Bekken said it would also be helpful if basic, uniform information about the courts was assembled for judges to work with when addressing various groups. Justice Neumann suggested the possibility of an inquiry to judges to determine those interested in participating in a speakers bureau. He said it would also be necessary to compile a list of service clubs, civic organizations, and schools which could be used for notification about the speakers bureau and arranging speaking engagements. Committee members agreed it would be useful to have a central contact point within the judiciary for assisting in responding to inquiries about speakers. It was agreed the Judicial Education Commission should be contacted to determine if any consideration has been given to establishing a speakers bureau.
With respect to strategies concerning Process issues, Chair Neumann noted that the Committee had retained the first strategy - analysis of judicial system resources - for further consideration. He then drew attention to the second strategy - establishment of uniform practices and procedures generally, and specifically in domestic relations cases. He said this strategy appears be one more appropriately for consideration by the Council of Presiding Judges. Staff noted that discussion leading to the inclusion of procedures for domestic relations cases as a strategy emphasized the uneven application by trial courts of the Rule 8 series of the Rules of Court. Those rules, he said, were initially recommended by the Family Law Task Force and were intended to streamline and expedite management of certain domestic cases. He noted that under Administrative Rule 22, the Council of Presiding Judges has the responsibility for developing uniform procedures and policies governing trial court administration.
Judge Hagerty observed that in the South Central judicial district there are significant differences among judges in how certain proceedings are conducted. There probably are, she said, similar differences in other judicial districts. She said the lack of some level of uniformity creates uncertainty for lawyers as to what is expected, which is compounded for those who are not represented by counsel.
Justice Neumann suggested the subject may be appropriate for a Judicial Conference education program in which judges compare how they conduct certain kinds of proceedings.
With respect to the strategy concerning alternatives to the adversarial system, Justice Neumann suggested the Committee track application of the recently adopted rules governing alternative dispute resolution. Committee members agreed. Judge Hagerty suggested, and Committee members agreed, the Committee should also track use of the mediation orientation requirements in divorce cases which have been established in the South Central judicial district.
Discussion turned next to strategies identified under the issue category regarding Lawyers. With respect to the strategy concerning more information about the lawyer discipline process, it was agreed the state bar association should be contacted to determine if informational pamphlets are, or could be, distributed to clerks' offices.
Chair Neumann drew attention to the next strategy concerning more judge control during the legal process, including lawyer conduct and timeliness in all proceedings. Dan Hovland said the strategy seems to contemplate such things as mandatory scheduling conferences and discovery deadlines, similar to those used in federal courts. Judge Bekken noted that there can be no effective judge control without a rule change to require that the summons and complaint be filed to commence an action. It was agreed that the Joint Procedure Committee should be informed that this issue and strategy were identified in the Final Report. Judge Bekken suggested mandatory scheduling conferences should be considered as well.
Judge Hagerty said there is a category of cases in which these requirements may be appropriate, but she cautioned that the federal court, in which such requirements are commonplace, is a different environment, with staff to assist in handling conferences. She said North Dakota courts do not have sufficient law clerks, secretaries, and staff necessary to effectively manage mandatory conferences in all kinds of cases.
It was moved by Judge Bekken, seconded by Dan Hovland, and carried unanimously that the Joint Procedure Committee be encouraged to review the concept of requiring the summons and complaint to be filed to commence an action.
Chair Neumann next drew attention to the strategies related to Civility, Integrity, and Professionalism. With respect to encouraging self-awareness on the part of judges and court staff about their impact on civility, it was agreed education is keenly important in this area and that appropriate programs for judges, court staff, and clerks should be sponsored by the Judicial Conference and the Judicial Education Commission. Staff noted that the American Judicature Society has developed a curriculum entitled "Serving the Public - A Curriculum for Court Employees", which might be useful in this area. Committee members also agreed the Committee should track the operation and application of the recently adopted rule establishing an informal complaint process to respond to complaints about conduct by judges and judicial system employees.
It was moved by Judge Bekken, seconded by Dick Weber, and carried unanimously that the Judicial Education Commission be encouraged to provide a customer service program based on the AJS curriculum to clerks, clerk staff, secretaries, and other court staff and that the Judicial Conference be encouraged to provide a similarly focused program to judges which addresses judicial contact with the public.
Chair Neumann drew attention to the last strategy in the category concerning the establishment of a judicial performance evaluation program. Judge Hagerty observed that judicial performance evaluation systems focus on broader issues than those that might be addressed in the recently established informal complaint process. She explained that a pilot program for judicial performance evaluation had been established in the past by the Supreme Court, but it was not continued.
It was moved by Judge Bekken, seconded by Dick Weber, carried unanimously that the Chief Justice be informed of this recommended strategy to address civility, integrity, and
and professionalism issues and of the Committee's conclusion that the establishment of such a program should be considered.
With respect generally to issues of civility and dealing with the public, Judge Bekken observed that there is an increasing need for judges to determine how best to address matters related to communicating with members of the general public, particularly pro se litigants. He said concerns about ex parte communications are real, although more pronounced with respect to lawyers. But, he said, it is sometimes difficult to determine the appropriate balance between the role of the judge and contacts with the public.
Chair Neumann said the Committee would complete review of the issues and recommended strategies at the next meeting, beginning with the category "Impact of the Media." Committee members agreed a meeting in July should be considered.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:25 p.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff