Public Trust and Confidence Implementation Committee
Kelly Inn, Bismarck
November 27, 2000
Justice William A. Neumann, Chair
Chair Neumann called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and welcomed members to the Implementation Committee's organizational meeting. Following introductions and opening discussion, committee members reviewed Attachment B (November 16, 2000) - Supreme Court Administrative Order 12, which sets out the committee's membership and mission.
At the request of Chair Neumann, staff then reviewed the March 2000 Report of the Committee on Public Trust and Confidence, which was included as a separate enclosure in the mailing for the meeting.
Chair Neumann then drew committee members' attention to Attachment C (November 16, 2000) - an extracted list of issues and strategies identified in the March 2000 Report - and requested general comments and discussion.
Connie Sprynczynatyk inquired whether any initiatives related to the issues and strategies have been undertaken since the March 2000 Report was submitted to the Supreme Court. Staff noted that the Gender Fairness Implementation Committee has submitted to the Supreme Court a proposed informal, confidential complaint procedure. The procedure in part, he said, is intended to provide a confidential alternative to the formal disciplinary process in responding to complaints about judge conduct and temperament. In that sense, he said, the proposal is related to strategies included in the Report, such as suggested establishment of a judicial performance evaluation program. He said the Supreme Court is also considering rule amendments that would provide for mediators in civil cases, thereby providing an alternative method of dispute resolution. With respect to strategies concerning pro se, or unrepresented, litigants, he said the Court Services Administration Committee is currently reviewing an action plan that proposes several methods for providing assistance to those who come into court without legal representation. With respect to strategies related to jury service, he said the Jury Standards Committee, a committee of the Judicial Conference, is studying a number of issues concerning juror participation. Additionally, he said, juror questionnaires are currently being used in the judicial districts to gather a variety of information on juror experiences in the courtroom, including perceptions of bias.
Sandi Tabor noted the pilot projects in two judicial districts that have established an expedited process for simple divorce cases. As well, she said, a pilot project is underway in the South Central judicial district which requires that parties to a divorce proceeding attend orientation programs.
Connie Sprynczynatyk recalled two media accounts of the Supreme Court's recent trips to hold hearings in area schools and wondered whether there had been any attempt to quantify reaction to the hearings. She said Supreme Court hearings outside the State Capitol provide an important opportunity for public education about the courts. Justice Neumann said there has been no formal assessment of the impact of local hearings, but informal responses have been very positive. Sandi Tabor said it may be worthwhile to consider development of an evaluation form so students can provide their general impression of the hearing. In response to a question from Connie Sprynczynatyk, Judge Bekken said teachers are generally provided with a synopsis of the case to be heard so that students can familiarize themselves with the issue before the court. He suggested that local district judges could coordinate early discussions with students about the case and about the court system generally. Sandi Tabor said a study guide could be developed which assists in that effort. Judge Hagerty noted that she has had local groups attend master calendar hearings and she is expecting a high school class to attend a jury trial in the near future.
Judge Bekken noted the Supreme Court's website as an invaluable source of information about the state's court system. Judge Hagerty observed that a guide for teachers and students is provided on the website and students are able to submit questions by e-mail. She said sample forms are provided, as well as information brochures.
Strategy Implementation - Preliminary Assessment
Committee members then turned to a review of strategies (Attachment C) and methods of implementation. With respect to Public Access to the Courts, and specifically Gateway barriers, Justice Neumann drew attention to the strategy regarding simplifying forms used in court proceedings. He noted this as a desirable goal, but also a potentially long-term effort because forms development and consistent use likely require a change in system culture. Rep. Hawken emphasized the importance of statutes that are, to the extent possible, clearly and simply written, since most forms are developed to implement a particular law.
In response to a question from Dick Weber, staff said the judiciary does not have a centralized, established forms development process. He said forms are usually developed by different court groups or committees, such as the Mental Health Commitment Forms Committee or the Council of Presiding Judges (domestic violence protection order forms). He said forms for use in small claims court are developed in coordination with several clerks of court and are updated periodically.
Howard Swanson cautioned that a forms development process must clearly identify who the forms are intended for and whether the forms can be kept current. He observed that the Internet provides a useful vehicle for maintaining current, easily accessible forms. For example, he said, the Maricopa County Superior Court, which is often noted as an example of a user-friendly court, has recently moved to a nearly entirely web-based forms program. However, he said, the kinds of forms provided have been narrowed to address particular areas of concern, e.g., small claims, landlord/tenant, mental health, and some probate and domestic matters. The primary goal, he said, is to encourage pro se litigants, who tend to be more involved in these kinds of cases, to use standardized forms.
Dick Weber observed that the issue often is not the form itself, but whether a person who needs the form can find it and, once having found the form, whether the person can accurately and sufficiently complete the form. Cynthia Mala said there is often an additional question regarding whether a particular court or agency will recognize the form as valid.
Judge Hagerty said those who have need of mental health commitment forms are often particularly vulnerable because there is little assistance available in accurately completing the forms. In contrast, she said those who file domestic violence protection order forms are typically assisted by advocates who provide a variety of supportive services. She suggested the committee could serve a valuable purpose by providing or initiating training for clerk or state's attorney staff so non-legal assistance is available in working with various forms. Justice Neumann noted one of the strategies for addressing Gateway barriers and Education issues is to provide an ombudsperson as an on-site resource person.
With respect to the process of reviewing issues and strategies, Cynthia Mala noted that the Committee on Public Trust and Confidence had begun the task of identifying groups that could potentially be involved in implementing the various strategies. She suggested the Implementation Committee continue that discussion in the interest of expediting possible disposition of some strategies. Connie Sprynczynatyk observed that Administrative Order 12 identifies the committee's role as one of essentially monitoring and overseeing efforts to implement the various strategies. Consequently, she agreed the preliminary objective is to identify those entities that might undertake implementation activities.
Sandi Tabor suggested the Joint Procedure Committee may be the likely group to consider development of forms. Additionally, she suggested the committee could further review the various strategies with the goal of possible assignments to other groups. The committee, she said, could then, perhaps at the next meeting, review additional background information on implementation efforts in other jurisdictions for the purpose of preparing the committee for discussions with other groups on implementation strategies.
Cynthia Mala emphasized the importance of identifying the possible constituencies for implementation efforts, developing a public relations strategy for distributing information to those constituencies, and explaining how and why they might want to become involved. Additionally, she said the method of providing the information is important and to that end different kinds of community forums - "person to person" contact - should be considered.
In response to a question from Chair Neumann concerning possible groups to involve in reviewing Gateway barrier strategies, committee members identified the following: representatives of the Court Services Administration Committee, the Joint Procedure Committee, the Judicial Education Committee, and clerks of court (as potential local sources of information and assistance).
With respect to groups to involve in reviewing Representation barrier strategies, committee members identified Legal Assistance of North Dakota, the state bar association, victim/witness advocates, and those identified for review of Gateway barrier strategies.
On the issue of Bias in the System and strategies to address it, Justice Neumann suggested inviting representatives of the Gender Fairness Implementation Committee as that group has reviewed a variety of related bias issues. With respect to reviewing strategies concerning cultural bias and Native American experiences in the judicial system, Cynthia Mala suggested involving the Indian Affairs Commission, as well as representatives of the tribes. Additionally, she said there are numerous resources on this issue available both locally and nationally that may be interested in participating. There is, she said, a need for further, substantive research and information concerning the minority and ethnic experience in the law enforcement and judicial process. The corollary issue, she said, is what kinds of education efforts are needed in this area for judges, lawyers, and judicial system personnel. In that light, Justice Neumann suggested the involvement of the Judicial Education Committee. It was also agreed that representatives from the Committee on Tribal and State Court Affairs should be involved in reviewing these issues. The following groups or entities were also identified as possible participants: Department of Corrections, Highway Patrol, ND Peace Officers Association, Law Enforcement Training Center. Dick Weber also suggested involving representatives of a consortium of disability groups that meets periodically on matters affecting people with disabilities.
With respect to Education and Civic Literacy issues, Connie Sprynczynatyk suggested some strategies in this category are related to public access strategies. Consequently, she said it may be worthwhile to involve groups identified for those strategies in review of education strategies. Sandi Tabor suggested conferring with the Council of Presiding Judges as judges generally will play an important role in public education efforts. She also suggested contacting the Office of State Court Administrator because there may be a staffing issue with respect to public education and information initiatives.
Justice Neumann observed that there are several related issues under the general subject of education. For example, he said, there is not only the subject of general public education, but also education of judges, lawyers, judicial system staff, and court-users. Each category, he said, has its own particular needs.
With respect to strategies related to How the System Works, committee members identified the following groups to be contacted: State Bar Association, North Dakota Trial Lawyers Association, State's Attorneys Association, and the North Dakota Judges Association. It was also agreed that similar groups could be contacted to review strategies related to Lawyer issues.
With respect to groups to involve in reviewing strategies related to Impact of the Media issues, committee members identified the following: newspaper and broadcasters associations, Prairie Public Television, and Community Access Television.
On issues and strategies related to Caring for Society, committee members agreed information should be solicited from victim/witness advocates. It was also agreed that information should be obtained regarding the judicial system's information system and the manner in which case information is provided to judges.
With respect to groups to contact in reviewing strategies related to Jury Service, committee members identified the following: Jury Standards Committee, bailiffs, and clerks of court.
Chair Neumann said additional information will be assembled for review at the next meeting with respect to groups to be contacted and implementation efforts undertaken in other states.
In accordance with Administrative Order 12, the following initial committee member terms were drawn: Chair Neumann - 2 years; Judge Bekken - 2 years; Judge Hagerty -1 year; Rep. Kathy Hawken - 3 years; Dan Hovland - 3 years; Cynthia Mala - 2 years; Connie Sprynczynatyk - 3 years; Howard Swanson - 2 years; Sandi Tabor - 1 year; Dick Weber - 3 years; Sr. Thomas Welder - 1 year.
After discussing impending schedule conflicts, committee members agreed the meeting tentatively scheduled for December 15 should be rescheduled.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 2:05 p.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff