Summary of Survey Results
Over the past year, the North Dakota Supreme Court has been studying the public's trust and confidence in North Dakota's state courts. The study was undertaken by the Court's Committee on Public Trust and Confidence, which is chaired by Justice William A. Neumann. Committee membership consists of business, government, and community leaders, as well as members of the general public. The Committee will soon submit its report to the Supreme Court. The report will identify issues the Committee has concluded affect the level of trust and confidence in North Dakota's courts and will suggest ways to address those issues. The study and report will be part of a long-term effort by the Supreme Court to find out what North Dakota citizens and court users expect in the way of court services and how to most effectively provide those services.
As part of the study, a survey of North Dakota citizens was conducted to gauge trust and confidence in North Dakota's courts. Similar surveys have been conducted in several other states, as well as nationally. The survey was conducted in October by the University of North Dakota's Bureau of Governmental Affairs. A summary of survey results was reviewed by the study Committee at its meeting on November 16. Continuing review and analysis of the results will be part of the ongoing assessment of how to deliver court services in ways that meet the needs of the state's citizens. The summary of survey results is set out below.
The sample for the statewide survey on public trust and confidence conducted for the North Dakota Supreme Court was randomly drawn by computer from all listed telephone numbers in North Dakota by the U.S. West Data Products Group. Calling began on October 10 and was completed on October 27. Calling was conducted from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursdays. Six hundred (600) interviews were completed, resulting in a statistical reliability of 4% plus or minus.
The survey results indicate a substantial majority of North Dakota citizens have trust/confidence in professional and governmental institutions. However, the media is the least favored, with about 57% saying they have some or a great deal of trust and confidence in the media.
With respect to having "some or a great deal" of trust and confidence in other institutions, the medical profession ranks highest with 89.5%, followed closely by local law enforcement (86.8%), schools (86.2%), and the office of the governor (85.5%).
Courts and the legislative branch followed in the next general grouping. A substantial number of respondents (79.2%) responded that they have some or a great deal of confidence in "courts in your area." The state Legislative Assembly followed closely with 78.7%. The U.S. Supreme Court and the North Dakota Supreme court ranked next, with 76.5% and 74%, respectively, responding that they have some or a great deal of confidence in these two institutions.
Overall, only about 7% of the survey respondents thought state district courts handle cases in an "excellent" manner. Nearly 11% thought domestic relations cases were handled poorly and 16% thought juvenile cases were handled poorly. However, almost 60% of the respondents thought the handling of cases by district courts is "good" or "fair."
Approximately 40% of respondents indicated some personal involvement with the courts, with most of that involvement coming in the form of jury service or observing court proceedings.
Approximately 41% of respondents indicated they know "some" or "a lot" about state district courts in their area.
Respondents indicated reliance on electronic news sources (50.5%) and print sources (51.2%) for information about the courts.
North Dakota citizens are nearly evenly divided between those who believe the media's portrayal of the courts is accurate (46.6%) and those who disagree (42.1%).
Nearly 58% of respondents disagreed with the statement "It is affordable for ordinary people to bring cases to court," with 25% strongly disagreeing.
Over 75% of North Dakota citizens strongly believe that having a lawyer contributes "a lot" to the cost of going to court.
Court fees (24%), expenditure of personal time (35%), complexity of the law (40%),and the slow pace of justice (44%) were also viewed as contributing "a lot" to the cost of going to court.
Half of the respondents thought it would be possible to represent themselves in court if they wanted to.
Most respondents (64%) "strongly" or "somewhat" agree that court personnel are helpful and courteous.
A significant majority of respondents (80%) agree that courts are slow in handling cases, with 37% strongly agreeing.
Most respondents (82%) agree judges are generally fair and honest in deciding cases. But, 45% agree judges do not give adequate attention and time to cases, and 46% agree that courts do not make sure their orders are enforced.
While nearly 40% of respondents said most juries are not representative of the community, over half disagreed.
Although most respondents (77%) thought "people like them" are treated either better or the same as others by the district courts, a significant number (65% to 73%) thought African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and non-English speaking people are treated the same or worse. Nearly 60% thought wealthy people are treated better.
Only 34% of respondents agreed that "courts are out of touch with what's going on in their community," while 55% disagreed.
A clear majority (70%) agree that judges' decisions are influenced by political considerations. And 45% agree that elected judges are influenced by having to raise campaign funds.
Nearly 73% of respondents rate availability of judicial services in their area as "fair" to "good," and 11% rate availability as "excellent."
Nearly 60% of respondents disagreed that judges could be eliminated in their area without hurting judicial services.