It’s the time of year for State of the Judiciary addresses in many states, an opportunity for the Chief Justice of the state to provide the new state legislature with an update on the court system, including its strategic plans and ongoing resource needs. Several State of the Judiciary speeches have been reported in the news, allowing us to get a broad sense of what state courts are planning/hoping for in the coming year. More after the jump. Continue reading “The state of state judiciaries”
Those interested in the operations of problem-solving courts might want to skim through various rule changes proposed by the Indiana Problem Solving Courts Committee. Among the most notable changes, any judge appointed to a problem-solving court bench would be required to participate in an approved orientation program within a year of appointment. The new rules also clarify the importance of the entire “problem-solving court team” — a group that may include the judge, case managers, attorneys, probation or parole officers, and representatives of addiction treatment, child services, or Veteran’s Administration groups.
Such teams are an expansion of what Herbert Jacob identified as “courtroom workgroups” in the 1980’s. Jacob and his colleagues observed that in the crucible of the courtroom (especially the criminal courtroom), the D.A., defense counsel, and judge had much more in common with each other than might be anticipated. They worked together to process hundreds of criminal cases, and developed their own courtroom culture that was not known or understood to those who did not frequent the courtroom. In particular, criminal defense lawyers found themselves in two worlds — as advocates for their clients, as as friends and colleagues of the judge and prosecutor. The interests of the specific defendants became almost secondary to the “work” that needed to be done in processing cases. (Coincidentally, the courtroom workgroup was often clearly, if absurdly, illustrated by the contemporaneous sitcom Night Court.)
Indiana’s problem solving courts appear to embrace the courtroom workgroup in a healthy way, allowing a team of advocates and decisionmakers to help defendants reach productive resolutions. Any Indiana resident or attorney is invited to comment on the proposed changes.
The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states. The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation. It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.
We previously reported that Indiana legislators are considering a merit selection plan for the judges of Marion County (the Indianapolis area), in light of a Seventh Circuit decision holding the previous election slating process unconstitutional. Recently, both state legislators and the Indianapolis Bar Association have offered their own opinions of the proposed legislation.
Merit selection refers to a method of choosing state judges through a nominating commission, which typically selects three candidates and forwards the names to the governor for final selection. Judges chosen through merit selection are therefore pre-vetted for qualifications, skill, and judicial temperament. Most states with merit selection protect accountability to the public by appointing judges to set terms on the bench, after which they must seek reappointment or retention before the voters.
I have long championed merit selection as the best process for balancing quality judges and public accountability. The process is not perfect, but if done thoughtfully — with a balanced and inclusive nominating commission, sufficiently lengthy terms to allow a judge to grow professionally on the bench, and retention elections coupled with a transparent judicial evaluation process — they have proven to be very effective.
Many states around the country choose some or all of their judges through merit selection. And Indiana, which uses merit selection for trial judges in three large counties (Allen, Lake, and St. Joseph), is now poised to expand the system to Marion County as well.
The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has issued an advisory opinion stating that live tweeting, microblogging, and other forms of “electronically relaying a written message” do not constitute broadcasting, and therefore do not fall under the general ban on broadcasting courtroom proceedings. The decision paves the way for journalists of all types to share information on live testimony through Twitter. Broadcasting video or audio of court proceedings is still prohibited, and trial judges still have discretion to restrict microblogging activity in any given proceeding or trial.
More on the background of the new opinion here.