The opioid crisis and the state courts

The Indianapolis Star has published an interesting op-ed from Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Tennessee State Court Administrator Deborah Taylor Tate, exploring (at a high level) how the national opioid epidemic has affected state courts. A snippet:

[O]ne fact remains: the state court justice system is now the primary referral source for addiction treatment in the country.

This reality has put enormous strain on our nation’s state courts, many of which have been overwhelmed by growing dockets and shrinking resources. In a recent survey of chief justices and state court administrators, 55 percent ranked the opioid epidemic’s impact on the courts as severe. The survey results are unsurprising, given the complexity of opioid cases: it takes an enormous amount of time to figure out what’s best for people who are addicted, how to care for their children, and what resources are available for them. And those who are placed in a treatment program with court oversight may remain involved with the court for years.

The courts are often the place of last resort for problems facing society, and have no choice but to address those problems creatively and (usually) with limited budgets. The opioid crisis is certainly playing out that way.

The state of state judiciaries

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”

Indiana’s problem-solving courts and the development of the courtroom workgroup

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.

 

Six state chief justices join forces to combat opioid epidemic

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.

Legislators and bar association weigh in on Indiana merit selection plan

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.

 

Indiana legislature considers expanding merit selection for state judges

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.

Continue reading “Indiana legislature considers expanding merit selection for state judges”