Volume 5, Issue 4 February 2014
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NCSC launches CourtMD
First-of-its-kind diagnostic tool for courts

The National Center for State Courts has developed CourtMD to help court managers identify problem areas and find solutions for improving their court’s operations. This online tool, currently focused on caseflow management, asks court managers a series of questions about their court, such as: Has your court adapted overall time standards for criminal/civil cases? Are you familiar with the basic concepts of caseflow management? Has your court decided which caseflow management performance measure to use? Once all questions are answered, CourtMD points court managers to a set of solutions tailored for their situation. CourtMD is a work in progress, and user feedback will help improve future versions.

NCSC develops new court security manual
Builds on lessons from past acts of courthouse violence

 Judges, law enforcement officers, and court administrators from six courts that had experienced acts of violence met in Denver, Colorado  to discuss two important questions related to court security: "What are the important 'lessons' learned from these incidents?” and “As a result of the lessons learned, what are the most important things that every presiding judge, court administrator, and law enforcement officer should keep in mind to possibly prevent, prepare for, mitigate, and manage the impact of an act of serious violence in a courthouse?” NCSC compiled their answers and recommendations into Courthouse Violence in 2010-2012: Lessons Learned, a guide for improving court security. This project was conducted under a grant from the State Justice Institute.

CCJ President addresses ABA meeting
Discusses health of justice system

 Earlier this month, Conference of Chief Justices’ president and chair of the NCSC Board Michael Heavican delivered his remarks to the House of Delegates at the 2014 ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago. He provided an update on the health of America’s state courts. “As we know, our nation’s state courts resolve more than 95 percent of all litigation.” Heavican said. “To remain vibrant, our state courts must secure adequate funding while promoting financial accountability and transparency. We must have strong leadership for the courts to operate effectively.” Heavican mentioned that despite the recent “budgetary tsunami,” a new initiative is being formed by members of the bar to “review civil caseloads to evaluate reforms that are taking place in many states in response to concerns about delay, which impacts access to justice.” The committee will be responsible for developing guidelines, best practices, and recommendations for policymakers that will improve the civil justice process.

New Hampshire adopts civil litigation rules
NCSC evaluates rules’ impact

In many courts, civil litigation has become too time-consuming and too expensive. New Hampshire was one of the first states to enact changes in civil procedure rules to streamline the litigation process. In 2009 an eight member committee was formed to discuss ways the state could improve its procedures. The committee ultimately proposed the Proportional Discovery/Automatic Disclosure (PAD) Rules, a set of five rules governing pleadings, case-structuring orders, automatic disclosure, written interrogatories and depositions, and discovery of electronically stored information (ESI). NCSC recently released its evaluation of the impact of the PAD Rules on civil case processing, which found no impact of the rule changes on filing-to-disposition time, but did find a significant reduction in the default rate due to the increased information provided to defendants in the pleadings.

State of Judiciary speeches highlight impact of technology on courts
Benefits of problem-solving courts also consistent theme

Technology issues have been the overriding theme in State of the Judiciary speeches delivered to date. Themes ranging from courts’ case management systems to efiling to video conferencing have highlighted the majority of remarks presented by chief justices. Overall, 12 of the 13 speeches focused at least part of their remarks on how technology will shape their state’s judicial branch. Problem-solving courts were the second most consistent topic discussed, with chief justices emphasizing the benefits to the programs’ participants and the community, and stressing the cost savings vs. incarceration and recidivism. Other issues dominating the speeches include pro se litigants, sentencing reform, access to justice for the poor, and overall caseload/workload of the judiciary, and family court/child placement. 

NCSC reading room
Self-represented litigants, traffic-related resources

Funded by the State Justice Institute (SJI) and published by NCSC, Developing Standardized Definitions and Counting Rules for Cases with Self-Represented Litigants (2013) is a new title in the NCSC Library.  This 37-page report stresses that the “value of identifying cases with self-represented litigants goes beyond merely documenting the volume of such cases and understanding whether that number has increased or decreased over time. This information, when organized at the level of discrete events throughout the life of a case, can provide a profile of these cases that allows courts to focus resources where they are most needed.” This manual provides definitions, counting rules, and reporting guidelines, and for the first time, state courts can take the first step “toward the routine and systemic use of data to drive management decisions to improve the access to justice for self-represented litigants.” Visit the Court Statistics Project website for more information.

Better management of traffic cases is the subject of February’s Trends in State Courts article:  “Traffic Resource Center for Judges.”  NCSC’s Greg Hurley describes the benefits of the online Traffic Resource Center, which provides current information on trends in traffic cases and traffic law, for both judges and court administrators.