Volume 5, Issue 3 January 2014
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Counting self-represented cases now possible
NCSC releases report that standardizes definitions and counting rules for SRLs

Reports have long asserted that self-represented litigation, SRL, is on the rise. But validating those reports or accurately appropriating resources to support SRL cases has been nearly impossible for state courts—until now. NCSC has developed a set of standardized definitions, counting rules, and reporting guidelines for national reporting of cases with self-represented litigants. The definitions and counting rules are being incorporated into the latest edition of the State Court Guide to Statistical Reporting, published by the NCSC’s Court Statistics Project (CSP), and also will be included in updates to the court technology functional standards. For years, the lack of standardized definitions and counting rules has prevented state courts from comparing caseloads across jurisdictions and inhibited courts from accurately calculating judges’ and staffs’ workloads. Something as basic as whether to count cases involving self-represented litigants or the litigants themselves is not uniform.  “This represents an important first step toward the routine and systematic use of data to drive management decisions to improve the access to justice for self-represented litigants,” said Shauna Strickland, NCSC senior court research analyst. This project was funded by a grant from the State Justice Institute.

Chief justices work on civil justice improvements
New committee will evaluate reforms in the states

The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) has undertaken a Civil Justice Initiative.  The Initiative involves the creation of a special committee to examine and evaluate state civil justice reforms that respond to concerns about costs and delays that adversely affect access to justice.  The committee is chaired by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, Supreme Court of Oregon (pictured at right), and is staffed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.  The committee will develop guidelines, best practices, and recommendations for state policymakers to improve the civil justice process.  To inform the committee’s deliberations, NCSC is undertaking a research project to document the landscape of civil litigation procedures and practices, including an update to the periodic Civil Justice Survey of the State Courts.  NCSC Judicial Fellow Gregory E. Mize will serve at the committee reporter and project director.

State Supreme Courts available as iBook
Great reading for a long winter’s night

State Supreme Courts, NCSC’s coffee-table book of the history and images of state supreme courthouses and courtrooms, can now be downloaded to an iPad for $14.99.  This book was published in 2013 to showcase the buildings and stories of America’s state courts of last resort and brings into focus the wide varieties of architectural approaches the states and territories have taken to underscore the concept of justice.  Hard copies of State Supreme Courts can be ordered on a “print-on-demand” basis from Blurb.com. 

3rd-5th graders wanted for civics education essay contest
 “What is civics education and why is it important?”

We’re looking for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to participate in this year’s NCSC’s civics education essay contest. Students are encouraged to answer this year’s question—“What is civics education and why is it important?”—in 100 words or less. Entries can be hand-written or typed. The first-place winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift card and copies of Justice Case Files: The Case of the Broken Controller for his or her grade. The winning entry will also be featured in future NCSC publications. Essays are due by February 20, 2014. Find out how to enter at www.ncsc.org/contest/

Florida law professionals recipients of Sandra Day O’Connor Award
Award honors work and dedication to civics education

Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis and Annette Boyd-Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, received NCSC’s 2014 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education. Justice Lewis and Pitts are being recognized for their joint work on Florida’s Justice Teaching program and several other civics education initiatives.  Justice Lewis created the Justice Teaching program, and Pitts developed the teaching materials. Since the program’s inception in 2006, Justice Lewis and Pitts have trained more than 4,000 lawyers and judges to teach civics in all public and private middle and high schools in Florida. “The dual award showcases Justice Lewis’s visionary leadership and Pitts’s extraordinary implementation of a successful civics education initiative. The joint award brings to light how exemplary efforts and results can be achieved through collaboration,” said NCSC President Mary McQueen.

NCSC reading room
New standards for juvenile justice, monthly Trends article

The NCSC Library has added two new juvenile justice titles to the collection; they are the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses (2013) from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the National Juvenile Defense Standards (2012) published by the National Juvenile Defender Center. Both titles set forth national standards designed to assist and enable juvenile justice stakeholders in their work with at-risk juveniles. For more titles on juvenile justice, please visit the NCSC Library’s catalog.

How can courts improve their service to the public?  Using courthouse observation teams is one answer.  In NCSC’s January Trends in State Courts article, Heather Collins, court planner for the Connecticut Judicial Branch, shows how such teams can provide valuable feedback to courts to improve service to the public.