VOLUME 7, ISSUE 12 | DECEMBER 2016
State courts work to improve guardianship and conservatorship oversight
A strategic action plan, the Adult Guardianship Initiative, was recently approved by the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators Joint Committee on Elders and the Courts. The Initiative focuses on partnerships of key stakeholders, prioritizes the protection and enhancement of individual rights, promotes modernization and transparency in the guardianship/conservatorship process, and improves court oversight. The Initiative calls for federal support and implementation of a Guardianship Court Improvement Program to bring nationwide reform to this area. A recent survey by NCSC shows an estimated $50 billion in assets are currently under state courts’ watch in conservatorship cases across the country. This number is based on projections from data from a handful of states. The Survey of State Courts also shows that some 176,000 new conservatorship or guardianship cases were filed in state courts nationally in 2015, and there were an estimated 1.3 million open cases. These statistics provide valuable insight to a growing national problem of how courts recognize and deal with the financial exploitation of people under a conservatorship.
NCSC’s 2016 State of the State Courts public-opinion survey—the third annual poll of public perspectives documenting how Americans see the courts—shows that public trust figures are at their highest in several years. Additionally, nearly four in five Americans (78 percent) who report direct interaction with the courts express satisfaction in procedural fairness. The survey also finds that there is strong public support for reform on issues related to court fines and fees, and considerable opposition to incarcerating defendants that are too poor to pay. Not all the news is as positive, though. Very few Americans have a grasp of how state courts are funded, and those that are more knowledgeable report less confidence in the courts. The telephone survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted November 14-17, 2016.
Latest Survey of Judicial Salaries results released
The most recent Survey of Judicial Salaries shows that judicial salaries are slowly approaching pre-recession rates (roughly 3.2 percent), with an average increase of 1.7 percent in 2016. The recent survey also includes information on state-by-state differences in how states set judicial salaries. The Survey of Judicial Salaries, published twice annually for more than 40 years by NCSC (with the support of state court administrative offices across the country), serves as the primary record of compensation for state judicial officers and state court administrators. The Judicial Salary Tracker website hosts archives, state-by-state information on judicial benefits, and background on how states set their salaries. In 2015 NCSC collected comprehensive judicial retirement information from 45 states by using a 15-question survey. The results are accessible on the Salary Tracker. It is updated regularly, and any questions or comments can be forwarded to Knowledge and Information Services Analyst Jarret Hann.
Survey shows impact of civil litigation rules in Texas
Under a State Justice Institute grant, NCSC and the Texas Office of Court Administration evaluated the impact of the 2013 Texas Expedited Actions Rules, which were enacted to reduce expense and delay in civil litigation. The rules are mandatory for almost all civil cases involving damages of $100,000 or less (“expedited actions”). The evaluation involved comparing characteristics and outcomes of civil cases filed before and after the expedited rules were enacted; surveying attorneys about the impact of the rules on civil case management; and interviewing judges and attorneys to provide a more nuanced context about how the rules affected strategic decision making and calendar management. Analysis of the data indicated that the expedited rules had a positive impact on civil case processing. In contract cases, settlements increased at the expense of summary judgments and trial outcomes, while trial rates grew in tort cases, replacing summary judgments. The new rules also decreased time to disposition for cases that settled.
NCSC reading room
What is the role of state courts? How does an American citizen understand the relationship between state courts and federal courts when so much emphasis is on the federal system? Michael L. Buenger, the administrative director of the Ohio Supreme Court, and Paul J. De Muniz, chief justice (ret.) of the Oregon Supreme Court, examine state judiciaries and consider emerging policy areas for state courts in American Judicial Power: The State Court Perspective. Topics include judicial power and independence, modern state judicial structures, and the three intersections between state constitutions, state judicial power, and state legislative power. American Judicial Power connects the past with the future and contextualizes the separation of state and federal power. This book is available from the NCSC Library.
State court law libraries are well-positioned to help improve public trust and confidence in the courts. This month’s Trends in State Courts article discusses how two state law libraries, Texas and Minnesota, demonstrate leadership and innovation with Web site redesigns and expanded services facilitating access to justice.
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