Our relationships with state courts, and courts around the world, give us a front row seat to see tangible change occur from the work of NCSC. The people who work with and do business with courts—whether by choice or circumstance—drive our goals to provide improved court processes, education and innovations. Our work aims to make justice more accessible for all. Below are a few stories we think are worth sharing.
Supporting innovation to enhance access to justice
NCSC’s Eviction Diversion Initiative (EDI) continues to impact lives for the better. Consider this case from Lawrence Township, Indiana: In April 2022, a tenant (pictured, left) fell behind on her rent. Her landlord filed for eviction in May, seeking two months of back rent. When the parties came to court for the first time, the tenant told the judge that she had applied for rental assistance on her own but had not gotten a response—and did not know how long the process would take. With the landlord’s agreement, the judge referred the parties to meet with an EDI facilitator who had established a good working relationship with the rental assistance program. The landlord agreed to postpone the case by one week to allow time for the tenant to receive rental assistance funds. The rental assistance provider also agreed to bring the check directly to the EDI facilitator at the courthouse. Without the facilitator to serve as a bridge between the court and the rental assistance program, the tenant would have been evicted.
Improving racial justice throughout the U.S.
George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests. Court leaders spoke out too, which NCSC documented in a compendium of statements. Shortly thereafter, the National Center launched a new national initiative designed to equip courts with the tools they need to advance equal justice. “The Blueprint for Racial Justice is changing the conversation for courts across the country,” says Laurie Givens, Kentucky’s state court administrator. One way Kentucky has demonstrated its commitment to diversity is through the hiring of its first diversity and inclusion coordinator, Patrick Carrington. Carrington authored an article for NCSC’s 2021 Trends in State Courts publication.
Inspiring the next generation of leaders through civics education
The 14th Amendment has had the greatest impact on people’s lives, according to Sabina Perez, a student at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Fredericksburg, Texas. Sabina was one of more than 2,700 students nationwide who entered NCSC’s 2022 Civics Education Essay Contest. “Equality granted in the 14th amendment makes America a place of pride, justice, freedom, opportunity, and success,” Sabina wrote. Remarkably, Sabina was also a contest winner in 2021, after which she and her mother/parents received a private tour of the Texas Supreme Court. “While they were here, I pointed out the portrait in the courtroom of the 1925 all-woman court Gov. Neff appointed to decide a case in which all three justices were recused,” Chief Justice Hecht recalls. Now Sabina is working on a documentary about one of those judges, Hortense Sparks Ward, because Sabina believes the justice is an outstanding role model who could inspire others to create change.
Making the “case” for more judges…so cases can move faster
NCSC’s weighted caseload models provide courts with a clear and objective way to determine the number of judges and court staff needed to resolve cases in a fair and timely manner. In April of 2022, two years after an NCSC study, the Kansas Legislature approved the judicial branch’s request for funding, marking the first time since 2008 that new judge posts have been certified in any Kansas district court. “NCSC’s great work on the weighed caseload study presented the data needed to form the foundation for the request to the Legislature for additional judgeships,” says state court administrator Stephanie Bunten.
Building trust with state legislatures to improve judicial pay
It’s a truism that better pay will attract more and better candidates for state judgeships. NCSC produces an annual survey of judicial salaries, which provides useful data to advocates like Jim Robinson, an attorney in Kansas who has led efforts to increase the state’s lagging judicial compensation. “I greatly appreciated the prompt and spot-on help NCSC’s staff provided at a critical moment with our legislature,” says Jim Robinson, a partner with Hite, Fanning & Honeyman in Wichita, and a long-time member of the NCSC Lawyers Committee. In 2021, the Kansas legislature voted the largest raise for its state judges since 2007. “Being able to provide objective, credible information from the National Center straight to our lawmakers was central to our success,” says Robinson.
Advocating for a better way for evictions
There may be no bigger megaphone in American public life than the op-ed pages of the Sunday New York Times, which is where two Chief Justices argue that “it should take more than ten minutes to evict someone.” The guest essay, co-authored by Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby of DC and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas, puts a spotlight on NCSC’s Eviction Diversion Initiative, which will provide funding to state courts to hire staff members to ensure the sustainability of their eviction prevention and diversion programs. The end goals are simple: reduce homelessness, while ensuring landlords are made whole.