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Diversity, access to justice common themes in 2023 Chief Justice messages

Diversity, access to justice common themes in 2023 Chief Justice messages

March 22, 2023 --Many state Chief Justices provide updates on the “State of the Judiciary” in their jurisdictions. Sometimes those messages are delivered in written reports, and other times they are delivered in person, often in front of members of the state legislature.

NCSC’s tracking of the early 2023 messages suggests that two major issues across state courts—diversity, equity, and inclusion, and access to justice—are common themes in the messages that the states’ highest judicial officers are emphasizing when addressing their legislators and the public.

In his remarks, Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican of Nebraska touched on both language access issues and the work of the state’s access to justice commission. He noted that the commission had recently completed a series of focus groups with Native Americans to gauge their interactions with the courts. This pre-pandemic initiative, which just concluded, was designed to better understand challenges that Native Americans in his state face in accessing the courts.

Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon of New Mexico used her remarks to touch on a new commission created by the state’s highest court, the Commission on Equity and Justice, which was established in the wake of 2020’s social unrest. In her speech, she notes: “The Commission’s goal is to give New Mexicans equitable access to the state’s justice system through training and education of judges and staff, conducting a review of case outcome data, creating a diverse pipeline to the Judiciary, reviewing and reforming all policies, procedures, and jury instructions, and focusing on the courthouse experience for litigants.”

In Utah, Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant addressed initiatives underway in his state “to get more legal help to more people.” He highlighted efforts such as piloting limited legal services, and giving lawyers more freedom in how they structure their law business. Durrant continued: “We have great lawyers in this state, and they are especially given to giving of their time freely to those who can't afford legal help; we call that 'pro bono legal services,' and they are to be commended. But we have learned, as has been said, we can't pro bono our way out of this huge access to justice gap.”

The annual message from Chief Justice Steven C. Gonz├ílez of Washington was emphatic: “Our branch is strongly committed to ensuring that our initiatives, projects, programs and research are planned and conducted with an equity lens—making sure to consider the disparate treatment of and outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities throughout the justice system, and how new efforts can either exacerbate those barriers or work to eliminate those disparities.”

Oregon trial court administrator Liz Rambo to receive Warren E. Burger Award for Excellence in Court Administration

Longtime Lane County trial court administrator Liz Rambo has been named the recipient of the Warren E. Burger Award for Excellence in Court Administration. Rambo has been the trial court administrator in Lane County Circuit Court in Eugene since 2008.

A 35-year employee of the Oregon Judicial Department, Rambo is known for her leadership, innovation, and mentorship. Locally, she developed a model Pretrial Release Program that has been adopted statewide. She also worked closely with county leaders to complete a six-year project to retrofit the courthouse to ensure it was ADA accessible. Beyond Lane County, Rambo actively participates on several statewide court committees, including service as the co-chair of the Data Governance Advisory Committee.

The Warren E. Burger Award for Excellence in Court Administration is named for the late chief justice of the United States, who was instrumental in founding NCSC and its Institute for Court Management. The recognition honors individuals who make significant contributions to the field of court administration through management and administration, education and training, or research and consulting.