Judges team up with PBS’s Tavis Smiley for "Listening Tour"

Lorri Montgomery
Director of Communications

Williamsburg, Va. (June 16, 2016) — Judges are known to be expert listeners, but a new format is taking their listening skills to a higher level. On Friday, June 10, judicial leaders from across the country gathered in Los Angeles to record the first edition of Courting Justice, a multi-part, televised “listening tour” being produced in cooperation with PBS broadcaster Tavis Smiley.  The first of the town hall meetings was recorded at Loyola School of Law. It will be broadcast on PBS stations across the country on Wednesday, June 22, in Tavis Smiley’s regular programming slot.  Future dates and locations for several additional town halls will be announced shortly.

At these town halls, judges from around the country are engaging in an unprecedented dialogue with the communities they serve in order to provide stakeholders from disenfranchised communities an opportunity to discuss the issues that erode trust in our judicial system. A recent survey conducted for the National Center for State Courts found that only 32 percent of African Americans believe that state courts provide equal justice to all.

Panelists for the June 10 town hall included: Judge Daniel J. Buckley (Superior Court of Los Angeles County), Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Supreme Court of California), Judge Jimmie Edwards (22nd Judicial District, City of St. Louis), Associate Justice Maria P. Rivera (California, First District Court of Appeals, Division Four), and Chief Judge Eric T. Washington (District of Columbia Court of Appeals). Audience members were drawn from Los Angeles area social justice, advocacy, faith and small business communities, in addition to local and national court and bar leaders.

“In order to be fair and impartial,” said Chief Judge Eric T. Washington of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, “judges have to be equal opportunity listeners.  While we are used to listening to the concerns of the litigants who appear in our courtrooms, our focus on resolving individual cases has in many ways kept us from seeing the forest for the trees.  As a result, surveys show that there has been an erosion of trust between the courts and the communities we serve, especially communities of color.  This innovative, multi-city town hall series will allow us to hear from, and listen to, new perspectives on how courts can better deliver justice for all.”

Chief Judge Washington is a past president of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), and serves as chair of the Community Engagement in the State Courts initiative, which is a joint project of CCJ, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the State Justice Institute (SJI) and the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness (NCREF). The initiative aims to develop effective tools and resources that assist state court leaders in engaging marginalized and disenfranchised communities to ensure equal access to justice for all, and to improve the trust and confidence those communities have in state courts.

“I am gratified that many of the most influential judges in the country are eager to step down from the bench and engage in a free and open exchange with the people most affected by their decisions,” said Tavis Smiley, who serves on the advisory board of the initiative. “This frank discussion is unprecedented.  Securing the public’s trust in our judicial system is fundamental to our democracy.”

Support for Courting Justice is provided by SJI, NCSC, Walmart, the California Endowment and the Public Welfare Foundation. More information about Courting Justice is available on NCSC’s website at ncsc.org/courtingjustice.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts.  Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States, Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, management and research services to the nation’s state courts.

Tavis Smiley is currently host of the late night television show Tavis Smiley on PBS, now in its 13th season, as well as “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Public Radio International.  He is the author or co-author of 20 books, and his non-profit Tavis Smiley Foundation is now in the midst of a $3 million four-year campaign called “Ending Poverty:  America’s Silent Spaces” to help focus on alleviating endemic poverty in America.  TIME magazine named Smiley to the TIME 100, a list of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People.”


National Center for State Courts, 300 Newport Avenue, Williamsburg, VA  23185-4147