Monday, December 14, 2009

Collection Improvement

Lack of compliance in paying fines and fees denies a jurisdiction revenue and, more important, calls into question the authority and efficacy of the court and the justice system. Tight operating budgets, the search for additional funding for courts, and a continuing desire that court orders command the respect of defendants have combined in recent years to increase interest nationwide in collection of fines and fees.
Courts that have been the most successful in collecting have (1) adopted a philosophy that active, if not aggressive, collection is the right approach to take; (2) decided to improve community perceptions; and (3) dedicated some staff and other resources to the collection effort. Courts that have not made progress in fine collection have probably not yet grappled with these issues.
The preceding paragraphs are excerpts from a new publication by the National Center for State Courts entitled "Current Practices in Collecting Fines and Fees in State Courts: A Handbook of Collection Issues and Solutions" (2nd Ed.). It is available on the Center's website,, and more specifically here.
The OCA Collection Improvement Program, which is featured in the National Center's report, is another resource.

Annual Statistical Report

As noted on November 10, we delayed publication of this report so that it could be previewed by Judicial Council and we would have time to add in some new features. Those features are salary and turnover information on Texas judges, pp. 17-20; Annual Reports of Judicial Boards, Agencies and Commissions (OCA, Judicial Council, TFID, JCIT etc.), pp. 63-79, and summary information on several areas of required reporting to OCA, pp. 61-62:
  • Hate crimes
  • Vexatious Litigants
  • Appointments and Fees
  • Capital Case Jury Charges, and
  • Security Incidents.

Check out the 2009 report at

Friday, December 4, 2009

State Budgets and Courts

The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities is projecting that state deficits will total $178 billion in 2010 with 41 states looking at shortfalls. State court budget reductions have been widespread, as reported recently with regard to Massachusetts in particular, in the New York Times editorial page. Ten states are actively looking at reengineering their services: Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont. They are looking at staffing to the most efficient level, using technology to the utmost, and tackling structural and governance issues that might be politically untouchable in better times.

Utah is a particularly interesting and dramatic example. Doubling filing fees there in the last legislative session allowed them to sustain "only" a 5% decrease in their unified state court budget, but they have gone much further to examine every aspect of their delivery of court services. They have accelerated e-filing, e-payments, e-documents and e-warrants; radically reorganized their clerk of court operations; downsized by 12% and reorganized their administrative office of the courts (the counterpart to OCA); instituted remote hearings, meetings and training; automated administrative functions in human resources, payroll and purchasing; required evidence-based practices in the provision of services, particularly juvenile justice treatment; and eliminating court reporters in favor of digital recording. Their Judicial Council has begun to look closely at contoversial judicial productivity issues, such as moving judicial vacancies to areas of greatest need, restructuring the use of senior judges by building them into the regular calendar, training judges in mediation and structured judicial settlement conferences to move their civil dockets more rapidly, and providing judges with cross-jurisdiction for domestic and juvenile cases. They propose to mandate by rule that all citation cases be filed electronically by law enforcement by a date certain in the near future, tied to automating their justice of the peace courts. They are going to contract with interpreters for a 40 hour week rather than case-by-case, working remotely and saving travel costs. They are consolidating all jury coordination services, and eliminate seperate clerk counters for district and juvenile courts. And, the are going to limit filing sites to one per county and eliminate or transfer personnel, and are further looking at reducing from 54 sites to 8 sites statewide. They are studying jurisdictional changes to use justice courts more efficiently, consolidating administrative districts to provide better distribution of resources and eliminate duplicate administration, and consolidating warrant issuance to a statewide function.

With the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts advising that our sales tax revenue in October 2009 is down almost 13% from 2008, these issues may become increasingly relevant for us. Much more information is available on this topic at the National Center for State Courts' Budget Resource Center.


I have been deblogged lately by travel. The week before Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to go to D.C. for my first meeting on the board of the Conference of State Court Administrators, and to attend the Rehnquist Dinner where an outstanding state jurist is honored each year in the reception hall of the Supreme Court of the United States. (The honoree was Timothy Evans, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois.) The week of Thanksgiving my family and a family of friends visited Athens, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey, an amazing trip. And this week I have my COSCA midyear meeting in St. Augustine, Florida. But I am getting back in the swing, hopefully to post more soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Annual Statistical Report

As any readers probably know, OCA collects and publishes statistics on judicial activity in Texas. Probably the best web page to refer you to is:

Please be advised that the published version of the Annual Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary will be released later than the usual (statutory) date of December 2. I have asked staff to make a variety of changes this year, including consolidating reports and incorporating content from other reports also produced by OCA. These changes will take a little extra time to implement. In addition the Texas Judicial Council meets on December 11 and I would like to have them adopt the consolidated report. We anticipate publishing the report in January and hope that you will find it even more informative and useful. In the meantime if you have any questions please contact me at 463-1626 or, or our manager of judicial information, Angela Garcia, at 936-1358 or

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ethics Advisory Opinion 484

An issue that has my attention this week is an opinion that came out of the Texas Ethics Commission in August, EAO-484, which casts doubt on the legitimacy of reimbursing elected officials (judges, for my purposes) for their expenses to attend or speak at educational conferences. To quote the opinion, "the provision of transportation, meals, and lodging to an officeholder to facilitate the officeholder’s attendance at the event would constitute an officeholder contribution if the expenses are not reimbursable with public money."
[Emphasis added]

So the key is whether the expenses in question are reimbursable with public money. The hardest part of that regimen is reimbursing food expenses. As the Comptroller's "Purchase Policies & Procedures Guide" states: "The attorney general has said that the Texas constitution prohibits a state agency from purchasing food, coffee, cream, sugar and similar items that employees of or visitors to the agency would consume."

I will advise if I hear more on this issue, which has sent a shiver through the purveyors of judicial branch education.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Administrative Judges

As you may know, there are nine regional presiding judges in Texas, who are the backbone of judicial administration in the state. In addition, every county in Texas has a local administrative district judge and, if there is a county court at law, a local administrative CCL judge, serving a two-year term in that position. Most duties of LAJs are enumerated in §74.092 Government Code:

1.implement and execute the local rules of administration, including the assignment, docketing, transfer, and hearing of cases;
2.appoint any special or standing committees necessary or desirable for court management and administration;
3.promulgate local rules of administration if the other judges do not act by a majority vote;
4.recommend to the regional presiding judge any needs for assignment from outside the county to dispose of court caseloads;
5.supervise the expeditious movement of court caseloads, subject to local, regional, and state rules of administration;
6.provide the supreme court and the office of court administration requested statistical and management information;
7.set the hours and places for holding court in the county;
8.supervise the employment and performance of nonjudicial personnel;
9.supervise the budget and fiscal matters of the local courts, subject to local rules of administration;
10.coordinate and cooperate with any other local administrative judge in the district in the assignment of cases in the courts' concurrent jurisdiction for the efficient operation of the court system and the effective administration of justice; and
11.perform other duties as may be directed by the chief justice or a regional presiding judge.

See more on the duties of LAJs on Texas Courts Online.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children

Texas just finished hosting this major national work Summit for state leaders in child welfare, and we are feeling very good about the successful conclusion of the event. The proof will be in the pudding of ensuing work (more on this later) that we and 47 other states perform, carrying out plans developed at the Summit to improve judicial leadership and decisions affecting children in foster care, their families, and a universe of stakeholders.

Congratulations to Justice Harriet O'Neill and the Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families, and many thanks to the National Center for State Courts, Casey Family Programs, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Pew Charitable Trusts, RGK Foundation and a number of other generous sponsors. My personal thanks as well as congratulations go out to Dick Van Duizend, Kay Farley, Lee Suskin, Val Hansford, Myra Miranda and Nora Sydow of NCSC, under the leadership of Mary McQueen; Tina Amberboy, Kristi Taylor, Teri Moran and Bryan Wilson of the Children's Commission; Justice O'Neill and her assisant Sylvia Griego; security detail led by Tawana Henderson of the Department of Public Safety and Terry Cobbs of the Department of Criminal Justice - Office of Inspector General; and the Texas team made up of Judges John Specia, Dean Rucker, Patricia Macias, Darlene Byrne, Robin Sage, Camile DuBose and Karen Bonicoro, Texas Center for the Judiciary staff Anissa Vila and Ginny Woods, Carolyne Rodriguez of Casey, and HHSC/DFPS leadership Anne Heiligenstein, Joyce James, Fairy Rutland and Audrey Deckinga. Finally I wanted to say thanks to Bruce Robison and his band for a great show at the Bob Bullock Museum on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

William Wayne Justice

Federal District Judge William Wayne Justice, a Texas hero, died yesterday. He was a great jurist, a supreme gentleman, a caring human, and a good friend to my partner Eden Harrington, who runs the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT Law School.

My primary connection to Judge Justice was through the epic Ruiz class action prison conditions lawsuit. [Initial reported decisions at Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265(S.D. Tex. 1980) aff'd in part and vacated in part, 679 F.2d 1115, amended in part, 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1042, 103 S. Ct. 1438, 75 L. Ed. 2d 795 (1983).] In December of 1986, I attended my first meeting as counsel to the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, where Assistant Attorney General F. Scott McCown briefed us on a recent ruling. Judge Justice found the state in contempt for failing to meet terms of the Crowding Stipulation and ordered fines up to $800,000 a day, or $24 million a month, to be levied upon the state beginning April 1, 1987. Judge Justice stipulated the fines could be avoided if the state would hire more medical and security personnel, segregate violent and nonviolent offenders, improve inmate classification system, provide more recreational facilities and care for handicapped offenders, and provide single cells for some classes of inmates. The 70th Legislature enacted SB 215 (by McFarland/Hightower, and my first big bill to staff) which was designed to tighten provisions of the Prison Management Act (PMA) to ease population pressures by expanding the pool of nonviolent offenders eligible for release The bill also required that intensive supervision programs for inmates on parole be expanded, and approved a $12.6 million emergency appropriation to be applied toward bringing TDC into compliance. In March 1987, Judge Justice acknowledged the swift action by the state to move TDC toward compliance and suspended the fines set out in the December 1986 order, which were later vacated.

Thus began my 15 year involvement with what ended up as a 30 year-long lawsuit (beginning in 1972), and my observation of Judge Justice. In October of 2001, Judge Justice issued an order detailing remedial actions in the three remaining areas he had identified in the final (1999) round of litigation, and set a target date for the end of jurisdiction on July 1, 2002. The state appealed the order but did not seek a stay pending the appeal. Another round of site visits by plaintiffs’ counsel and experts ensued, as well as significant document discovery and reports filed with the court. In the weeks before the Plaintiff’s June 1, 2002 deadline to object to termination, Plaintiffs’ counsel Donna Brorby engaged in extensive discussions with TDCJ management and the Office of the Attorney General. The deadline was extended by agreement to June 10th, and on June 7th, the parties met with Judge Justice to convey Plaintiffs’ counsel’s decision not to object to termination. On June 17, 2002, the judge signed a one-page order dismissing the case.

William Wayne Justice cared about all Texans and he cared about the rule of law. He took many courageous stands as a judge, and he and his family suffered the consequences. He left an indelible mark on Texas criminal justice and the law of prisoner rights nationwide, as well as in many other areas of law with which I am much less familiar. He will not be forgotten.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions

Timothy Cole was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin. He maintained his innocence, but it was not confirmed by DNA until years after his 1999 death, when another inmate confessed to the rape.

Based on this young man’s story the Texas Legislature passed HB 498 establishing the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. This legislation went into effect September 1, 2009. The advisory panel was established to assist the Task Force on Indigent Defense to study and prepare a report regarding the causes of wrongful convictions, procedures and programs that may be implemented to prevent future wrongful convictions, the effects of state law on wrongful convictions, and whether the creation of an innocence commission to investigate wrongful convictions is necessary. Members of the advisory panel can be viewed under the members section of this page.

The director of the Task Force on Indigent Defense, Jim Bethke, is designated as the presiding officer of the advisory panel. The legislation also provides that advisory panel shall meet at the call of the presiding officer but not less than three times in person and as needed by telephone conference call.

An initial planning meeting is expected be held in the Fall of 2009, to discuss the scope of the study and develop a work plan to accomplish the directives of the legislation. A second meeting is expected to be held to review the work completed to date sometime in April/March 2010 with a final meeting sometime in October/November 2010. The final recommendations will be presented to the full Task Force on Indigent Defense at its November/December 2010 meeting. A final report will be sent to the Governor, Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the standing committees of each house of the legislature with a representative serving on the Advisory Panel.

Jim and I will keep you informed as this effort develops.

Integrated Justice

No, this does not refer to racial integration or addressing disproportionality in the justice system (perhaps a future topic here). I am referencing the need for a new local-state, judicial-executive, public-private partnership supporting justice system data exchanges to increase efficiency, improve key decisions, and promote positive outcomes in criminal, juvenile, and family justice.

The National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) and its predecessor effort (“GJXDM”) define a method for developing information exchanges across disparate justice entity databases, using Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPDs) to define exchanges of information that need to occur as cases and people pass through a justice process. The Texas Path to NIEM began with TIJIS and criminal justice agencies, and has led to adoption of a rule by JCIT and the Judicial Council, 1 TAC §177.2, directing conformance to NIEM and the IEPD construct. It also led to the development of IEPDs for 28 criminal justice business processes, focused on the hand-off of a sentenced prisoner from county to prison, and production of the “pen packet” information that accompanies the prisoner under article 42.09, Section 8, Code of Criminal Procedure.
The NIEM model is expanding to include the Texas version of national efforts to share data between courts and child welfare agencies (DFPS in Texas), and courts and child support agencies (OAG in Texas).

Alongside and intertwined with the emergence of standards for sharing information are the evolution of e-filing , and the movement toward second and third generation case management systems for courts and counties. The JCIT will discuss these related topics at its first meeting under new Chair, Justice Rebecca Simmons, on Wednesday Sept. 30, 1:00, at the Texas Law Center.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Future Trends in State Courts 2009

I always review this report from the National Center for State Courts, and the 2009 version just came out and is up on their website. (Before you click on the 2009 version link, know it is a big document to download.) This year I was particularly looking forward to seeing the article that Tina Amberboy and I wrote, about the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children Youth & Families (pp. 110-113). Very timely as Texas and the Commission will soon host the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit for the Protection of Children, a convening of judicial and executive branch leadership from around the country, building collaboration to improve outcomes in the child welfare system. There are several other articles on improving child welfare, including one on data exchanges (pp. 97-102) that notes our work on the Texas Data-Enabled Courts for Kids project.

One theme in the 2009 Trends issue is court operations in a tight economy, which will be of interest to Texas readers going into the next legislative session, where we are told budgets will be tight. Under that heading, and because of our workgroup on pro se litigants, I would highlight "Access to Justice: Economic Crisis Challenges, Impacts, and Responses" (pp. 9-12), and "Redesigning for the Customer: Self-Service Sites Can Help the Courts and the Public in a Tight Economy" (pp. 45-49). Other items of interest to me or my office:
-"The Future of Court-Oriented Decision Making Assistance: Perspectives from the Washington State Office of Public Guardianship" (p. 65-68), of interest to our Guardianship Certification Board.
-"Oregon ECourt - Improving Judicial Outcomes and Services" (pp. 87-91), of interest to our Judicial Committee on Information Technology as a strategic vision of transformation of the business operations of state courts through creation of a statewide electronic court.
-Two articles on drug courts, a favorite topic about which I should blog more sometime (pp. 92-96 and 134-139).

Going back to that first link, note that the National Center for State Courts (finally) has their new website up and running, with a new URL ( instead of I haven't had a chance to prowl around a lot, but it looks very good and I encourage court devotees to check it out thoroughly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Automated Registry

The Automated Registry (AR) is a secure browser-based system which allows criminal, family, and juvenile judges to submit a query for an individual appearing before the court. The query is submitted to multiple state agency databases and all results are returned to the AR system. The judge (or authorized staff) is able to view the results in a consolidated format. Once the user has completed their review, the data is released from the system. The AR system does not retain any agency data after it has been viewed. The only data stored in the AR system is a history of the query requests, for audit purposes.

This tool for trial courts was funded at OCA in 2007 and is now "open and ready for business." In FY10/11, OCA is prepared to add approximately 700 users to the AR system. The plan is to focus on courts in the major urban areas, the current users of the Judicial Webpage system, and other interested courts. OCA will add additional courts as funding becomes available. For more information go to the AR webpage.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Court Technology

In two weeks I will be attending the Court Technology Conference (CTC) in Denver, with a team from our Judicial Committee on Information Technology. There will be lots of technology on display and the vendor contacts have already begun. Without providing free advertising to any particular one, and in our decentralized court system where every vendor theoretically has to make a pitch in every county or to each judge, I will use this space to alert judges to the capabilities that I hear about. In that vein, here are two different video products I have been recently alerted to (but do not vouch for), and judges are welcome to contact me to get in contact with the vendors.

1) Video records of pre-trial proceedings, trials, and appellate arguments. Many of these records link to transcripts and other trial documents, e.g., orders, major motions, and pleadings, to create a virtual case file on-line. Video records can produce substantial benefits for both judges and lawyers. For judges, the benefits include greater ease of scheduling hearings and trials because not all lawyers or parties need to be present in the courtroom; the opportunity to watch a witness again before writing an order or opinion; and an excellent way to see how expert witnesses scheduled to testify in their cases testified in other trials. For lawyers, the advantages include the opportunity to observe the presentations of expert witnesses they’re considering using in their own trials; watch counsel examine and cross-examine witnesses on issues of interest; and learn what happened in the courtroom even when they don’t have a transcript.
Video records can also be used as powerful judicial educational tools to show good courtroom management techniques, inform judges about scientific and other complex issues, and demonstrate the effective use of video technology itself. The equipment used does not interfere with court proceedings; it typically consists of one compact, stationary video camera on a tripod, a video encoder that enables the video signal to be sent over the Internet, an audio mixer, and a device that transmits the signal. With the exception of the camera, all of the equipment can fit on a small table. It usually takes about four hours to install and test the equipment. To webcast proceedings live, a separate Internet connection can be installed in order to prevent any disturbance to the court’s Internet connection.

2) Video security technology. This system is composed of a control system software and a line of multi-megapixel IP (Internet Protocol) cameras and high definition network video recorders (NVR) that capture and preserve surveillance evidence using lossless compression. The system allows for fewer cameras to cover the same area resulting in lower costs.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Incapacitation Effects

As several states ponder prison releases as a budget crisis measure, the National Center for State Courts - Center for Sentencing Initiatives embarks on a new effort to determine the impact of incarceration on subsequent offending. What is the marginal effect of incarceration - length of stay - on recidivism? Does incarceration shorten or lengthen residual criminal careers? Can policymakers be informed by research of the consequences of releasing some offenders before their sentences end, or of diverting them from prison in the first place? Are the answers to the last questions different in Texas, with 1 in 22 people under correctional control and 30% of that group in prison, versus a state like Oregon with 1 in 33 under control and 25% of that group in prison? (See One in 31, Pew Center for the States.) As Austin's own Dr. Bill Spelman put the issue in 2000 (27 Crime and Just. 419): "Over the past twenty years, the fifty American states have engaged in one of the great policy experiments of modern times . . . the states doubled their prison population, then doubled it again, increasing their costs by more than $20 billion per year. . . . [W]hether more prisons reduce crime matters less than how much." Enumerating the numerous methodological difficulties and varied results of studies, he concludes that "the results are sufficiently precise to conclude that most states should take a hard look before committing the money to build more prisons." (Spelman 422).
It turns out - of course - that there are robust academic debates in the substantial body of empirical research such as that displayed in volume 23 (2007) of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, leading off with "Revisiting Incapacitation: Can We Generate New Estimates?" (Reuter & Bushway) The criminological approach relies on estimating lambda, the frequency of offending (so that, e.g., a year of incarceration/incapacitation prevents 10 crimes for an offender whose lambda = 10). The second, economics-based approach, encompasses incapacitation effects plus deterrent effects of prison (minus the effects of offenders being replaced by new offenders on the streets, as in drug dealing, and minus any criminogenic effects of incarceration) by generating overall estimates of the impact of prison on crime (and thus the ability to do cost-benefit analysis of the new prison beds). My favorite piece of the latter sort is "The Silence of the Lambdas: Deterring Incapacitation Research" (Miles & Ludwig 2007), which details the problems and limitations with estimating lambda and the lengths of criminal careers, and discourages criminologists from pursuing such lines of research. The National Center's current effort, which I have been privileged to observe as it takes shape, will systematically review the state of current knowledge and commission new research to try and provide policymakers with a more definitive understanding of the dilemma that some states already face, but virtually all should ponder.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

The NICS is a computerized system established under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act), Public Law 103-159, to provide information to federal firearms licensees (FFLs) on whether a prospective purchaser is eligible to receive or possess firearms. The NICS was implemented on November 30, 1998, and is a coordinated effort between local, state, and federal agencies. NICS checks are conducted by both the NICS Section of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, and by state agencies acting as points of contact (POCs) for processing NICS checks for FFLs in their state. Before transferring a firearm to a non-licensed individual, an FFL must, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 922(t), contact the NICS for a background check on the prospective transferee. The NICS then checks automated databases and, in cases where additional information is needed, makes follow-up requests to agencies such as the police, prosecutors, or the courts, that may have relevant information demonstrating whether the individual is prohibited from receiving a firearm under state or federal law. The NICS has three business days to determine whether a proposed gun transfer is prohibited. If the NICS has not been able to make a definitive determination within that time frame, the FFL may lawfully transfer the firearm.

The NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub. L. 110-180 (“the NICS Improvement Act”), was signed into law on January 8, 2008. The NICS Improvement Act amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (“the Brady Act”) (Pub. L. 103-159), under which the Attorney General established NICS. The Brady Act requires Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to contact the NICS before transferring a firearm to an unlicensed person for information on whether the proposed transferee is prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm under state or federal law.

The NICS Improvement Act was enacted in the wake of the April 2007 shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech, wherein the shooter was able to purchase firearms from an FFL because information about his prohibiting mental health history was not available to the NICS and the system was therefore unable to deny the transfer of the firearms used in the shootings. The NICS Improvement Act seeks to address the gap in information available to NICS about such prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments and other prohibiting factors. Filling these information gaps will better enable the system to operate as intended to keep guns out of the hands of persons prohibited by federal or state law from receiving or possessing firearms. The automation of records will also reduce delays for law-abiding gun purchasers.

During the 2009 legislative session, HB 3352 (Naishtat/Ellis) was passed in order to implement the requirements of the NICS Improvement Act. Clerks of courts that hear the following types of cases are required to report to DPS within 30 days:
-order for inpatient mental health services;
-acquittal by reason of insanity;
-commitment to long-term placement in residential care under Ch. 493 Health & Safety Code;
-appointment of a guardian of an incapacitated adult; and
-determination of incompetence to stand trial.

The bill also creates a procedure for a person subject to one of these disabilities to seek relief, and requires reporting of those outcomes.

The most difficult compliance issue for clerks is the federal requirement, passed along in HB 3352, that clerks are to look all the back to Sept. 1, 1989 for orders in the above categories. Judge Guy Herman, Travis County, the Presiding Statutory Probate Judge, has issued an order to statutory probate clerks to begin the retrospective reports for the last five years (9-1-4 to 9-1-09), and to work on the 15 years before that by Sept. 1, 2011.

Judicial Statistics

Judges, the media, the public and policymakers all rely on the statistics collected by OCA on behalf of the Texas Judicial Council to understand the activity of trial and appellate courts in Texas. You can run your own reports based on the data collected, from the Judicial Data Management System.
In May 2008, the Judicial Council approved badly-needed changes to the monthly case activity reports and instructions, and adopted new reporting rules (Sections 171.1 through 171.6 of Title I of the Texas Administrative Code) for the district and county-level courts. These changes go into effect one year from yesterday, or Sept. 1, 2010.
The changes to the reporting forms will:
• Provide more detailed, useful information about court workload and activity, particularly in family law, juvenile and probate cases, where little information is currently collected and the information that is collected is of limited utility;
• Allow policymakers and other interested parties to track important, growing caseloads in child protection, guardianship and mental health cases, which require long-term court involvement and satisfaction of statutorily-mandated timelines; and
• Provide a more accurate picture of a court’s pending caseload by indicating how many cases are “active” cases (i.e., cases under the court’s control) versus “inactive” cases (i.e., cases not under the court’s control, such as a criminal case where a defendant has absconded and warrant has been issued for a defendant’s arrest, or a civil case in which one of the parties has filed for bankruptcy and the case is subject to an automatic stay). This enables a court to measure the age of its pending caseload more accurately and to determine meaningful case-processing times.
For some items on the new reports, the clerk may not have the required information and will have to rely on the judge or the judge’s staff to provide it. Examples include the number of:
•Civil cases ordered to or returned from arbitration or collaborative law proceedings;
•Probate and mental health hearings held;
•Regular status hearings held in drug courts or family violence courts; and
•Release or transfer hearings held (determinate sentence proceedings) in juvenile cases.
The new reporting forms and instructions and further information about them are posted on the OCA website under Required Reporting.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Court Interpreters II

I just received this well-stated comment from the Brennan Center. -Carl


I just came across your 8/13/09 post on CourTex, mentioning the Brennan Center's report Language Access in State Courts. That post mentions criticism of the report by Maryland's Ksenia Boitsova, but not my response to her. In case you have not seen it, here is the text of the email I sent her:

Dear Ms. Boitsova,

I appreciate your careful reading of our report, and your suggestions for improving it.

You are right to be proud of Maryland's court interpreter program, which appears to be a model program in most respects. And the work of the Consortium is certainly deserving of praise, as we noted on pages 6 and 21 of our report. The focus of our report, however, is access to court interpreters nationally, not just in Maryland or in Consortium states. We have tried to present an accurate national picture. Although you correctly note that we did not include any court administrators on our review board, that board did include Wanda Romberger at the National Center for State Courts, who coordinates the Consortium, and Isabel Framer, who at the time was the chair of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. In addition, we interviewed court interpreter managers in 25 states, and attempted to contact one in each of the other 10 states that we studied.

Here are some responses to the specific concerns you identify:

1) Page 19, Map 2, "Who pays for interpreters": Although Maryland does not charge litigants for the cost of interpreters prior to providing the interpreters, you note that "in rare instances, and solely at the discretion of the court, interpreter costs may be assessed to the parties as part of costs of the case." That is why we characterized Maryland's policy and practice as "Whether the government pays interpreters appointed by the court and/or whether the government charges the litigant for the cost is within the court's discretion."

Additionally, although I realize that it is not in your power to prevent the courts from assessing interpreter costs at the end of a case, I want to note that the U.S. Department of Justice is quite clear that Title VI bars courts receiving federal funding from charging litigants for interpreter costs, regardless of whether the charges are assessed before or after the interpreters are provided. Pages 16-17 of my report cite numerous DOJ documents to that effect.

2) Page 72, "Court's Discretion", Maryland: Given your statement that " in rare instances, and solely at the discretion of the court, interpreter costs may be assessed to the parties as part of costs of the case," it does not seem to me to be inaccurate to state that "the statewide Court Interpreter Program Administrator assured us that costs are assessed only in rare cases."

Laura K. Abel
Deputy Director, Justice Program
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
161 Avenue of the Americas, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10013
tel: (212) 998-6737
fax: (212) 995-4550

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Elders, Courts and Guardianship

By 2030, the number of people older than 65 in the United States will exceed 71 million - double the number in 2000. This trend should be expected to affect courts in Texas, in particular probate courts, as guardianships and will proceedings should escalate accordingly.
All Ages Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 27.8%
Child Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 13.2%
Ages 18-24 Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 20.7%
Ages 25-44 Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 24.1%
Ages 45-64 Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 23.3%
Elderly Percent Growth 2010 through 2030: 80.1%
Source: Texas State Data Center

So far that impact has not been noticeable on court statistics; OCA data indicate that over the last decade, the number of probate cases filed each year remained fairly stable at around 58,000 each year, increasing an averaged of 0.5 percent per year. (See p. 41 of the 2008 Annual Statistical Report at Interestingly, probate cases are heard in most counties by the constitutional county court, whose judge is very unlikely to be an attorney (12% or 31/254 of such judges are licensed); contested matters may be transferred to district court. In the state’s largest counties such matters are heard in statutory probate court.

A guardian is a court-appointed person or entity (such as a local or state agency) that makes decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person, as appointed by a judge under Chapter 13 of the Texas Probate Code. The Guardianship Advisory Board at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) was established by the 75th Legislature in 1997, and has repeatedly advocated for statewide guardianship services to address the number of incapacitated individuals without family, friends, or funds who lack access to guardianship services and less restrictive alternatives. (For example, see their 2000 report at Beginning to address that need is the Department of Aging and Disability Services Guardianship Program, which provides guardianship services, either directly or through contracts with local guardianship programs, to individuals referred to the program by either the Adult Protective Services (APS) or Child Protective Services (CPS) Divisions of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

In 2005, through S.B. 6, the Judicial Branch was brought more into this mix through the creation of the Guardianship Certification Board within OCA. Under Section 111.042 of the Texas Government Code and Rule III(a) of the Board's rules, the following individuals must be certified by the GCB in order to be appointed by a judge:
individuals, other than attorneys or corporate fiduciaries, who are private professional guardians,
individuals who provide guardianship services to wards of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), and
individuals, other than volunteers, who provide guardianship services to wards of a local, county, or regional guardianship program.
Attorneys who provide guardianship services in a capacity other than a private professional guardian may need to be certified.

Hopefully rounding out this information, you may want to visit the Center for Elders and Courts, a new initiative at the National Center for State Courts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Court Interpreters

One of the sessions at the CCJ/COSCA conference revolved around immigration and, as part of that phenomenon, the increased demand for court interpreters to address language access in state courts. In addition to the demographic trend, three developments have spurred state court administrators to look at this compelling issue. First, COSCA issued a white paper on court interpretation* in late 2007, with the help of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification** (now titled the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts). Second, the Brennan Center for Justice issued a report this year entitled Language Access in the Courts,*** which concluded that “across the nation courts are shirking their responsibilities.” That report has generated some controversy itself, for example Maryland reproached the Brennan Center for inaccuracies and stated:

The Consortium for Language Access in the Courts received little if any credit for all of its work and efforts to improve language access in state courts. As you know, it was established in 1995 as the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification. There are 40 States in the Consortium and not one State court interpreter program administrator was on the Committee that conducted this study. Some of the report recommendations were contrary to procedures we have adopted.

And third, we were advised that the Department of Justice has begun to ramp up its enforcement in this area, beginning in Maine and Indiana. Under DOJ regulations implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, recipients of federal financial assistance have a responsibility to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by persons with limited English proficiency (LEP); see 28 CFR 42.104(b) (2).

Here in Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project recently met with me as it launched a project to educate judges and county policy makers about improving interpretation services, with the goal of changing policies that limit the access of individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) to state courts. TCRP advises that they have received numerous complaints about the treatment of LEP clients in Texas courts from local domestic violence (DV) organizations, as well as from their own in-house program helping immigrant victims of DV under the Violence Against Women Act. Anyone interested in learning more about the project is welcome to contact Abby Frank at TCRP, (512) 474-5073.

Ironically, my office has very little formal connection to court interpreters, because they are regulated through the Department of Licensing and Regulation,***** unlike other court actors – court reporters, guardians and process servers – where we staff the regulatory boards. Notwithstanding this structural anomaly, I do urge judges, clerks, court administrators, and court coordinators, to review the resources cited here and attend to the legitimate needs of individuals with LEP in the courts of Texas.

My apologies for these URLs, I cannot get embedded hyperlinks to work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

National Conference

Next week I am privileged to attend, with Chief Justice Jefferson, the annual joint meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators. Our theme this year is the courts’ work with vulnerable populations, with topics such as justice for non-English speaking people, those with mental disabilities, and the elderly, and featuring a presentation from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on “How the Courts Failed Germany.” Chief Justice Jefferson is the president-elect of the Conference of Chief Justices and will serve as president starting in August of 2010. I have been nominated to the Board of the Conference of State Court Administrators starting after this meeting, assuming I am elected. Both of us have been very involved with these associations and the National Center for State Courts, and find great value in these conferences.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Judicial Readiness in Times of Emergency

This is the name of a Task Force formed by the Supreme Court in November 0f 2007 and chaired by Denise Davis, formerly, and currently, the Parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives. The Task Force website is and their Resources page, which has a lot of good information on disaster planning for courts, is

Because Denise moved back into the Parliamentarian's role, she did not have an opportunity to finalize a report from the Task Force. We did, however, get a bill passed, HB 1861 by Eiland, with recommendations from the Task Force: affirming the Supreme Court's power to modify or suspend procedures in a disaster, encouraging local judges to include discussion ofdisaster planning in their local rules (which would encourage them to interact with the other emergency planners at the local level), and mentioning the Judicial Branch in Ch. 418 of the Government Code, to give us a "seat at the table" in the planning and response activity that is overseen by the (renamed, see HB 2730) Texas Division of Emergency Management.

We also received partial funding for a project we call JEDI - Judicial Emergency Data Infrastructure - to provide a "hot site" capability to back up the data of some of the appellate courts. We did not receive funding for a dedicated staff person to assist with this work in the Judicial Branch, so I have continued to try and attend to it. This topic and work is much on my mind these days, I will write more later.

Friday, July 24, 2009

OCA in a Nutshell

Office of Court Administration
Providing resources and information for the efficient administration
of the Judicial Branch of Texas

Resources for the judicial branch:
· For trial courts, technical assistance, training, and research on court administration, and funding and standards for indigent defense;
· For appellate and specialty courts, information technology solutions and fiscal consultation;
· For judicial branch regulatory boards and policymaking bodies, staffing and support; and
· For specialty courts and the regional presiding judges, staffing and administration.
Information about the judicial branch for the legislature, the judiciary, and the public:
· The judicial information website, Texas Courts Online;
· Statistics and analysis of court information and case activity;
· Descriptions of court system structure and jurisdiction; and
· Reports and studies about the courts and judiciary.

· Indigent Defense Funding & Standards
· Collection Improvement Program
· Court Services Program
· Specialty Court Program
· Court Reporter Certification
· Guardian Certification
· Process Server Certification
· Judicial Information Program
· Publications and Forms
· Weighted Caseload/Judicial Needs Assessment
· Judicial Data Committee
· Texas Data-Enabled Courts for Kids (TexDECK)
· Texas Appeals Management & E-Filing System (TAMES)
· Automated Registry
· Texas Path to NIEM
· Repaying Debts
· Mental Health Leadership Initiative

Enabling Law: Government Code Ch. 71, Judicial Council; Ch. 72, OCA; Ch. 74, Court Administration; General Appropriations Act, Article IV p. 23 (81st)

Total Budget: $94 million, 2010-2011 Biennium
Total FTES: 195.0/195.0 for 2010/2011

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Picture

Credit for the photo goes to Bill Pugsley, Executive Director of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society - Showing the east facade of the Tom C. Clark* building, which houses the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Office of Court Administration, Board of Law Examiners, and the State Law Library, Bill captured the reflection of the north facade of the awesome 1888 Texas Capitol (see in the polished granite of the (let's face it, way less impressive) 1959 courts building.

The story behind the photo relates to an artist's rendition of the same image, which we have used in our Annual Report for years, e.g., see p. 18 of the 2008 report at Our original director, Raymond Judice, was reportedly very fond of this rendition, but it has been mildly controversial in that some disbelieved the reflection could appear in this way. Bill proved that it could, but note there is one thing he could not demonstrate, which is a reflection of the south facade of the Capitol (see the photo on the State Preservation Board site above) as in the artist's rendition, a physical impossibility.

*Thomas Campbell Clark (September 23, 1899June 13, 1977) was United States Attorney General from 1945 to 1949 and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1949–1967). (Wikipedia) There is a student lounge at the University of Texas School of Law, also named for Justice Clark.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Self-Represented Litigants

I am involved with a work group on this topic, which has recommended these approaches to assist "SRLs":
A. Creation of state-level information resources such as:
-Standard forms and pleadings with easy to follow instructions;
-General information about the procedural and substantive requirements for filing and pursuing or defending a claim for posting on; and
-Web-based assistance that provides online document assembly based on responses of the potential litigant.

B. Creation or increased utilization of local and courthouse information access points, utilizing existing county law libraries to the greatest extent possible, through which self-represented litigants may receive guidance:
-In-courthouse help desks that offer one-on-one help regarding both procedural and substantive questions, including how to fill out forms and prepare pleadings;
-Clinics where information is provided without any interaction with the participants beyond general questions and answers;
-Clinics using volunteer attorneys where individuals receive general information and then are assisted with specific guidance based on their circumstance;
-Individual interview and counseling sessions in person or remotely by telephone or online chat.
-Automated or staffed telephone system to provide general court information (including directions to the courthouse and hours of operation) and information on available legal assistance.
-Bilingual signage around the courthouse to direct litigants to information access points and to provide orientation to the court buildings.
-“Self-help centers” dedicated to providing information regarding court procedures and legal forms that is often located near civil courts.
-Web videos developed by legal aid providers, local bar associations, and law schools to provide an overview of court processes and procedures that could be viewed by the public in self-help centers or law libraries. The videos could be very general in nature, or with the cooperation of local courts, contain more specific information for particular jurisdictions.

We are organizing a forum on these topics for court system actors - judges, clerks, attorneys, court managers, law librarians, etc. - for April 8-9, 2010, in Dallas. More as it develops!

Judicial Commissions for Children

In 2004, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care issued “Fostering the Future,” a report that made recommendations about how to move children from foster care into safe, permanent, nurturing families and prevent unnecessary placements. As part of the report, the Pew Commission recommended four key strategies for strengthening courts in the child-protection system:
1. Courts must have the ability to track children’s progress, identify children in need of attention, and identify sources of delay in court proceedings.
2. Courts and public agencies should be required to demonstrate effective collaboration on behalf of children.
3. Children and their parents must have a direct voice in court, effective representation, and the timely input of those who care about them
4. Chief Justices and state court leadership must take the lead, acting as the foremost champions for children and making sure recommendations of the Pew Commission are enacted.[i]

In September 2005, the Pew Commission recommendations were the subject of the Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children in Minneapolis. This watershed event stimulated more focused judicial attention on the plight of children and youth in foster care. However, exercising visible judicial leadership as recommended by Pew is not necessarily easy, comfortable, or customary for a supreme court, nor does it come naturally to many trial judges who are called upon to handle and champion child abuse cases. Several states including Texas have pursued the four Pew strategies through the formation of judicial commissions to develop policy designed to improve courts for children, youth, and families in the child-protection system.

A Sampling of Judicial Commissions on Children

Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families
Washington State Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care
Ohio Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Children, Families and the Court
Vermont Justice for Children Task Force
New York Permanent Commission on Justice for Children
Nebraska Supreme Court Commission on Children in the Courts
Georgia Commission on Children, Marriage and Family Law
California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care

[i] Pew Comm’n on Children in Foster Care, Fostering the Future: Safety, Permanence and Well-Being for Children in Foster Care 17-18 (2004), available at http://pewfostercare/org.

Strategic Trends

I am working on an article about strategic issues facing the courts of Texas. Here is the introduction as it now stands.

Strategic thinkers in the Judicial Branch of Texas should begin with a review of the National Center for State Courts latest “Future Trends in State Courts” report, which at this time is the 2008, 20th Anniversary Edition.[i] Major topics identified there include jury management, caseflow management, judicial selection, judicial compensation, state budgets, technology, access to justice, and the emergence of the problem-solving court paradigm. The ten trend topics identified in the 2006 edition,[ii] still vital and valid, are:
1. Emergency Preparedness in the State Courts
2. The Impact of Technology
3. Cultural Diversity: The Use of Court Interpreters
4. The Impact of an Aging Population
5. Privacy and Public Access to Court Records
6. Judicial Independence and Selection
7. State Courts and Budget Challenges
8. Problem-Solving Courts
9. Access to Justice: The Self-Represented Litigant
10. Measuring Court Performance
But the main forces at work affecting the lives of judges and their state court systems, may be conceptualized into three categories:
-Demographics, such as population growth and aging;
-Private Decisions, such as private dispute resolution away from the courts, and self-help when in the courts; and
-Policy Decisions too numerous to summarize, with instances identified in the “Trends” series and in this article.
The convergence of the first two forces in the years to come (and to some extent policy decisions such as tort reform) suggests a continued migration away from resolving civil disputes, and toward an increasing role for the state courts as gatekeepers for people and families in crisis in the context of criminal, juvenile, child abuse/neglect, child support, probate, mental health and divorce cases.

[i] Available at:
[ii] Available at

Legislative Report

The 2009 Legislative Report has been issued and is available online, see
Below are selected bills requiring implementation within the Judicial Branch.

HB 1861: Provides for Judicial Branch inclusion in the Emergency Management statutes and recognizes the Supreme Court’s authority to alter proceedings in an emergency. The Court is considering adoption of “pre-disaster orders.”

SB 1259: Provides for Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, and intermediate courts of appeals clerks to accept and store digital documents. Requires the Supreme Court to adopt privacy rules for information to be made available on the Internet, such as through TAMES (see Information Technology & Data). The Court is considering privacy rules proposed by the Supreme Court Advisory Committee in conjunction with relevant legislation, federal privacy rules, and other states’ privacy rules. The Court intends to promulgate privacy rules in the fall of 2009.

HB 4314: Authorizes the Court of Criminal Appeals to adopt rules for implementation of eFiling in capital cases.

HB 4009: Requires the Health and Human Services Commission, with assistance from OCA, DPS, and local law enforcement agencies, to create training programs designed to increase the awareness of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel of the needs of domestic victims, the availability of services, the database of services, and potential funding sources for those services.

HB 1711: Requires the Department of Criminal Justice to establish a Reentry Task Force to develop plans for reintegrating offenders. TDCJ must coordinate with OCA in establishing this task force. Although HB 1711 contains the “Ogden amendment,” we are advised that TDCJ is implementing the parts of the bill with no fiscal impact, presumably including the Task Force.

SB 1091: Establishes a capital writs committee and office of capital writs, and requires OCA and the Task Force on Indigent Defense to provide administrative support to the regional presiding judges in maintaining a list of competent counsel for appointment under Art. 11.071, CCP.

TAMES (Texas Appeals Management and E-Filing System)

Texas Appeals Management and E-Filing System (TAMES) is well into development with a target rollout of March 2010 in the Supreme Court, 14th COA, and 1st COA. In addition to the technology side, the Supreme Court will be proposing revisions to the Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Uniform Format Manual for court reporters.

Texas Courts Online

I wanted to make sure you know about the information available on Texas Courts Online - From there you can use the court structure diagram to go to the Supreme Court, CCA, and the other levels of the court structure.
On the top of TCO is a red bar with buttons, including Judicial Directory. It takes a couple of selections to get to the following document, you may want to bookmark this page, trial court personnel by county:
Also on the top of TCO is a button for Judicial Information, which should be a useful resource page: The second link on Judicial Information leads to the system that runs reports on the data for you:
Also on the top of TCO is Judicial Entities, a page I use a lot because we support many of these entities:
Also on the top of TCO is a Judicial Events button to see events that might be of interest:
Also on the top of TCO is a News button, and if you click it today you'll see that we just released our legislative report. The direct link to that report is:
On the very top right hand corner of TCO is an A-Z index that leads to our Encyclopedia where you can browse by topic: I would welcome any suggestions for additional topics that we could develop.
Just below the Encyclopedia is a link to OCA's home page . I use that page and the Programs and Projects page a fair amount a national perspective on court issues, the National Center for State Courts home page is: and if you click Information on the left side of that page, then pick CourTopics Database, you get to this useful page of topics: And on that page is a link to the State Links Index for comparative information on the various topics:
I welcome any suggestions on web content or presentation.