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.