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.