Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Courthouse Square

This Christmas, as a well-known map freak, I received a cool book by Frank Jacobs, called Strange Maps. (The link is to his blog, not the book.)  One of the many interesting pages has a map of the various counties in Texas, with the key showing the typology of the courthouse square in each county. Apparently many courthouse squares follow the "Shelbyville" model of how the buildings and roads are arranged around the square, showing the influence of Tennesseans in particular.  I wish I could give you a link to the map, but it is not available online as far as I can tell. It does appear that the map was borrowed from a scholarly text on The Courthouse Square in Texas (Veselka, UT Press), a journal article description of which is excerpted here:
Texas is indeed unique as the only state to retain its public lands on entering the union. This fostered state land policies which encouraged land ownership and the formation of counties and county seats, which once selected led, in turn, to construction of courthouses to house local government. This was facilitated by Anglo-American town plans that were prevalent in Texas and designed specifically to accommodate courthouses. The author examines and analyzes the several types of the courthouse squares derived from Anglo-American planning traditions (Shelbyville, Lancaster, Harrisonburg, and Four-, Two-, and Six-Block Squares), as well as their origins. These square types occur in about three-fourths of Texas' counties. In addition, he examines the remaining one-fourth of Texas town plans that had their origin in Hispanic or other planning traditions (Plaza, Railroad-Influenced, Half- and Quarter-Block, and Irregular Block Squares). These latter types had to be modified to allow location of a courthouse.

In perhaps the most important chapter, Veselka discusses the significant centripetal role of the courthouse square in attracting business activities and public and ceremonial events important to the community. . . .
As I have previously noted, the movement toward e-everything, as described in one of the better COSCA "white papers" (this one from 2005), challenges the centrality of the county courthouse as a place where people still must come together to do their legal business and resolve their disputes.
Technology has also changed the scope of the judiciary’s responsibility to preserve the American tradition of open courts. Now, thanks to the World Wide Web, courts have the opportunity to enhance the public’s ability to meaningfully observe and participate in the judicial process. In this modern age, citizens have the option of going to the courthouse to access court records or documents, or visiting a virtual courthouse where information is available at the click of a mouse. Parties can participate in virtual hearings and meetings, retrieve court records, track the progress of their cases, complete and file complaints and other court documents online, obtain legal information if they are unrepresented, and pay fees and fines via credit card - all without having to leave their homes or businesses.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Equal Justice Under the Law

This plaque hangs outside the courtroom and clerk's office of the Supreme Court of Texas. As I have written about previously, some remarkable work on racial disproportionality in the child welfare part of our justice system is underway in the Texas health and human services world. Since I last wrote, the Health and Human Services Commission has elevated work that was going on specifically in the child welfare area, to embrace the entire enterprise, with the creation of the Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities. One of my goals is to bring that work, which has a growing contingent of child welfare judges on board, into the criminal justice conversation. On January 13 the Judicial Advisory Council to TDCJ-Community Justice Assistance Division will hear a presentation by Joyce James, who is the director of the new Center and the driving force behind this courageous work in Texas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 Annual Report

This week our amazing judicial information staff completed and posted online the Annual Report for which the Judicial Council and OCA are probably most known. It is the single best source of information on Texas courts, "IMHO." Just one interesting fact in the report, last year only 3 percent of capital convictions resulted in the death penalty, down from a high of 24 percent in 1992.
Check it out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Courts Respond to Domestic Violence

Today was the conclusion of the National Leadership Summit on State Court Responses to Domestic Violence, where 38 states sent teams to build collaboration so that courts can do a better job for those they are charged to protect. I feel very good about the plans we have made for Texas, but wanted to share highlights from the address by Professor Sarah Buel, formerly of UT Law School and a hero of the domestic violence movement. She outlined nine simple steps that courts can take to improve conditions for victims of violence:
1. Provide a safe waiting area. One example, Judge Denton in Travis County gave up most of his own office space so a safe area could be created.
2. Provide signage and informational brochures in the waiting area. Examples are available at www.instituteforsafefamilies.org. Safety plan information should be provided with every victim contact; see www.abanet.org/domviol.
3. Train designated DV clerks and court staff.
4. Provide a pre-court briefing for victims and accused batterers so they will know what to expect in the hearing. Travis County uses volunteers for Project Options, and UT has a survivor support network, see www.utexas.edu/ors/dvssn.
5. Seat victim and accused on opposite sides of the courtroom to prevent witness tampering (an area of particular emphasis for Professor Buel).
6. Let the victim leave court 30 minutes before the batterer.
7. Use volunteers for everything - to help the clerks, help probation staff, monitor halls (to watch out for tampering), provide the pre-court briefing, keep brochures supplied, etc.
8. Have court staff participate in a local domestic violence task force.
9. Support a court culture that prioritizes model practices.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Preserving the Record

Awhile back I pointed out the adoption of a "white paper" on this topic by my national group of court administrators, COSCA.  More recently I visited with my good friends who lobby for the state court reporter association, and assured them that by bringing attention to the white paper I was not foreshadowing an effort to promote legislation in their arena.  I said that there is just a natural, built-in tension between practitioners of court adminstration and the traditional, one-steno-court-reporter-per-judge model. 

More recently, I met a Texas senior district judge, John Delaney from Bryan, who is interested in the use of electronic recording, ER in the following excerpt of some advice he provides to other judges.  My apologies to my friends in the court reporting profession, and their representatives, but this is good information for those judges considering their alternatives:
My purpose here is to help you find answers to the questions that occur to judges once they start considering ER. It’s not my purpose to try to convince you to replace a good steno reporter. I strongly believe that every trial judge should have the choice between ER and steno reporting. But sometimes it’s hard to know which choice to make because there is a lot of misinformation around. I will give you the truth as I know it.

 How does it work?

There are many questions about how ER actually works in practice in the courtroom. The simplest way to deal with that is to log on the website of The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers, http://www.aaert.org/, There you will find a comprehensive “Overview” of ER, including excerpts from many of the studies that have proved how successful it’s been.

How do I get the legal authority?

Then there’s the question of how you get the legal authority to use ER in Texas. The answer to that has become fairly easy. All you have to do is ask, by sending a letter and proposed local rules (see below) to the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Texas (and the Court of Criminal Appeals if you also handle criminal cases), and you will receive authority in the form of a “Local Rule” they approve for your court or all the courts in your county.

Who will run the ER system and how do they get trained?

Next is the question of who you will select to use the ER system, and how do they get trained. There are no schools training ER operators in Texas yet. You’ll most likely have to recruit a legal assistant or deputy clerk, someone with good clerical skills. Part of the training will come from the equipment vendors. Part of it will come from studying the “local rule” text below and the TRAP Rules. Some can come from actually doing an on-site visit to one of the courts already using ER (state and federal).

Who does the transcribing?

The next question is “how do I get the testimony transcribed for appeal?” You have two choices: let the “Court Recorder” do it, or send it out to a transcription service. In the digital age you send audio files over the internet, and the transcription can be done anywhere. There are form books and rules to go by. It takes some study to do it according to the format requirements of the appellate courts, but it’s something that a competent person can master.

Are there special rules about using ER?

It’s important to know there are some special rules about ER that appear in our Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure: Rules 13, 34.6, and 38.5 that cover this. As you can see, ER is firmly recognized by our appellate courts.

What kind of equipment should I get, and who will pay for it?

There are several vendors in the market. Some are audio only; one is audio plus video. Almost all equipment is digital (computerized) versus tape these days. It won’t be hard to find a vendor anxious to get your business. The commissioners court will almost certainly fund the purchase when you show them how much money you expect to save in comparison to having a steno reporter.
(Suggested local rule, modify as necessary to apply to criminal proceedings)

1. Application. The following rules govern the procedures in the __________________ in proceedings in civil matters in which a record is made by electronic audio or video recording, and appeals from such proceedings.
2. Duties of Court Recorders. No stenographic record shall be required of any civil proceedings electronically recorded. The court shall designate one or more persons as court recorders, whose duties shall be:
a. Assuring that the recording system is functioning and that a complete, distinct, clear, and transcribable recording is made;
b. Making a detailed, legible log for all proceedings while recording, indexed by time of day, showing the number and style of the proceeding before the court, the correct name of each person speaking, the nature of the proceeding (e.g., voir dire, opening, examination of witnesses, cross-examination, argument, bench conferences, whether in the presence of the jury, etc.), and the offer, admission, or exclusion of all exhibits;
c. Filing with the clerk the original electronic recording including all exhibits;
d. Storing or providing for storing of the electronic audio or video recording to assure its preservation as required by law;
e. Prohibiting or providing for prohibition of access by any person to the original recording without written order of the presiding judge of the court;
f. Preparing or obtaining a certified copy of the original recording of any proceeding, upon full payment of any charge imposed therefor, at the request of any person entitled to such recording, or at the direction of the presiding judge of the court, or at the direction of any appellate judge who is presiding over any matter involving the same proceeding, subject to the laws of this state, rules of procedure, and the instructions of the presiding judge of the court; and
g. Performing such other duties as may be directed by the judge presiding.
3. Reporter’s Record. The reporter’s record on appeal from any proceeding of which an electronic recording has been made shall be labeled to reflect clearly the numbered contents certified by the court recorder to be a clear and accurate copy of the original recording of the entire proceeding. Any exhibits designated by the parties for inclusion in the reporter’s record shall be arranged in numerical order and firmly bound together so far as practicable, together with an index consisting of a brief description identifying each exhibit.
4. Time for Filing. The court recorder shall file the reporter’s record with the court of appeals within fifteen days after the perfection of an appeal. No other filing deadlines as set out in the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure are changed.
5. Appendix. Each party shall file with his brief an appendix containing a written transcription of all portions of the recorded reporter’s record and a copy of all exhibits relevant to the issues raised on appeal. Transcriptions shall be presumed to be accurate unless objection is made. The form of the appendix and transcription shall conform to any specifications of the Supreme Court.
6. Presumption. The appellate court shall presume that nothing omitted from the transcriptions in the appendices is relevant to any issues raised or to the disposition of the appeal. The appellate court shall have no duty to review any part of an electronic audio or video recording.
7. Supplemental Appendix. The appellate court may direct a party to file a supplemental appendix containing a written transcription of additional portions of the recorded reporter’s record.
8. Paupers. Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 20.1(j) shall be interpreted to require the court recorder to transcribe or have transcribed the recorded reporter’s record and file it as appellant’s appendix.
9. Accuracy. Any inaccuracies in the transcriptions of the recorded reporter’s record may be corrected by agreement of the parties. Should any dispute arise after the reporter’s record or appendices are filed as to whether an electronic audio or video recording or any transcription of it accurately discloses what occurred in the trial court, the appellate court may resolve the dispute by reviewing the audio or video recording, or submit the matter to the trial court, which shall, after notice to the parties and hearing, settle the dispute and make the reporter’s record or transcription conform to what occurred in the trial court.
10. Costs. The expense of appendices shall be taxed as costs at the rate prescribed by law. The appellate court may disallow the cost of portions of appendices that it considers surplusage or that do not conform to any specifications prescribed by the Supreme Court.
11. Other Provisions. Except to the extent inconsistent with these rules, all other statutes and rules governing the procedures in civil actions shall continue to apply to those proceedings of which a record is made by electronic audio or video recording.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Justice for Veterans

Today is a state holiday, and I have time to write about why. Ron Castille was a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, and today is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He made the New York Times this morning, in a terrific op-ed that I commend to you, A Special Court for Veterans, on the movement toward veterans courts and statewide efforts to better provide justice for veterans and those who currently serve.

Texas is in the forefront as well, and on several fronts at once. Bar President Terry Tottenham, a former Marine captain, has launched the wildly successful Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative. It is a state-wide effort to recruit lawyers who will provide pro bono legal services to veterans who cannot afford those services. The initiative has received an overwhelming response from Texas lawyers, with Veterans Clinics operational in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Worth, Austin, and every other veterans-centric area of Texas. To further assist access to justice for veterans, by order the Supreme Court of Texas has recently amended the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Texas to allow Judge Advocates who are not members of the Texas bar to represent soldiers and their dependents in specific instances.

On the legislative side, SB 1940 from last session established veterans court programs in Texas. There was a great article about this in the Texas Tribune back in May, and the implementation of the bill is the subject of a joint interim study by the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence and House Committee on Defense and Veterans' Affairs, which are also charged to examine the link between combat stress disorders of war veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and the onset of criminal behavior. They had a very compelling hearing on July 13 with testimony from judges (and veterans) Brent Carr and Michael Snipes. Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties all have veterans courts, and Smith County is close. So courts have been implemented in the major jurisdictions in Texas, but from the testimony in the hearing it seems safe to say that obstacles, such as adequate resources and local collaboration, remain.

We can do more. For starters, why aren't holidays like Veterans Day an occasion for public service rather than a mandatory state holiday? And on the court administration side, we must do more. We can better collaborate at the state level to ensure that all the agencies and stakeholders seeking to expand these services are working together. And on the court technology front - never far from my mind - it seems to me that ensuring access to courts for veterans and service people overseas is one of the most compelling reasons that we need to achieve the capability for universal eFiling in any Texas court, for any case type.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Courthouse Design

The rule of law and courthouses are the cornerstone of our democracy.  The National Center for State Courts has recently published the third edition of Retrospective of Courthouse Design 2001-2010, describing noteworthy federal and state projects across the country and a few from overseas. 96 projects are published in the volume, 94 are courthouses, plus a judicial training center in New York and a statewide IT center for the Arizona Supreme Court - I am jealous. There are some beautiful and highly functional facilities featured, including the Ohio Judicial Center in my home town, Columbus, which I have heard is fabulous from several people, and the Brooklyn Supreme and Family Courthouse, which is notable as a public-private partnership with 180,000 square feet of speculative office space included.

In an introductory article, my friend Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer makes a point that I have been wondering about lately.  He contrasts the emergence of the virtual courthouse - the rapid evolution of 24/7 access to case information and court services in many places - with the need for physical facilities where humans can come together, concluding:  "Courts mus plan and budget for not only a large investment in sustainable and scalable technology infrastructure to support remote court services, but physical justice centers that are co-located with trial courts for one-stop resolution of stakeholder-intensive cases (e.g., family, juvenile, criminal, and mental health cases.)"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Prison Population

Mike Ward's article in the Statesman this morning, about the budget crisis and whether treatment and rehab programs will stay funded, prompts me to chime in, as I did in the CourTex newsletter back in 2007: 
The state’s continuing ability to match capacity with demand currently depends largely on the parole board’s release and revocation practices.  The options for addressing population pressure, short of new commitments to capacity, would appear to be:  attempt to affect parole approval and revocation rates; affect sentence lengths and release laws through legislation; reduce penalties or judicial discretion directly through legislation; dramatically increase funding for alternatives and hope for minimal “net widening”; or adopt a sentencing commission/guidelines model that was implicitly rejected in 1993. These choices are timely this session, but longer term they are cyclical and incessant. To meet this continuing challenge, and consistent with much that is happening and recommended around the country, Texas policymakers should develop a more consistent focus on sentencing policy and data collection, in some form.
As Ward reports today, the legislature responded in 2007 by funding alternatives to revocation of probation parole; more detail can be found in a report from Tony Fabelo and the CSG Justice Center in 2009:
In 2007, the legislature rejected plans to spend $523 million in additional prison construction and operations and instead, through its Justice Reinvestment Initiative, appropriated $241 million to expand the capacity of substance abuse, mental health, and intermediate sanction facilities and programs that focused on people under supervision who would otherwise likely be revoked to prison.
The piece that continues to be missing is what we had in 1993 and have not had since:  reliable, case-level data on what is happening at the front end of the state criminal justice system:
A critical companion to our [1993] work was the parallel effort by the Criminal Justice Policy Council to develop meaningful, case-level information about actual sentences in Texas.  This was a first in modern times, and has not been replicated since 1993.  The PSC’s work was thus uniquely informed by current, powerful information that everyone agreed was valid[.]
I am very pleased that Tony Fabelo has found a way to spread his inimitable work around the country (helping states like Indiana with incaraceration rates that are only two-thirds of the rate that Texas has achieved, so that our "equilibrium" is a more expensive one than many other states could achieve).  And, no offense to my friends at the LBB who now handle projections of the prison population for purposes of informing the budget debate.  But, I continue to be convinced that rational analysis of the policy alternatives will ultimately require consistent and reliable data collection on the sentence, offense, criminal history, and a few other salient characteristics, of felony cases across the state.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Capitol Polish

I will be glad when the work on the capitol's exterior is finished. It looks, from the shine under the scaffolding, like it will be worth the wait. Here is the view from the bike this morning, and a link to a story about the restoration work: http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/texas/capitol-dome-being-restored

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

4th National Symposium on Court Management

Chief Justice Jefferson and I, along with Chief Justice Sherry Radack from the 1st Court of Appeals, Bob Wessels from Harris County, and David Slayton from Lubbock, are attending this symposium today and tomorrow in Williamsburg, sponsored by the State Justice Institute and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and hosted by the National Center for State Courts. The topic is state court governance and organization, and we are discussing a set of ten principles of court system governance articulated by the leadership of the Utah state courts, Chief Justice Christine Durham and AOC Director Dan Becker:
1. A well-defined governance structure for policy formulation and administration for the entire court system.
2. Meaningful input from all court levels into the decision-making process.
3. A system that speaks with a single voice.
4. Selection of judicial leadership based on competency, not seniority or rotation.
5. Commitment to transparency and accountability.
6. Authority to allocate resources and spend appropriated funds independent of the legislative and executive branches.
7. A focus on policy level issues; delegation with clarity to administrative staff; and a commitment to evaluation.
8. Open communication on decisions and how they are reached.
9. Positive institutional relationships that foster trust among other branches and constituencies.
10. Clearly established relationships among the governing entity, presiding judges, court administrators, boards of judges, and court committees.

Utah has a very centralized court system that nicely dovetails with these principles. Query how well the highly decentralized Texas system can reflect such principles.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Self-Represented Litigants

As I have previously discussed, more than once, my office is working on a statewide collaboration to advance access to justice for self-represented litigants, and ameliorate their impact on court staff and judges.  The statewide work reflects the fact that local court staff and judges, legal service providers and bar associations have been improving their services in this arena for some time; we are just catching up and hoping to provide added value through coordination and spreading promising practices. Here is, no doubt a partial listing of all that is in place that we know of, let me know if you have additions or enhancements (such as web links) for this compilation.
Existing Programs and Resources
Self-Help Centers

1. Travis County Self-Help Center – Provides assistance in simple, uncontested family law cases. Provides free forms and free reference attorney appointments.
2. Smith County Self-Help Center – Partnership between County Law Library and local bar. Provides assistance with forms and court processes.
3. Harris County Courthouse Information Booth – Gives SRLs information about their pleadings and court processes. Operated by Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.
4. Nacogdoches County – Touch-screen Self-Help Kiosk – Provides assistance with creating pleadings and orders. Staffed by LSLA attorney.
5. Fort Bend County – Provides self-help centers in libraries.
6. Lutheran Ministries and Social Services of Waco, Legal Assistance Project – Gets referrals from district and county clerks. Helps with forms and court processes.
7. Hidalgo County Self Help Kiosk – Provides a computer that connects SRLs to www.texaslawhelp.org and a printer.

Assisted Pro Se Programs
1. Dallas Volunteer Attorneys Program – Sponsors four Assisted Divorce Clinics per month. Uses volunteer attorneys to help low-income clients with uncontested family law cases.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Self Represented Litigants Project – Operates a live chat service on TexasLawHelp.org to provide information, resources, and on a case by case basis legal advice to self-represented litigants. Also, developing an informative video in cooperation with the Lubbock County Bar Association to provide guidance to the legal system for self-represented litigants.
3. Texas Advocacy Project, Assisted Pro Se Program – Provides individualized legal assistance in simple family law matters to victims of domestic violence. Includes recent installation of videoconferencing equipment in Montgomery County law library for meetings between clients in county and attorneys in Austin.
4. Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, Assisted Pro Se Project – Available to clients with uncontested cases.
5. Bell County Assisted Pro Se Program
6. Court Order Parenting Education Project (OAG, LSLA, TEAJF) – Recent pilot project involving clinics attended by litigants prior to hearings in divorce cases.
7. Nacogdoches County Help Desk – Provides assistance to financially-eligible SRLs two days each week at the Nacogdoches Public Library. Staffed by LSLA attorneys.

Limited Scope Representation
1. Lawyer Referral of Central Texas – Recently started limited scope representation program for family law cases.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Parenting Order Legal Clinic (POLC) – Provides limited scope representation to non-custodial parents in matters involving their parenting orders. Take referrals from LANWT.

1. Protective Order Kit in English and Spanish – Currently, the only forms approved by the Supreme Court of Texas.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Self-Represented Litigants Project – Automated forms. Making fill-in-the-blank forms and instructions available in user friendly format. Forms are posted on http://www.texaslawhelp.org/. Petition and Decree in uncontested divorce without children are available for use, and other forms are in development.
3. Others – e.g., Bell County District Clerk’s divorce website; Williamson County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 website, Collin County Law Library website.

Other Resources
1. TexasLawHelp.org
2. Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: Guidelines and Instructions for Clerks and Court Personnel Who Work with Self-Represented Litigants in Texas State Courts – On OCA website, http://www.courts.state.tx.us/pubs/LegalInformationVSLegalAdviceGuidelines.pdf.
3. Texas SRL Listserv for Court System Stakeholders – Membership is free, but the site requires registration: www.texaslawyershelp.org/civil_law/groups/.
4. SelfHelpSupport.org – A national website with a clearinghouse of information for judges, clerks, administrators, etc. on working with SRLs. Membership is free, but the site requires registration.
5. Supplemental Instructions for Self-Represented Litigants completing new Civil Case Information Sheet – Contains a glossary to explain terms used on Civil Case Information Sheet, which must accompany the filing of an original petition in a civil case and certain post-judgment petitions and motions. Available on OCA’s website: http://www.courts.state.tx.us/tjc/pdf/SupplementalInstructionsForSRLs.pdf.
6. Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Se Information page: http://www.texasatj.org/SRL.

Projects under development
Lubbock County – (1) automated document assembly; (2) informational video; (3) limited scope representation program.
Montgomery County – Self-help center.
Angelina County – (1) Touch-screen Self-Help Kiosk – Provides assistance with creating pleadings and orders. (2) SRL Help Desk two days per week, staffed by LSLA attorney.
Travis County SRL Work Group – Processes related to orders in family law cases.
Hays County SRL Work Group – Organizing.
Williamson County – Just starting to consider whether they want to implement any programs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mastering the Unpredictable

This is the title of a new (2010) book I've been reading, checked out from the library of the National Center for State Courts, which I'd never done before.  Subtitled "How Adaptive Case Management Will Revolutionize the Way that Knowledge Workers Get Things Done," it is by Keith D. Swenson, with a number of other contributors, all from companies like Fujitsu America, Cordys, Singularity, ISIS Papyrus Group, Handysoft, Global 360, and ActionBase.  One other (non profit sector) contributor is John T. Matthias, who works for NCSC, and authored the chapter entitled Technology for Case Management, which describes the evolution of court case management systems and would be good background reading for a number of people I know. (He actually cites an OCA work product, our detailed functional requirements for developing child protection court case management systems, which I commend to you.  His point was that systems need to manage data in both "case-centric" and "people-centric" ways, and as an example, that we identified 21 different roles for people in child protection cases - mother, child, alleged father, CASA, caseworker, attorney, etc. - and 17 different possible relationships between people - child/parent, attorney/client, etc.)

But that subtitle caught my eye and is the reason I'm reading this book. I want to understand this whole arena much better than I do, ponder the implications for a new generation of court case management, and imagine the ultimate "adaptive case management" (ACM) system for my own "knowledge work."  As Swenson states in the Introduction, ACM means "Systems that are able to support decision making and data capture while providing the freedom for knowledge workers to apply their own understanding and subject matter expertise to respond to unique or changing circumstances within the business environment."

To give you a little more feel for where they are headed, in Chapter 5, Max Pucher proposes (p. 97) to define ACM as involving three paradigm shifts:
  1. ACM is a productive system that deploys the organization and process structure from defined architecture that through back-end interfaces becomes the system of record for the business data entities and content involved. All processes are completely transparent, as per access authorization, and fully auditable.
  2. ACM enables nontechnical business users in virtual organizations to seamlessly create/consolidate structured and unstructured processes from base predefined business entities, GUI components, content, social interactions, and business rules.
  3. ACM moves the knowledge-gathering process in the lifecycle from the template analysis phase to the process execution phase. The ACM system collects actionable knowledge-without an intermediate analysis phase-based on process patterns created by business users.
This reading is at the outer limit of my non-technical background, and not easy going, but I am learning.

In response to Keith's comment below, I did not finish the book, it was over my head in many places. I did enjoy several chapters and parts of chapters, and I know at least one of the developers in our office, Ron Clark, purchased the book and liked it.  I will be interested to look at Taming the Unpredictable, thanks for writing and for letting me know.  What I really need is some case studies of knowledge workers actually using these newer systems, something concrete.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Teach the Children Well

Children and youth in foster care are, unfortunately, a highly mobile population. Their movement from placement to placement is typically mirrored by movement from school to school, with records lagging behind them and academic achievement stunted at every step. The end up at high risk for school discipline, dropping out, juvenile and criminal justice involvement, homelessness, and other grim outcomes.  Current research reveals that a large proportion of young people in foster care are in educational crises. States clearly need to do more.

Last week was the kick-off meeting of the Education Committee of our Supreme Court Children's Commission, the Permanent Judicial Committee for Children, Youth and Families. Created by order of the Supreme Court, the committee is chaired by Judge Patricia Macias of El Paso, has great representation from the Texas judiciary, education world, and child welfare world, has support from the ABA Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, and a charge to do the following (among several mandates):
  • Identify and assess challenges to educational success of children and youth in the Texas foster care system;
  • Identify and recommend judicial practices to help achieve better educational outcomes for children and youth in foster care; [and]
  • Seek to improve collaboration, communication, and court practice through partnerships with the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas education system, and stakeholders in the education and child-protection community.
The committee reached consensus to focus on the following nine goals:
  1. Children and youth in care are entitled to remain in the same school when feasible.
  2. Children and youth in care are guaranteed seamless transitions between schools.
  3. Young children in care (0-5 years) receive services and interventions to be ready to learn.
  4. Children and youth in care have the opportunity and support to fully participate in all developmentally appropriate activities and all aspects of the education experience.
  5. Children and youth in care have supports to prevent school dropout, truancy, and disciplinary actions and re-engage in the education experience.
  6. Children and youth in care are involved and empowered in all aspects of their education.
  7. Youth in care are prepared to self advocate in all aspects of their education.
  8. Children and youth in care have consistent adult support to advocate for and make education decisions. 
  9. Children and youth in care have support to enter into and complete post-secondary education.
 These goals will look familiar to anyone with background in this area and exposure to the Center's Blueprint for Change, a remarkable report that I commend to your attention.  I hope to report more on this compelling topic, as it develops.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Justice in Numbers

I am privileged this week to be attending an international conference by this name, held in Brasilia, Brazil. It is hosted by the National Council of Justice, an entity created under the Brazilian Constitution in 2004, with administrative, financial and disciplinary roles and jurisdiction over all courts except the Federal Supreme Court. The President (Chief Justice) of the Federal Supreme Court, Cezar Peluso, is also the President of the National Council of Justice. (Interestingly, Brazil has two special central courts, the aforementioned FSC, which has jurisdiction over constitutional cases, and the Superior Court of Justice, which is the court of last resort in non-constitutional matters. My friend Antonio Benjamin, who teaches part-time at UT Law School, is a minister on the latter court.)

The occasion for the event is the release of "Justice in Numbers 2009," the flagship product of the National Judiciary Statistics System. One important finding is that approximately one third of the 86.6 million cases in the Brazilian courts are fiscal enforcement proceedings, contributing greatly to a backlog. Apparently many of these cases, maybe all, I am not quite sure, are prosecuted by the executive branch, so this is an area where collaboration across branches of government - a common theme in our work in the US - seems critical for the Brazilian courts.

Also at the conference is Mary McQueen, President of the (US) National Center for State Courts, who invited me to attend with her. We are encouraging Brazil - and they appear very receptive - to become involved with the International Framework for Court Excellence, a broad international agreement regarding core court values such as impartiality and transparency. This has been a wonderful opportunity to share information across national boundaries, on the use of data in judicial administration, and we are excited at the prospect of future engagement with the leadership of the courts of Brazil.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Office of Capital Writs

As I described in April, my office has been very involved in starting up the Office of Capital Writs created by SB 1091 last session, to represent condemned defendants in state habeas corpus proceedings under Art. 11.071, Code of Criminal Procedure.  Director Brad Levenson has been appointed and is in Austin setting up the new agency.  Judges are required by 11.071 to appoint the OCW to represent defendants sentenced to death on or after September 1, 2010 (unless OCW declines or is prohibited from representing, such as a conflict of interest because they represent another defendant in the same incident).  We are working with OCW to create a webpage, and the office will have telephone service soon, at 512.463.8502.  In the meantime those needing to contact Mr. Levenson may email to brad.levenson@ocw.texas.gov.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Multi-County District Courts

Texas has 454 district courts, and outside of the cities, 96 of the district judges serve in multiple counties.  For example, Judge Camile DuBose presides in the 38th Judicial District in Uvalde, Real and Medina counties and Judge Barbara Walther presides in the 51st Judicial District in Tom Green, Schliecher, Irion, Sterling, and Coke counties.  One problem for such judges is that many of their counties have siloed case management systems that do not communicate across county lines, and it is difficult to keep all their multi-county calendars in order.

Judge DuBose's court coordinator, Lela Ballesteros, came up with a nifty way to help her keep her scheduled and accessible.  She opened up a yahoo calendar, which has since become a google calendar, which allows the attorneys in the 38th district to schedule time on Judge DuBose's docket, when she will be in their county. Simple and free, here is Judge DuBose's calendar.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Media and the Courts

The Conference of Court Public Information Officers (CCPIO) just released the results of a year-long study on the effects of new media on the courts, including an extensive survey.  The full report is available on the website of CCPIO, http://www.ccpio.org/. I am just starting to look over it but I thing it looks very interesting for readers in the court community and beyond.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Court Interpreters III

On August 16, the Department of Justice issued a letter to all chief justices and state court administrators. A lengthy excerpt:

Language services expenses should be treated as a basic and essential operating expense, not as an ancillary cost. Court systems have many operating expenses -judges and staff, buildings, utilities, security, filing, data and records systems, insurance, research, and printing costs, to name a few. Court systems in every part of the country serve populations of LEP individuals and most jurisdictions, if not all, have encountered substantial increases in the number of LEP parties and witnesses and the diversity of languages they speak. Budgeting adequate funds to ensure language access is fundamental to the business of the courts.

We recognize that most state and local courts are struggling with unusual budgetary constraints that have slowed the pace of progress in this area. The DOJ Guidance acknowledges that recipients can consider the costs of the services and the resources available to the court as part of the determination of what language assistance is reasonably required in order to provide meaningful LEP access. See id. at 41,460. Fiscal pressures, however, do not provide an exemption from civil rights requirements. In considering a system's compliance with language access standards in light oflimited resources, DOJ will consider all of the facts and circumstances of a particular court system. Factors to review may include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The extent to which current language access deficiencies reflect the impact of the fiscal crisis as demonstrated by previous success in providing meaningful access;

• The extent to which other essential court operations are being restricted or defunded;

• The extent to which the court system has secured additional revenues from fees, fine s, grants, or other sources, and has increased efficiency through collaboration, technology, or other means;

• Whether the court system has adopted an implementation plan to move promptly towards full compliance; and

• The nature and significance of the adverse impact on LEP persons affected by the existing language access deficiencies.

DOJ acknowledges that it takes time to create systems that ensure competent interpretation in all court proceedings and to build a qualified interpreter corps. Yet nearly a decade has passed since the issuance of Executive Order 13166 and publication of initial general guidance clarifYing language access requirements for recipients. Reasonable efforts by now should have resulted in significant and continuing improvements for all recipients. With this passage of time, the need to show progress in providing all LEP persons with meaningful access has increased. DOJ expects that courts that have done well will continue to make progress toward full compliance in policy and practice. At the same time, we expect that court recipients that are furthest behind will take significant steps in order to move promptly toward compliance.
Included with the letter were the following links:

Executive Order 13166 Tips and Tools Document

Maine Court Rule and Memorandum of Agreement

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Future Trends in State Courts 2010

As I noted last year, I always spend time with the latest "Future Trends" publication by the National Center for State Courts.  This year the articles are particularly interesting, dealing with budgetary constraints and reengineering the courts. You can see the full report of Future Trends in State Courts, but it is a big document to download. I recommend you browse the individual articles located on the Trends Index page.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Next Generation II

As I wrote in April, those involved with the courts are very concerned about the widespread lack of knowledge and appreciation for our system of government and the rule of law. (E.g., a large majority of Americans can't name the three branches of government, much less understand what they each do, and many high school seniors can't pass the test that applicants for citizenship must pass.)
Well, I just learned what retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner is doing about it. She has started an organization that creates really fun and educational computer games, and is spreading it throughout schools in our country.  Originally branded as OurCourts.org, they have expanded the games to cover the other branches of government, under the banner http://www.icivics.org/.  I just sent an email to my 11-year old to ask him to check it out.  If you know a young person you should do the same, and if you are interested in helping further this cause let me know, I am touch with the volunteers in Texas who are taking on this cause in our schools.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Race and Disproportionality

Reading the NYT Week in Review article on Race, perhaps I should be reticent about engaging in this topic.  But, it is important, and it isn't all just hand-wringing.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, in partnership with Casey Family Programs, has done some remarkable, ground-breaking work on the issue of disproportionality in the child welfare (child abuse and neglect) system.  Check out the DFPS website  on this topic, where I got this:
Data from 2007 shows African-American children in Texas were almost twice as likely as Anglo or Hispanic children to be reported as victims of child abuse or neglect. Even after adjusting for this higher number of reports the number of substantiated reports of abuse and neglect involving African-American children was also disproportionately high. So was the number of African American children removed from their families. Even when other factors are taken into account African American children spend significantly more time in foster care or other substitute care, are less likely to be reunified with their families, and wait longer for adoption than Anglo or Hispanic children.
I heard more about national work in this area at the recent conference of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, under the program banner "Courts Catalyzing Change: Achieving Equity and Fairness in Foster Care Initiative (CCC)", funded by Casey Family Programs and supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), brings together judicial officers and other systems’ experts to set a national agenda for court-based training, research, and reform initiatives to reduce the disproportionate representation of children of color in dependency court systems.

As is commonly understood, the criminal justice system has parallel issues, perhaps in even starker statistical terms.  The last time I checked, African-Americans were about 11.5% of Texans, and about 48% of the prison population.  I hope to develop this angle further.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Attention Jury Managers

There is a new online diagnostic tool designed to help state court administrators and jury managers evaluate and improve jury management operations and procedures, just released from the National Center for State Courts - Center for Jury Studies. It is called Jury Managers Toolbox, check it out. Use of the Jury Managers’ Toolbox is restricted to court administrators, clerks of court, jury managers, and other administrative staff of state and local courts in the United States.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Process Server Certification

In 2005, shortly after I came into this role, the Supreme Court of Texas advised me that they had approved amendments to Rules 103 and 536(a) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, effective July 1, 2005, governing statewide certification of process servers. The Court also issued a companion order to establish the framework for certification of those approved to serve process under the revised rules, creating a Process Server Review Board, and ordering my office to provide "clerical support" to the new board.  Later the Court adopted Rule 14, Rules of Judicial Administration, to formalize the governance of this program.

Recent reports of systemic problems of service of process in New York and elsewhere have reinforced to me the value of having some regulation around the statewide service of process.  The Federal Trade Commission just released a new report entitled "Repairing a Broken System: Protecting Consumers in Debt Collection Litigation and Arbitration," which highlights the anecdotal information available (pp. 8-9, footnotes omitted):
Although no empirical data were presented or submitted, panelists from throughout the country estimated that sixty percent to ninety-five percent of consumer debt collection lawsuits result in defaults, with most panelists indicating that the rate in their jurisdictions was close to ninety percent. . . .
Roundtable participants differed as to whether inadequate or improper service is prevalent. Many consumer advocates and judges who adjudicate debt collection cases stated that inadequate or improper service occurs frequently. One local official reported that her agency’s comprehensive investigation of process servers in New York City revealed that “many are not performing service. They are filling out false affidavits of service. They are not going to the addresses. They are not sufficiently checking the addresses." A Chicago judge explained similarly that one of his colleagues had conducted a “spot audit” of one process server and found that he “claimed to be in areas thirty miles apart in the Chicago-land area within minutes . . . . And we [asked,] ‘Is he Superman?’”
So I think the Supreme Court of Texas was prescient in taking on some minimal qualifications check for people who will be permitted to serve process for courts throughout Texas.  But not all are fans; there seems to be one or two citizens out there in particular who have complained to the legislature, filed a federal lawsuit (which was dismissed), complained to the State Auditor, and who knows what else, about the very existence of the PSRB.  Meanwhile, the number of process servers in the program has gone from 1,200 grandfathered in 2005, to 5,300 this month.  Clearly there are people who want to do this work, and equally clear, we need to know and approve of who they are. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Automated Registry

Are you a judge hearing criminal cases, or do you work for such a judge?  If so you need to check out the Automated Registry (AR), a secure browser-based system provided by OCA, that allows authorized individuals to submit a query for a person appearing before the court. The query is submitted to multiple state agency databases and all results are returned to the AR system in real-time. The user is able to view the results in a consolidated format, and is accessing great data:  information related to state and national criminal history, state and national warrants, concealed handgun licenses, citizenship status, state and national driver’s history, vehicle registration, sex offender alerts, probation violators, protection order status, and threat to law enforcement alerts; information on probation, parole, and incarceration for an individual (Texas only); and information about an individual who has had mental health care services provided by the State of Texas mental health system.

There is no cost to gain access to the AR system. However, each user must have a computer that is connected to the internet, and a security token (which we provide). Users will need to complete an AR User Agreement and submit the signed agreement to OCA for approval. Once the user’s request has been approved, OCA will provide the user with a security token, AR user-id and AR password. Non-judge users requesting access to DPS and TDCJ data will need a criminal background check performed. All users accessing the DPS data will be required to take a TCIC (Texas Crime Information Center) Certification class, if not already TCIC certified.

Interested?  Check out the website and call Thomas Sullivan at (512) 463-8109 or Jeannette McGowan at (512) 936-1806.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

State Jails Redux

I have been following with interest the suggestion by House Corrections Committee Chairman McReynolds that the state jail concept be reconsidered, as reported in Grits and the Statesman. If Chairman Whitmire and District Attorney Bradley were the architects of the system, I was the contractor, as the director of the Punishment Standards Commission, which identified the 4th degree felonies that became state jail felonies and proposed a more community-focused system for those offenders; and then as the general counsel for the Board of Criminal Justice when the state jails were implemented. (And by the way, in the 1993 session John Bradley had been hired by me as the prosecutor consultant to the commission, my recall is it was later that he became a consultant to Sen. Whitmire's committee directly.)  Not to say that I scooped everyone, because these issues are not new, but this is from 2007 in the newsletter version of CourTex:
[A] correctional agency has an inherent interest in maintaining some otherwise unpopular features in state sentencing laws - good conduct time and parole - that provide "back end discretion," and therefore some behavioral incentive during incarceration.  This is the enduring lesson of the state jail sentencing scheme, which does not provide any such incentive, and has proved challenging to implement as a result.  Other problems with the state jail innovation were (and remain): inadequate funding for rehabilitation of the low-level offenders targeted; prison-like state jails rather than smaller, community based facilities; and minimal judicial use of the ability to review an offender's progress in custody. 
So I think this is a healthy debate to have, and I basically agree with today's Statesman editorial, "fine tune and fund, don't scrap."  The key commitment that was made in 1993 was to achieve dramatically more "truth in sentencing" for violent offenders, enabled by facility construction and the diversion of the state jail population to state jails.  The other key component that was at least partially achieved was the location of some of the state jails in greater proximity to the communities of origin.  It may be significant to note that the two large jurisdictions that utilize state jails to a greater extent than their population or prison admissions would suggest (see bar chart below), are Harris County and Travis County.   Harris has Kegans and Lychner state jails, and Travis has the Travis state jail.  (It is ironic that Harris County testimony about the limitations of the state jail system triggered this debate, with their very high utilization.)

If the debate is to continue, I suggest the legislature focus on the problems to be addressed and not on whether the system should be abandoned.  Certainly the identification of the state jail category of felonies was significant and should not be undone, but must the punishment scheme be set in stone?  Perhaps some form of incentive for behavior can be built in, to replace the judicial option that no judges use, and allow a state jail felon some ability to accelerate his release.  Perhaps there should be a short period of supervision at the end of the state jail term.  Perhaps we should revisit the idea of isolating all state jail felons in their own facilities, as though they will be infected by felons convicted of higher degree offenses. Perhaps we should revisit the state governance of facilities that were originally conceived as "community corrections." And undoubtedly, there should be additional resources to support successful reintegration. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program

As you may know the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program (JRJ) will provide 10 million dollars in loan repayment assistance to state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years.  JRJ will be administered by Governor-designated state agencies that must register and apply July 27, 2010. Funds will be available to states based on the total population of each state with a minimum base allocation of $100,000. It is important that you work to ensure that your governor designates a state agency in advance of the deadline.  For more information and application forms visit BJA's website.

Last week the Governor designated the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to administer the John R. Justice Program (a student loan repayment program) in Texas. Texas is eligible for a $700,000 grant to be split evenly between the Texas prosecutors and public defenders. Our office, specifically the Task Force on Indigent Defense, met with representatives from the Texas District & County Attorney Associations and the Coordinating Board to develop the criteria and plan for the administration of this loan forgiveness program. The application is due on July 27th.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

I am among the 90% of those in my age bracket - let's leave it at that - who are at least very proud, maybe even extremely proud, to be an American, according to a recent Pew survey of patriotism.  Most of us are pretty darn proud - those two categories make up 83% of Americans overall - but this catches my attention:
Most people (59%) say they are about as patriotic as others. Just a third (33%) claim to be more patriotic than most other Americans. Notably, those who take a particularly dim view of the federal government - including those who agree with the Tea Party movement - are among the most likely to consider themselves more patriotic than most people in this country.
In the mode of 4th of July ruminations, and as someone who works for and believes in the potential of the government, I find myself a little troubled by the upsurge in being down on it.  I make a plea for the recognition that there are good, earnest people working throughout government, for the public's benefit, and in particular for appreciation of the weakest branch of government. 

As I pointed out in April, those in the judicial branch already fear that our reverence for the rule of law (and the safety and prosperity it enables) may not transcend the generations. In times of budget stress particularly, we have more prosaic concerns with routine threats to our resources and ability to provide strong courts, access to judice, a fair and impartial system, and so on.  As Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist No. 78, the judiciary "will always be the least dangerous [department] to the political rights of the constitution" and "is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its coordinate branches . . . . "

So for Independence Day, or at least the work week right after it, thank your court system for being there.  We are thankful to have meaningful work providing for the administration of justice.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gender of Judges

One the great perks of this job is the opportunity to get to know the very impressive Chief Justices of many other states. I was pleased to see some faces I recognize on the cover of the July 2010 ABA Journal, in an article called "Tipping the Scales," about the gender diversity of high courts in the south:

"Nine of the 13 state supreme courts in the South have multiple women as justices, as does the District of Columbia. Five states have three or more—the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is that state’s court of last resort on criminal matters, has four female judges. Tennessee is one of three states with a majority of women on its supreme court. Michigan and Wisconsin are the other two. Two states have no women as justices, and neither—Idaho and Indiana—is in the South."

To round out the article, here is some more information on the courts in Texas, mostly from our Profile of Appellate and Trial Judges page. (One exception, I can just tell you that 5 of the 14 intermediate appellate courts have a woman chief justice.)  On those same courts there are 33 women justices out of 80 total.  On the district bench, 124 of 440 are women.  On the county courts of law, 72 of 231 are women. And in the justice of peace courts, 278 of 822 are women.  (Note that not every judge tells us this detail, so the numbers are not quite definitive.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

eFiling and Harris County

Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson continues to beat the drum for a free eFiling system specifically for Harris County, with a news release on June 17 and some uncritical coverage in the Houston Chronicle and Texas Lawyer.  He is absolutely right, up to a point, and quite wrong after that point. 

My office supports the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, which reports to the Supreme Court of Texas on these issues.  The major objectives of JCIT and OCA are to secure sufficient funding to transition from “pay-as-you-file” to free eFiling and support local document management systems to enable paper on demand. Courts and counties clearly have to move toward more efficient systems of moving, storing, and giving access to the information that is at the core of their business - dispute resolution.

eFiling should be free. The pay-to-file model is really geared toward private attorneys and civil cases with existing filing fees, but in the courts there are also government filers, indigent filers, self-represented filers, and criminal defense eFilers. Texas courts have had electronic filing since 2003, and in the seven years since, adoption around the state has been relatively slow, but a lot of courts and counties are on board. Handling, storing, and retrieving paper court documents remains a large and rising expense to the courts. While strong usage of eFiling would save state and local government money, an obstacle to eFiling is cost to the filers, which may range from $6 to $16 per filing.

The current model, Texas Online, also depends upon the courts using a vendor (currently NIC USA) under a contract with a separate, executive branch agency (the Department of Information Resources). This is not to say that vendor-based eFiling is the wrong idea. The processing of fees (for court costs, not convenience fees) by credit card is complex, and continuing the obligation of 24x7 help desk operations is a difficult obligation for the government staffing model (presumably Loren Jackson has thought through these complexities). But depending upon a vendor with no direct contractual link is highly problematic as a practical matter, and presents a separation of powers concern as a principled matter.

So Jackson, the JCIT and OCA all support movement away from the current business model for eFiling.  But what I envision is a free, state-supported system that provides a single portal for filing any kind of case in any Texas court from anywhere in the world. Jackson is impatient, insisting that Harris County judges and litigants demand and deserve their own free portal ahead of everyone else, and in fact to the detriment of everyone else.  The following communities, which currently use Texas Online system, are among those who stand to suffer if Harris County pulls out of the current system:  El Paso, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo, Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton, and Tyler.  Starts to look like everyone in the state versus the good citizens of Houston. Let's work together on getting where everyone agrees we need to go.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bike to Work

The people in my office know that I prefer to bike to work, and usually do.  While I ride, like on the sidewalk trail along Lamar where all the cars are creeping along, I often wonder why more people don't.  The main reason I do is, I just like it - the sensation of gliding through the air, hearing birds, connected to the world and doing comfortable work that stimulates my mind, instead of sitting in an effortless bubble and resenting the other bubbles. My preferred destination on weekends and before work when I can, is Barton Springs; nothing like a ride and swim to start the day. So I mostly just like it, but the health benefits are obvious, the traffic avoidance is peaceful, parking problems and carbon imprint are nonexistent. I also enjoy knowing the geography of Austin from a bicycle, biking with friends, and even the small amount of planning that is added to my day to include everything I need - change of clothes for work, swimsuit/towel/goggles, work itself, cell phone/wallet/sunglasses/keys - in panniers and fanny pack.  Someday I'll get a trailer and do even the dog food by bike.

Many people don't live 4 miles from work, I know; (I used to ride about 8, and that was quite doable too). And many people feel more self-conscious than I about getting to work a little sweaty (or they have more complicated hair issues after wearing a helmet). But work isn't the only place you can and should bike.  All our lives we make little loops from home, to work, to the store, to the pool, to the gym, to the hike and bike trail. (A pet peeve - those who feel virtuous driving their Tahoes downtown to exercise.)  Why not bike to the gym and to the trail, and on every loop under 4 miles that doesn't involve kids or major cargo?

State government could do considerably more to promote a bicycling cultuer among state employees.  The state has wellness initiatives and every incentive to promote employee health, less traffic, and fewer parkers (porkers?).  I would certainly volunteer to evangelize - here I am - and even to coach individuals on picking a route and getting it done.  I encourage the Texas Facilities Commission to look for opportunities to provide suitable shower and changing facilities (like the legislative staff enjoys in the Robert E. Johnson Building).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Self-Represented Litigants

I first wrote about this topic in July last year, right after starting to blog. Now I am happy to report that the Texas Forum on Self-Represented Litigants and the Courts was held April 8 and 9, 2010 in Dallas at the Belo Mansion. Sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Texas Legal Services Center, Office of Court Administration, and Legal Services Corporation, the Forum launched a statewide effort to provide Texas courts tools to help them deal with self-represented litigants. Over 120 participants attended, including members of the judiciary, legal services attorneys, court clerks and administrators, law librarians, and access to justice groups.  Panelists from various segments of the Texas court system discussed the challenges posed by the increasing numbers of self-represented litigants as well as some of the strategies that have been developed in Texas to address these challenges. Several speakers highlighted successful programs that have been implemented in other states, including self-help centers, distance services, limited scope representation, and training for court clerks and administrators.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Special Projects Committee, which coordinated the Forum, met after the Forum to evaluate the effort and determine next steps. Based on the Committee’s recommendation, the Commission decided at its May 4 meeting:

  • The Commission will request that the Supreme Court create a statewide Task Force to develop Supreme Court approved pleading and order forms for statewide use. An initial objective will be to determine what other efforts in this regard are currently underway and what is happening on a local level throughout the state, and then to bring all of these efforts under one umbrella.
  • The Commission will establish a committee that is dedicated solely to assisted pro se issues. The committee’s charge will include:
    • Considering legislative proposals that may direct financial resources for assisted self-help programs
    • Engaging in the education of clerks, law librarians, the judiciary, and the private bar, and advising stakeholders of financial and other resources available to assist with their efforts
    • Identifying best practices and communicating those to all interested parties
    • Coordinating/Serving as statewide clearinghouse for available resources
    • Continuing to monitor and assist the development of programs on a local level.
Those interested should monitor the listserv and the Access to Justice Commission’s website for information about self-represented litigant issues and projects.
And most important (I buried the lead again), today the Office of Court Administration, Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and Texas Legal Services Center published a manual for clerks and court personnel who work with self-represented litigants: "Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: Guidelines and Instructions for Clerks and Court Personnel Who Work with Self-Represented Litigants in Texas State Courts." It is available on our Publications, Forms and Online Information page (which has a ton of material, look under Manuals and Handbooks towards the bottom).  The manual is intended to help clerks and court personnel understand the difference between legal information and legal advice. It explains why clerks and court personnel must not give advice but should give legal information. It also contains examples of permissible and impermissible ways to answer questions from the public and a list of resources and referral information.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Legislative Proposals

Every interim the Texas Judicial Council develops a series of proposals for changes to statute that will improve the administration of justice.  In 2009, as I recall, about half of the bills we proposed were enacted, which is a pretty good batting average considering how many bills always die, and of course considering what happened on the House floor last session.  This interim we have resurrected those proposals that did not pass and begun to add more.  You can view the current list of ideas on a new page on the Judicial Council's website. Legislators and staff are encouraged to let me know if they are interested in authoring any of these ideas.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strategic Planning

My office is in the midst of developing our next strategic plan, which is due to be turned in on June 18th.  Our current plan is already on the web if anyone is interested.  I have been developing the text for that portion of the plan labelled "External/Internal Assessment," where we have the ability to frame some issues, describe strategic initiatives, and so on.  The current draft of this portion of our new document is posted on the OCA website just below the current strategic plan, here is the link directly to my draft.  I welcome input on this document, as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Justice Reinvestment

I think I first heard this phrase used by Tony Fabelo at the CSG Justice Center, in reference to their work which eventually led to a national summit in January 2010, and which is summarized as "a data-driven strategy to reduce spending on corrections, increase public safety, and improve conditions in the neighborhoods to which most people released from prison return."  Their work has been with state governments in places like Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Nevada.

My friend and former colleague Nancy LaVigne, at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, has just launched their website to connect justice reinvestment to the local level of government (JRLL).
The JRLL model includes five obvious but critical elements that any local justice initiative should follow:
  1. Collect and analyze relevant criminal justice data: aids stakeholders in targeting interventions based on risks to public safety.
  2. Develop and implement alternative strategies: enables the county to identify interventions that address the key drivers of criminal justice costs.
  3. Document costs and potential savings: clarifies the financial impact of the criminal justice population on various agencies' budgets.
  4. Reinvest in the community and the jail: measures the impact of activities to increase savings and improve public safety.
  5. Assess the impact of reinvestment strategies: reinvestment can be focused on prevention strategies in the jail or specific neighborhoods.
I have a couple of ideas for a new species of "justice reinvestment" in Texas. The beginning point is to identify sustainable funding strategies to support the growth and performance management of problem-solving courts: drug courts, family drug courts, veterans courts, mental health courts, prostitution courts, etc.  Currently the governor's Criminal Justice Division spends about $7.3 million on this program, but recent requests for grants for new courts exceeded $10 million. The first idea is to look at reinvesting some or all of the funding that currently supports any excess capacity in the SAFP (Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility) regime.

Second, look for strategies to promote larger jurisdictions establishing problem-solving courts by persuading civil judges to transition to this new calling.  It is my belief that most or all urban areas in Texas have more judges than they need for the civil caseload, and often too few judges in the criminal or family realms.  As I noted back in January, the workload overall is only 20% civil, so if 30% of a locality's judges do civil cases, there is probably a mismatch of judicial resources.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Evidence-Based Sentencing

Everywhere you turn there is talk of evidence-based practices in criminal justice, in fact I talked about this on February 8 when the model curriculum for judges came out from the National Center for State Courts, The National Judicial College, and the Crime and Justice Institute. 

More recently an NIC-funded report came out from the Center for Effective Public Policy, in partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Justice Management Institute, and The Carey Group, entitled "A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems."  It looks like a good document, but I must say that everywhere I look at this issue, I see unresolved the problem of reconciling EBP with plea bargaining.  The NIC report nicely summarizes the issue (but ultimately punts) thus:
[F]ew jurisdictions have available to them information about an offender’s risk to reoffend or criminogenic needs at the point of plea negotiation, meaning that key decisionmakers—prosecutors and defenders—negotiate these agreements absent information about how best to influence future criminal behavior based on the unique characteristics of the offender being sentenced. As a result, in most jurisdictions, cases are passed along to corrections and/or probation, which then assess risk/needs and, in many cases, work to retrofit research-based interventions to court-imposed sentencing parameters. Arguably, the introduction of risk/need information at the plea stage—and perhaps earlier—could have a profound effect on judicial decisions, and yet this is not without its due process and resource challenges. This is another of the important issues the initiative will address in Phase II.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Promising Court Practices

In this time of budget cuts, courts across Texas should be looking for solutions to deliver justice more efficiently and effectively. Last Friday my office and our Judicial Council Committee on Court Resources met with representatives of the Travis County Court system for a lively briefing on several promising initiatives that they have implemented. Our enormous thanks to District Clerk Rodriquez-Mendoza and Judges Naranjo, Dietz, Lynch and Earle, and their talented staff. We learned more about:

  •  The Law Library's self help program;
  • I-Jury Online jury impaneling;
  • Travis County Impact Supervision;
  • paperless courtroom practice in the civil courts, including Efiling, document management, and the brand new Civil Courts Online site which lawyers can use to schedule hearings;
  • and the broad variety of problem-solving courts they operate: drug diversion, DWI, misdemeanor and felony mental health, and veterans court.
Other promising Texas court practices that are documented on the Internet include:

 Counties such as Harris and El Paso that use direct electronic filing of criminal cases, see “Evaluating the Impact of Direct Electronic Filing in Criminal Cases: Closing the Paper Trap,” Task Force on Indigent Defense (2006).
Recent study results on mental health courts and mental health public defender offices in Tarrant, Dallas and Travis counties. These programs create means through which an arrest can be used to address therapeutic needs. From its findings the study concludes that these specialty interventions offer good alternatives to incarceration that save money and address fundamental problems leading to criminal behavior.

The use of court performance measures to become “radically transparent” in Lubbock County, see “Radical Transparency in Action,” Lubbock County Board of Judges (2007), and other materials available on their website.
Based in Lubbock, the Regional Capital Public Defender Office, which is serving 65 counties and hopes to expand to serve 240.

The Committee on Court Resources also recently surveyed county auditors on their court budget situations, and learned (or learned more) about the following local initiatives, many motivated by jail population:
Williamson County: the County Attorney's 2007 direct-file case screening system to speed up adult misdemeanor dockets and alleviate jail crowding, and implementation of Tyler Odyssey's Prosecutor software.
Tom Green County: systemwide meetings to expedite processing times for jail inmates, cutting out of county housing costs by 96%.

Tarrant County: Differentiated Felony Court Management in the Tarrant County system, resulting fewer pending cases and reduced numbers awaiting trial in the jail; and the Tarrant District Attorney's Efiling and electronic open access to case files for defense counsel.

Nacogdoches County: video magistration by justices of the peace and a paper-ready position in the district clerk's office to speed the process of getting an inmate ready to transfer to TDCJ (from 38 days down to 3!), yielding a 32% decrease in jail population and allowing elimination of one jail shift.

Kerr County: a new weekly plea docketand video teleconferencing between courthouse and jail, and exploration of more video connections for the counties around Kerr that share judicial districts.

Hunt County: An intake prosecutor to eliminate a backlog; bar code scanning for tracking of court evidence; and audio/video technology for courtroom presentation of evidence.

Harris County: Creation of the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to implement recommendations from a Justice Management Institute report involving jail population, indigent defense, special needs offenders, and other systemic issues; and a State Jail Impact Court for early and meaningful intervention on drug offenders.

Grimes County: Video magistration, streamlined attorney ad litem compensation; and clustering child protection and IV-D courts for greater efficiency.

Fayette County: Moving to Tyler Odyssey case management.

Dallas County: Several varieties of specialty courts and an updated system for attorney appointments.

Castro County: More frequent hearings to reduce jail population, and regular checks of criminal cases to discover those that may have slipped past due to out-of-county bonding.

Cass County: Construction of a criminal justice center with space to allow both district and county court to operate simultaneously.

Camp County: Adding scanning capability and a computer to the district court room for access to case records from the bench.

Cameron County: County-wide information technology implementation.

Caldwell County: Additional district attorneys, and judges receiving a weekly jail roster to help move cases.

Burleson County: Court compliance officer to aid in collection of fines, fees and costs.

Bexar County: Magistration system, rocket docket, and movement toward credit card acceptance for all courts to expedite payments.

Bastrop County: Special attention to processing cases in compliance with indigent defense requirements.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Earlier this week I attended an interesting workshop put on by UT Law Library and Public.Resource.Org, to promote "a proposed registry and repository of all primary legal materials of the United States." There were lots of librarians, including those from Tarlton, the Legislative Reference Library, and the State Law Library, people from the legal publishing industry including law bloggers, bar and court representatives, and the conveners. We reviewed the current offerings in Texas at the state legislative and judicial levels,as well as the Administrative Code and several options for viewing municipal ordinances. We talked about authentication and the definition of "primary legal materials"; see the law.gov website for their definition of the latter, which I note includes appellate briefs. As for the former, one thing we did not discuss about authentication of primary sources was a project that might be of interest to my friends in the law school world:

"A Note on Authenticity: With the law, close just isn't good enough. Primary legal materials need to be authentic and digitally signed. As the American Association of Law Librarians said in their ground-breaking report at the AALL National Summit on Authentic Legal Information in the Digital Age, 'it is time to save the legal information system.' We propose to enlist the law students of America as auditors during the startup phase of Law.Gov, asking students to systematically compare on-line to printed materials. The students would gain reputation points in the registry, which they could use to demonstrate their public service when applying for jobs or clerkships. Would such a system work? When we tour the law schools, we intend to dig in and ask that very question."

The most stimulating part of the day was provided by two practitioners of computational legal studies(TM), who used techniques I cannot pretend to describe, to present topics I could understand, such as "Visualizing Temporal Patterns in the United States Supreme Court’s Network of Citations," "The Development of Structure in the Citation Network of the United States Supreme Court," and "Six Degrees of Marbury v. Madison : A Sink Based Visualization." Fascinating stuff, check it out.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Texas Judicial Organization

As a strategic challenge, the most significant and pervasive issue from a state perspective is the high degree of decentralization, complexity, and shared local/state responsibility within the Texas court “system.” The (1993) Citizen’s Commission on the Texas Judicial System said:

"Texas has no uniform judicial framework to guarantee the just, prompt and efficient disposition of a litigant’s complaint. The framers of our Constitution deliberately designed a system to 'localize' justice, establishing a multiplicity of largely autonomous, conveniently located courts across the state. With the passage of time, the organization of the courts has become more, not less, cumbersome."

More recently (2007), the tort reform group Texans for Lawsuit Reform described the system thus:

"The Texas judicial system is complicated, inefficient, and poorly structured to handle modern litigation. Since its basic structure was created in the late 1800s, it has been expanded periodically on a purely ad hoc basis. As a result, the system is replete with anomalies and peculiarities. Problems exist at every level and extend to the administration and funding of the courts. Comprehensive reform is needed to produce greater coherence, efficiency and accountability."

In the system as described in these excerpts, there are a lot of actors. Along with everyone else in 254 counties (by far the largest number in the United States), many of them independently elected officials such as district and county clerks, there are over 3,700 judges currently working in Texas:
98 appellate judges on 16 appellate courts
453 district judges in 453 districts
129 associate judges, magistrates etc. (non-elected judges)
280 visiting judges eligible for assignment (previously elected judges)
254 constitutional county judges (not all of whom hear cases)
249 county court at law and statutory probate judges
822 justices of the peace
+1463 municipal judges (non-elected judges)
= 3,748 judges

The system is not only localized, it is administratively fragmented at the state level. Several functions that should naturally fall within the administrative office of the courts as an arm of the Supreme Court, which has constitutional responsibility for administration of the judicial branch, do not: administration of drug courts, which resides in the Office of the Governor under Ch. 469, Health & Safety Code; administration of adult probation, which resides in the Department of Criminal Justice under Ch. 509, Government Code; and certification of court interpreters, which is handled by the Department of Licensing and Regulation under Ch. 57, Government Code. The power of appointing the nine regional presiding judges, who in turn appoint visiting judges and hear recusal motions, rests with the Governor instead of with the Chief Justice or the Supreme Court. And although the Supreme Court has constitutional responsibility for the administration of the judicial branch, judicial education was legislated away from the Supreme Court in 1993, to be administered by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The high degree of decentralization, complexity, and shared local/state responsibility within the Texas court system creates a challenge for any who would strive for greater efficiency, uniformity, or standardization. However, shared governance of the mechanics of justice is embedded in the Texas Constitution and carried forward by the Philosophy of Texas State Government: “Decisions affecting individual Texans, in most instances, are best made by those individuals, their families, and the local government closest to their communities.”