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

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.