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 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 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 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
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,
3. Texas SRL Listserv for Court System Stakeholders – Membership is free, but the site requires registration:
4. – 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:
6. Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Se Information page:

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.