In the first “Shared Solutions Summit” this week in Austin, judges, clerks, prosecutors, attorneys and others involved in the courts across Texas shared best practices and procedures for handling criminal, child protection, juvenile and civil cases.
The conference and other that follow, led by Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, promotes the exercise of judicial leadership at the local level, the use of data-driven strategies, and a collaborative approach to ensure that cases are disposed efficiently and with improved outcomes.
For example, Bell County courts, serving a Fort Hood population, see a high volume of divorce matters and high percentage of self-represented litigants. They already have some good procedures but at the Summit identified the idea, from Lubbock, of developing a video to orient litigants. The Fannin County team worked on enhancing their mental health diversion court, with new ideas for grant funding, and an offer to learn more from Judge Susan Hawk’s Dallas County mental health court. Conference evaluations praised the ability to interact within teams, with other teams, and with people who have “done it” and were willing to share their experience.
“This whole conference is about courts, and courts are devised for helping people with their sometimes critical problems,” Chief Justice Jefferson said. “These all-too-real human problems present major cost and management problems for all of us in the courts – and for the people of Texas. And while justice is a tiny fraction of the state budget, it is a major component of local budgets.”
As leaders working to assure justice in the state’s communities, he said, the participants in this summit show their determination to make courts work better by attending.
The Shared Solutions Summit was started by Chief Justice Jefferson and the Texas Judicial Council, a policymaking body which he chairs. The Texas Conference of Urban Counties provided primary financing, with financial or substantive support from the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Supreme Court Children’s Commission, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center, the Texas Center for the Judiciary, the Texas Association of Counties, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the National Center for State Courts, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the State Justice Institute. Jefferson hopes to offer the program to a new group of local teams at least every other year.