Indiana’s Chief Justice gives his twenty-fourth State of the Judiciary address

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

Pursuant to HCR 1 of 2011 Chief Justice Randall Shepard presented the Indiana State of the Judiciary earlier today to a joint session of the legislature, his twenty-fourth such speech. As noted in HCR 1, Chief Justice Shepard’s address is one of the only State of the Judiciary speeches in the nation to be constitutionally based (Art. 7, Sec 3.)

The Chief Justice shall have prepared and submit to the General Assembly regular reports on the condition of the courts and such other reports as may be requested.

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:

The Mortgage Foreclosure Crisis

The first is a genuine crisis on which all three branches of Indiana government have worked:  mass foreclosures.  Foreclosure filings were even higher last year than in 2009.  While Indiana may no longer be near the top of the national list, that’s little comfort to the 43,000 new families facing loss of their homes. You recently passed legislation giving every homeowner the right to a settlement conference and the chance to negotiate for a modified loan.

The Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network led by Lieutenant Governor Skillman, the lenders, Attorney General Zoeller, the Housing and Community Development Authority, and our Division of State Court Administration have been perfecting techniques to maximize the possibility of success.  We now use these techniques in counties that have 60 percent of the foreclosures and we’ll cover the rest of the state by year’s end.  We do it all without any claim on the state’s General Fund because you’ve authorized a user’s fee on foreclosure case.s

The Smartest Sentencing Possible

Are we capable of devising a new, more reliable tool to help sort out who needs to go to prison and who probably does not?  The answer’s been yes, and last Monday a new generation risk assessment became mandatory in every criminal court and delinquency court.  We have trained and tested 2300 probation and corrections officers, drug and alcohol staff, and judges in using it.

Tackling Technology

If there’s a field where Indiana’s courts have proven themselves capable of identifying an opportunity or a problem, devising a plan to address it and executing on the plan, it is technology.

You’ll know that at your direction, every county now uses a system built by our Judicial Technology and Automation Committee (called “JTAC”) to notify law enforcement immediately when a court enters a protective order on behalf of victims of domestic violence… At your direction, JTAC has created an electronic system for notifying law enforcement when someone is adjudicated mentally ill.  Last week alone, names of 39 people adjudicated mentally ill were transmitted through the FBI so that police and gun dealers could do their part in keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. We collaborated with the Department of Revenue to build a system for transmitting tax warrants directly to local courts…All of these achievements are the result of collaboration between the judiciary and agencies like the Indiana Office of Technology, the BMV, the Department of Revenue, the Criminal Justice Institute, DCS and the State Police.  None of these could have been accomplished by the judiciary alone or by anybody else alone.

Does this matter to citizens?  If you build it, they will come. Rather than driving to the courthouse or hanging on the phone, our constituents were seeking court information this morning at the rate of more than 3400 an hour.  I’m proud that Indiana’s courts are creating a 21st Century system.

Plain English Jury Instructions

People come to the courthouse by the tens of thousands to make possible that jewel of the Bill of Rights, trial by jury.  During those trials, lawyers and judges explain the law that applies to the case jurors are being asked to decide.  Too often, we have talked to jurors about this in legalese. Committed to doing better, the Indiana Judges Association began work on what we decided to call “Plain English Jury Instructions.”  The drafting committee, led by Judges John Pera of Lake County and Carl Heldt of Evansville, and an English teacher, spent three years revising the traditional instructions. The new instructions were issued during the fall.

How Good is What We’re Doing?

In short, Indiana’s judiciary is one that keeps its feet planted firmly on Hoosier soil while keeping its eyes on the horizon.  They are men and women of high ambition who are capable of confronting a problem, devising a plan, and executing on the plan.

Why Does This Matter?

Whether we can build a better system of justice matters first and foremost to the individual citizens who come to court as part of the two million cases we hear every year.  Our first duty is give them a full and fair hearing. But whether we run a respectable court system also matters for people who have never seen the inside of a courtroom because a reliable court system is part and parcel of a decent government and a crucial element of a healthy and productive economy

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