Guam State of the Judiciary: Trying to achieve “justice that works”, proposed amendment to Organic Act for judicial funding

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

So far, every State of the Judiciary address mentioned has been for a state. On April 26, however Chief Justice F. Philip Carbullido of the Supreme Court of [the Territory of] Guam gave his address to the unicameral Guam Legislature (Liheslaturan Guåhan).

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

Introduction

As I prepared my remarks, I found myself reflecting quite seriously on the nature of these addresses. It has become a tradition with Justices across the country to use this opportunity to present bold initiatives and grand proposals. Indeed, in the past, other Chief Justices, myself included, have often used this occasion to pronounce upon the Big. Big plans. Big projects. Big vision. In many ways, however, we find ourselves in an arrestingly new historical moment.

As I reflected on the Judiciary’s place in our tripartite government, I found myself reciting over and over in my mind the basic principles I learned in junior high school civics classes. We the People. Representative democracy. Three separate but co-equal branches. So, while it may seem rather basic, particularly to the esteemed lawmakers in the room, I would like to begin today with a little civics lesson. It is my thinking that this small digression will help frame the issues I will discuss in turn, relative to the responsiveness, challenges, and needs of our judicial branch.

Budgets, Priorities, Leadership

From a substantially reduced budget, we are still only averaging less than 80% of the cash allotments that are due to us. Despite the passage of a public law which was intended to guarantee the payment to the Judiciary of a percentage of its cash allotments based on revenue collected by the Government of Guam, the Judiciary’s shortfalls continue…Notwithstanding, I have been informed that, even if we receive 100% of our allotments
for the remainder of the fiscal year (which in itself is a big “IF”), we will still be around half a million dollars in the red.

As the head of the judicial branch, it is my responsibility to report to our policymakers and to the people of Guam on the state of your Judiciary.

Challenged, Yet Responsive

We are responding…with focus and resolve: by being innovative in hard times, by living within our means, by our self-imposed austerity measures, by returning to the details, by getting back to basics and providing our community with a justice system that works.What I mean by “justice that works” is a justice system that is operational, a system that is effective and efficient, a system that is both adjudicatory and therapeutic, a system that is collaborative with other entities and involved in our community, and a system that is accessible to all.

Despite these financially trying times, the Judiciary is arguably better placed to continue to thrive because we are forward-looking…We continue to set the bar high in being responsive and providing quality service in the face of economic hardship. We do this by adjudicating cases in a fair, impartial, prompt, and respectful manner.

In an effort to keep our employees more accountable and productive, we are revising our employee evaluation system. We are considering adopting an evaluation system that is goal oriented.

Sorely Needed Upgrades

But perhaps the most significant development to report today with regard to our increased effectiveness and efficiency is the new Case Management System that will soon be implemented. This is a sorely needed upgrade. Finding the right computer system capable of updating our archaic green-screen-based system is the 21st century equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack…Hand-in-hand with our CMS upgrade is the improvements made by our Management Information Systems division.

Adjudicative and Therapeutic Services

When everyday citizens think of our courts, they probably conjure up the classic images of the courtroom: black-robed judges, suited attorneys, and defendants anxiously awaiting verdicts. In short, crime and punishment. However, the Judiciary is not simply adjudicative in function.

Because our cases rarely involve a single harm or problem, the Judiciary has had to create services to assist individuals affected by various sorts of judicial involvement…Between Client Services and Probation, the Judiciary provides daily assistance to drug addicts and theft victims alike, through a complex array of services such as individual and family counseling, group counseling, couples/conciliation, and in-house consultation. In addition to these, the Judiciary obtained a federal grant last year to enhance Guam’s Domestic Violence Court under Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena…In 2010, the Judiciary also expanded its therapeutic reach by adding yet another specialty court, known as the DWI Court, for offenses involving Driving While Intoxicated…We are also committed to being a cooperative community partner…The Judiciary also plays a vital role in promoting the understanding of our legal system by continuing to implement law-related education programs for our youth.

We know the Judiciary’s priorities may never be fully shared by the governor or the senators. For as long as there is something out there that our elected leaders find more important or more pressing – and there is good reason to believe there always will be – the Judiciary, to put it bluntly, will continue to be short-changed.

An Alternative Funding Structure

The Organic Act of Guam, which serves as our constitutional document, did not always provide for a judicial branch. Indeed, while the Organic Act established the legislative and executive branches, it vested the Legislature with the power to both create and abolish the judicial branch.

In 2002, I delivered the State of the Judiciary Address on behalf of my colleague, former Chief Justice Peter C. Siguenza. In that address, I conveyed the dangers of the system as it was, which left the Judiciary vulnerable to the political whims of elected leaders. The amendment we proposed to Congress established Guam’s Judiciary as an independent, co-equal branch of government. The proposal was met with mixed reviews, to say the least. It was criticized by many, staunchly opposed by some, even laughed at by others. Few believed we would succeed in our efforts. But in the end, the United States Congress heard us and amended the Organic Act.

I share this today not to tout this successful endeavor but to suggest that maybe it is time to provide within our de facto constitution, the Guam Organic Act, a reliable funding structure for the Judiciary. I have tried in the past to compare the services the Judiciary provides to basic essential infrastructure, like power, water, and roads, in an effort to emphasize that the Judiciary is similarly essential to maintaining law and order in our island – and should be prioritized accordingly. Unfortunately, analogies are not enough. And I cannot begin to describe the danger that a gaunt Judiciary portends. Where justice fails, so too does governance and the democratic enterprise. We cannot allow that to happen. This is why I am proposing an amendment to the Organic Act. It is my deep conviction as a jurist that this is not a step in defiance of government, but rather, it is a step in defense of it.

Conclusion

While I am proud of the positive contributions made by the Judiciary in spite of our financial challenges, I cannot help but see a situation for what it is. These are serious times and if we are going to survive them – and by we I mean all of us – we are going to have to be attentive guardians of our individual branches. I trust that the Judiciary’s self-imposed austerity measures, as well as our consideration for possible shortened work weeks in the near future, convey how serious your third branch of government is in being a watchful keeper of its own corner.