Colorado State of the Judiciary: trust of citizens, rule of law, service to the public

July 10th, 2013 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of current and prior State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

With the adoption of HJR 1003 of 2013 the Colorado House and Senate met in Joint Session on January 11, 2013 to hear the State of the Judiciary Address from Chief Justice Michael L. Bender.

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) below the fold.

As I speak you will hear me emphasize three major themes:

  • One, is the importance of citizen’s trust in the rule of law in our democracy.
  • Two, is the way in which the judicial branch in Colorado furthers the rule of law for our citizens.
  • Three, is the importance for the courts and the legal community to understand the needs of the public they serve and to collaborate to create programs that address those needs.

When citizens who go to court feel they are treated with dignity and respect, research shows that they trust the court system and are more likely to understand, appreciate and follow court orders. The term “procedural fairness” has been coined by researchers to refer to the perception of fairness by those accessing the courts.

Let me pause here to make a plea on behalf of our 3500-plus employees. A recent survey revealed that almost half of our employees sought to supplement their incomes with outside employment last year. In his budget request to the legislature, Governor Hickenlooper suggested pay increases for state workers across Colorado. The dedicated and hard-working employees of the judicial branch deserve to be included in this raise.

Three features distinguish our judiciary.

First, the judiciary enjoys strong bipartisan support from the General Assembly…

Second, our courts and probation systems are centrally financed and administered….

Third, judges are selected through a non-partisan merit-based process which ensures that the most qualified individuals are selected…

In the last two years:

  • We have increased the number of problem solving courts from 61 to 72.
  • We have increased the efficiency of the Probation Department
  • We have developed and are rolling out a court-run civil e-filing system for all civil cases to coordinate with a new, internal case management system.
  • We have responded to the growing number of pro se cases.
  • We have reviewed more than 35,000 guardianships and conservatorships to ensure that protected persons are indeed being protected.
  • We are beginning the second year of our civil action pilot program in the metro area.
  • We have increased lawyers’ commitment to giving free representation to folks who can’t afford to hire a lawyer from 70,000 committed hours last year to 109,000 committed hours this year.
  • We have improved procedural fairness.

Through the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession, we have brought together the three main pillars of the legal profession — judges, lawyers, and Colorado’s two law schools — in an effort to extend the mission of the judiciary to the legal profession as a whole.

There are two more initiatives that deserve special recognition for their contribution to building public trust in the fairness and accessibility of the judicial system in Colorado. The first, the Mesa County Criminal justice group, serves as a shining example of how stakeholders with divergent interests, can work together to solve community legal problems. The second, the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center, represents a judicial branch milestone achieved due to the cooperation and bi-partisan efforts of the General Assembly.

For our democracy to thrive, citizens must trust in the rule of law. Judges are the leaders of the judicial system and the face of justice in the eyes of the public. To earn the respect of the public, they have to go beyond being fair arbiters of disputes by reaching out to their employees, to the legal profession, and to their communities.

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