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 4401 of 2011 Washington State Chief Justice Barbara Madsen was invited to give the State of the Judiciary before a Joint Session of the legislature Wednesday (coincidentally, at the exact same time as the Indiana State of the Judiciary address).
Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
State of the judiciary
One of the hallmarks of a democracy is a right of access to courts. It is really the fact that a country has a democracy that drives the need for courts. Democracies rely on the rule of law and the protection of individual liberties…The true meaning of the judicial branch can be seen every day as a thousand pictures making up a larger mosaic– with millions of life stories of our neighbors who use the courts.
On this level, I can report that the state of Washington’s judiciary remains strong—but stretched thin.
Ensuring quality justice
A central area of focus for the [Board for Judicial Administration] is maintaining fair and impartial courts throughout our state—staffed by well trained, professional judges.
In Washington State, we have a long history of nonpartisan election of judges. Yet, curiously, in some of our municipal courts—the so-called people’s courts—we give the city executive or legislative branches the exclusive right to decide who to appoint as a judge—and how long to keep them.
We will be asking the Legislature again this year to assure that judges from all levels of court are elected by, and accountable to, the people they serve. Fair and impartial courts—free from undue influence and control by the legislative and executive branches—are a fundamental part of our democracy.
Another major initiative of the judiciary—is working to eliminate bias in our courts…Our courts have spent enormous energy addressing bias and meaningful access to justice—but we recognize the need to reassess our progress. Shortly after becoming Chief Justice, I convened the Supreme Court Commissions, Boards and Task Forces Assessment Work Group to take a hard look at existing efforts and make recommendations for modernizing and strengthening the justice system’s ability to ensure fair treatment for all.
The core of what brings our hundreds of courts together every day is the Judicial Information System (JIS). Essentially, JIS equals justice—without JIS calendars the courts do not operate, money from traffic fines and fees are not collected and delivered to the state, and judges do not have access to criminal history information. Imagine for a moment serving as a judge and needing to make a critical bail decision without knowing the criminal history of the defendant standing before you. That is what the judiciary would face without the assistance of JIS.
Leadership in fiscal crisis
Historically this state has imposed a disproportionate responsibility for meeting essential law and justice responsibilities, including funding for courts—at the local level. In fact, Washington continues its unfortunate ranking of last in the nation—50th out of 50 states for its percentage of state funding for the courts, prosecution and criminal indigent defense…Injustices are occurring and public safety is being jeopardized as this continues.
With that in mind, the Board for Judicial Administration will seek legislation to extend the sunset provision on the filing fee surcharges added in 2009. The judicial system is a core function of government and, as such, should be funded with general fund revenues and not user fees.
Partnering in this crisis
For the past several months, all agencies of the judicial branch, in cooperation with the Governor’s Office, have reduced expenses and cut costs by more than $4.3 million, in addition to cuts in the previous two legislative sessions totaling more than $17.7 million between our state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, State Law Library, Office of Public Defense and Office of Civil Legal Aid.
Compassion in time of need
Finally, let me say that it is important to note that in times of economic turmoil and distress, we are working hard not to abandon our state’s most vulnerable residents—children in foster care, victims of domestic violence, senior citizens, the poor and others vulnerable to crime…I am tremendously proud of the work of the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD), which is working to improve the standards of public defense in trial, juvenile, and appellate courts….Similarly, the Office of Civil Legal Aid, is our state’s lifeline for civil equal justice. When there is nowhere else to turn, civil legal aid steps in…This need, given our current fiscal crisis has increased tremendously.
In closing, on behalf of the dedicated judges of Washington State, I would like to reinforce our commitment to the rule of law in our democracy. Your judges will steadfastly continue their efforts to ensure the promise of equal justice for all Washington citizens…In large part, the cornerstone of this commitment rests upon adequate and stable funding for the trial courts and we pledge to stay the course in achieving this long-term goal.