Idaho State of the Judiciary: “the judiciary is still fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to the people”

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

In what may prove to unique among the State of the Judiciary addresses, Idaho Chief Justice Daniel T. Eismann delivered his speech to the Idaho House and Senate separately. On January 19, the Chief Justice spoke first to House members (no resolution, only an introduction to the House by the chair of the Judiciary, Rules, and Administration committee) and about an hour later to the Senate (again, no resolution, only a motion to escort the Chief Justice into the chamber).

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

In spite of the challenges resulting from the economic downturn, the judiciary is still fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to the people.

The emergency surcharge on infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies enacted last year has enabled the Judicial Branch of government to continue to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities. One of our judges did his part by receiving a traffic ticket the first day the surcharge went into effect.

One of the challenges in domestic violence cases is the victim being pressured to dismiss the case or refuse to testify. Domestic violence courts provide victims with early access to advocacy and services. We have seen a decrease in dismissed cases and a 20% increase in guilty pleas, with 87% of the offenders doing so.

The domestic violence courts are just one type of our problem-solving courts. We also have 56 drug and mental health courts throughout the state, which include DUI courts. The current prison population is significantly below the projection made several years ago, and I believe that our drug and mental health courts are partly responsible.

We will be proposing a modification to the statutory eligibility guidelines for drug and mental health courts to allow us to provide additional help for our returning veterans.

In July 2009, we implemented an expedited appellate process for [termination of parental rights and adoptions] cases, with the appeals going directly from the magistrate court to the Supreme Court. Now, it takes on average 126 days from the entry of judgment in the magistrate court to oral argument on appeal in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.

Last year, I wrote to various state agencies and nongovernmental entities offering to meet with them to discuss any suggestions, complaints, or other issues they may have with the judiciary, and I met with those who responded. I have also traveled to over half of the counties to meet with county officials seeking the same input…The primary issue raised by the counties was the cost of the criminal justice system, including prosecution, public defenders for indigent defendants, and county jails.

We have also seen an increased need for foreign language interpreters in the trial courts. In addition to providing due process for criminal defendants who are not proficient in the English language, the courts must also comply with federal and state statutory mandates applicable in both criminal and civil cases.

However, court assistance offices and online interactive forms are not an effective replacement for legal counsel in many domestic relations cases, especially those involving children. There is a need to provide assistance for many litigants in such cases who cannot afford an attorney. One possible solution would be to increase the cost of a marriage license by $20, which would generate about $280,000 a year that could be used to provide legal assistance in civil cases involving children and families.

As I mentioned last year, in the 1980’s you funded the statewide case management system known as ISTARS, which was the first system in the nation that included every trial court case filed in the state…ISTARS also identifies those people who owe more than $50 and sends that information electronically, along with identifying information, to the State Tax Commission. Last year, the Commission intercepted over $3.2 million dollars in income tax refunds which were used to make payments of restitution to crime victims, fines, and court costs that were past due in over 16,000 cases statewide

We are continually seeking ways to use technology to increase productivity and reduce costs. We intend to implement electronic filing of documents in trial courts so that attorneys and private citizens can file documents over the internet.

We have also seen an increased difficulty in attracting qualified candidates to apply for district judge positions. The last two district judge openings attracted only two qualified applicants, one for each position.

Part-time senior judges have played a critical role in enabling the judiciary to dispose of cases in a timely manner. Last year, the days worked by senior judges were the equivalent of almost nine judicial positions, which translates into significant savings to the citizens of Idaho and the general fund.