Hawaii State of the Judiciary: “Justice is not something that should be rationed.”

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

Hawaii’s Legislature requested (SCR 1 of 2011) new Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald  deliver his State of the Judiciary Address on January 26. Chief Justice Recktenwald did so (full text here).

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech included:

Our core mission at the judiciary is to administer justice…But our role is not confined to deciding cases. Over the years, we have been given additional duties as well. We now play a role in addressing the problems that underlie those disputes, and in helping to alleviate their human impact…There is a common thread running through these broadened expectations. I believe it can be summed up as follows: our citizens want to be treated fairly and they want a justice system that works.

In the last two years, our general fund appropriation was reduced by $19.7 million, or more than 13%, while demand for our services has continued to increase….These reductions in our resources have had substantial negative effects throughout the judicial system. They have reduced, delayed, and in some cases, eliminated important services.

The time it typically takes to process an uncontested divorce has doubled…The number of pending civil cases in our district courts increased by almost 100% from FY2008 through FY2010…Not surprisingly, since the resources available to address that increased caseload have been reduced, the median age of pending civil cases in circuit court has increased by more than 40 percent.

Adequately funding the state court system is an investment in justice, and an investment in our community, that should not be compromised even during tough economic times.

Justice is not something that should be rationed. The costs of attempting to do so will be far higher in the long run, than any savings that can be realized now.

Across the judiciary, there is a real commitment to finding more efficient and effective ways to serve the public. The HOPE probation program, which is based on the simple premise of holding probationers immediately accountable when they use drugs or fail to report to their probation officer, has achieved remarkable results. Positive drug tests have been reduced by 83% among participants in HOPE probation, while recidivism has been cut in half.

Our other specialty court programs–such as mental health court, girls court, and juvenile drug court–continue to make great strides in addressing the needs of those specialized populations.

Our electronic case management system, called JIMS for short, has enabled us to address some long-standing, and seemingly intractable problems, such as delays in issuing bench warrants, and collecting traffic fines and assessments…Just this fall, we expanded JIMS to include filings in our appellate courts…In the years ahead we will bring electronic filing to the criminal courts, followed by the civil and then family courts.

It has become increasingly costly and time consuming to take a case to trial. Indeed, in FY 2010, more than 5,000 civil cases were filed statewide in the circuit courts, but only 14 civil cases were tried to a jury verdict.

Many of Hawaii’s low and moderate income families are unable to obtain the legal services that they need in the best of times, and the unmet need has become greater in these difficult economic conditions. The Access to Justice Hui concluded in 2007 that only about one in five low to moderate income Hawaii residents have their civil legal needs met…As a result of the recommendations of the Hui, the Hawaii Supreme Court formed the Access to Justice Commission in 2008…The challenges posed by access to justice illustrate a fundamental truth about the judiciary–in order to solve the many challenges we face, we must work collaboratively with other organizations and members of our community.

We are blessed with a strong volunteer program, which contributed 39,000 hours to the judiciary in the past fiscal year.

Although the judiciary must be completely independent and neutral when we decide cases, we must also engage the community in as many ways as possible to promote understanding of our constitution and our system of law. To further that goal, the supreme court has begun holding oral argument at different locations in the community, starting with Kapolei in December, and at the Richardson School of Law next month.

We know that there are many competing demands for our state’s scarce resources, and that we cannot reasonably seek a greater share of those resources without first ensuring that our own house is in order, and that we are using the resources we do have in the most effective and efficient way possible.

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