Best Practices Committee
September 17, 2012
Board for Judicial Administration
Best Practices Committee
September 17, 2012
Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall, Co-Chair
Judge Jean Rietschel, Co-Chair
Judge Stephanie Arend
Ms. Pat Austin (via phone)
Ms. Susan Carlson
Ms. Terri Cooper (via phone)
Ms. Sandy Ervin
Ms. Cynthia Marr
Mr. Ron Miles
Ms. Lisa Rumsey
Ms. Karen Dinan (alternate for WSBA)
AOC Staff Present:
Ms. Colleen Clark
Mr. David Elliott
Dr. Carl McCurley (via phone)
The meeting was called to order by Judge Quinn-Brintnall. Those present and on the phone introduced themselves. Judge Quinn-Brintnall welcomed Mr. David Elliott, the new AOC staff person, replacing Julia Appel who retired earlier this year.
It was noted that the committee has been inactive for a period of time due to staff’s legislative work, budget constraints and retirement. The meeting packet contains a lot of background information for new and returning members.
Caseflow Measure & Jury Measure (Tab 2)
Mr. Elliott provided a quick summation of these two measures. They have been tested, reviewed and accepted by this committee and are ready for review by the Board for Judicial Administration (BJA).
Judge Rietschel provided some background for those new to the committee. These two measures, and the completed measures behind Tab 1, have been tested by AOC staff in (volunteer) courts and then AOC reports back to the committee about the process and findings. The committee discusses the standards and outcomes and whether they are or are not working; adjustments are made if needed. Then the committee-approved measures are sent on to the BJA for review/approval. Once they are approved, it is expected they will be integrated over a period of approximately 18 months to two years.
Judge Quinn-Brintnall pointed out that the process has positive outcomes – during the process of testing the jury measure, it was discovered that a couple of jury summons forms had an inappropriate box included that has since been deleted (a check box for those over 70 to be permanently excused).
There was a question asking why there is no plan to look at clearance rates in courts of limited jurisdiction. The response was that, between the districts and the cities, the CLJ’s have varied computer systems, information is coded and entered differently, it would be difficult to hold courts to a measure when the data is so varied and unreliable.
Judge Quinn-Brintnall concluded by saying that the reason this committee is working on performance audits is a result of GR 32 (referring to RCW Chapter 2.56, which gives the state auditor authority to do performance audits, see Tab 6). We wanted to show that we, as the third branch of government, are willing to be accountable and show data.
Court of Appeals Caseload Measure – Progress Update
The BPC began by looking at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) CourTools Measures related to “time to resolution,” “age of active pending caseload” and “clearance rates.” The CourTools measures for trial courts were rejected by the BPC as not an appropriate measure for Washington’s intermediate appellate courts. Judge Quinn-Brintnall reported that the Court of Appeals (COA) has assembled a caseflow management committee(CMC). The BPC decided that initially, the job of discerning appropriate measures should be given to the CMC. Preliminarily the CMC determined that RAPs set out a minimum of 225 days from the filing of the notice of appeal to the ready date (when the respondent’s brief is filed) in a civil case, 255 in a criminal case. Until those things are done the case is not ready for judicial review. After the case is ready for review the case is screened, the record and briefs are read, the law is researched and a research memorandum on the case is presented to the assigned panel for review. To allow for this necessary preparation, the date the case will be reviewed at oral argument or conference must be one or two calendars following the ready date.
Following extensive study several years ago it was determined that each Court of Appeals judge should author between 70 and 80 majority opinions a year. Because it reviews cases in panels of three this means each judge reviews between 210 and 240 cases a year. The Court of Appeals judges believe 240 cases to be a temporary maximum which cannot be reasonably sustained over time. When 80 cases becomes the consistent minimum, additional judges are needed. The CMC appears to agree. Currently, cases are being set for review two to three and sometimes four calendars or more following the ready date. Although some time to review the record and briefing is required, four calendars are too long. But, without additional judicial capacity or reduced case filings, this is not anticipated to change.
The caseflow survey and data show a significant number of extensions of time for filing clerk’s papers, verbatim reports of proceedings and briefs. Although not desirable, because each division is working at or above the 70-80 case-per-judge capacity, these extensions do not impact the ultimate time for filing of opinions. If extensions of time for readying the case for review ceased without adding additional judges, it would increase the case backlog but would not affect the time from filing the notice of appeal to filing of the opinion. The parties would simply hurry up to wait.
The CMC has determined that there are some significant slowdowns, however. One is that time from oral argument or conferencing to the filing of the final Opinion in some cases is too long. It was realized that in Division II some of the delay was because electronic signatures are not available; the delay could be reduced by about 10 days by utilizing electronic signatures. An electronic signature pilot project (with hardcopy back up) will be tried.
Suggestions that the court of appeals speed up case resolution times by issuing “Decisions without opinions” and “summary affirmances” have not been approved by the CMC. A target date rule similar to that used in other states (in the form of X% of cases within Y number of days) is being considered.
The CMC will do a report for approval by COA judicial members after which it will be presented to the BPC and, if all goes well, on to the BJA.
Recommendations for Approval
There was a quick walk-through of the information behind Tabs 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Judge Quinn-Brintnall asked Dr. McCurley if the Washington State Center for Court Research (WSCCR) followed GR 32. Dr. McCurley replied that the WSCCR works on validation of measures for this committee. In general, when they do a performance review of an area (outside this committee) it is in the form of a process or outcomes evaluation. They have statutory authority to review practices of the courts and provide recommendations for changes to those practices (see RCW 2.56.030). The work the WSCCR has done has not been considered to be covered under GR 32. If the WSCCR was doing performance reviews on a more regular basis, they will look at an authorizing court rule/statute.
Next Subject: Trial Date Certainty
Judge Rietschel said the committee needs to choose a new measure to move forward on; she is proposing we look at trial date certainty for superior courts. Discussion followed regarding this suggestion.
Ms. Ervin remarked that the culture of the court continually changes. Her court (Okanogan District) has status conferences and readiness conferences. There would be measurable data that could be accessed.
Mr. Miles said that at Spokane Superior a consultant advised them to take back first appearances (which District Court had been doing) because so many cases were being lost. In Superior Court there is more accountability, cases are either filed or dismissed, but not held in limbo.
Judge Arend said in Pierce Superior there is a master calendar for criminal cases and all civil cases are individually calendared.
Judge Rietschel said that King Superior is very complicated. Civil trials generally get out the week they’re set (not necessarily the day) and there is a higher priority for family law cases.
Ms. Marr said that Pierce District uses a readiness system similar to Okanogan District. There are few civil jury trials and they have some underlying data that has consistency with other CLJ courts. They do keep a trailing calendar; if the first case can’t proceed, then the next in line would go. Through education, courts may be able to improve consistency.
Judge Quinn-Brintnall was curious about the speedy trial rule (CrR 3.3). It is supposed to speed up the date of arraignment, but the perception is that it does not. Do we think this is protecting something it really isn’t? Could there be a negative effect – court time being taken up with continuances, etc.?
Ms. Dinan said in her experience civil trials were always contingent on how criminal trials were doing. She’s unsure if civil cases (being dependent on criminal cases) will afford a good picture. It might make sense to look at family law cases, although they are very complicated and even those would be lined up behind criminal cases.
Ms. Carlson expressed concern that the piece of information useful to the court, reason for continuances – is not something we would be able to collect. If the purpose is to look at efficiency, we need to know if they don’t have sufficient room or people to cover them. How do we set a standard with vague information, will the information actually be useful?
Dr. McCurley said some things are tracked better than others. For example, dates for major proceedings do have a good quality. We could look at all information available for a court, and then talk to clerks/administrators to see what information is valid; begin excavating data, then have the reports validated by the courts.
Judge Rietschel suggested superior court civil is the best place to start. Because of the public defense issue, criminal information might be in flux for awhile. What does the committee think?
There was a general consensus from those present to proceed with trial date certainty for the superior court civil cases.
Three additional one-hour meetings were scheduled; it is expected they will be via conference call/eCCL computer participation. Further information regarding the eCCL will be provided prior to the December meeting.
December 5, 2012 @ 3:00
May 8, 2013 @ 3:00
July 10, 2013 @ 3:00
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