Trial Court Coordination Councils
Project 2001 TCCC Recommendation
The following recommendation regarding trial court coordination was taken from the Project 2001 Report:
The workgroups and committees of the Project 2001 committee debated among different alternatives in bringing people together. Representatives from city and county government voiced their concern that embodying a trial court coordination initiative in a court rule has a "non-inclusive" effect on the rest of local government outside the court system. Judges suggested that changes in the way courts conduct their business should be led and managed by the judicial system in the form of a BJA resolution. Others viewed a "partnership" of cities, counties and the judicial system as the most effective way to promote voluntary coordination of services, particularly if a funding request is to be made to the legislature. After considerable discussion these points of consensus emerged:
The project recommends that each jurisdiction should establish a management committee to formalize and allow for cooperation and coordination among the trial courts in a given jurisdiction. This management committee for purposes of this committee report will be termed a "Trial Court Coordination Council."
The Trial Court Coordination Council should consist of the leadership in a given jurisdiction of the superior court, the district court and the municipal courts. In addition to the judges, a council should include senior court administrators, county clerks, lawyers and others including local officials in other branches of government that have a stake in the current system. The lawyer's representatives should include not only those that practice civil law but those in the prosecutor's office as well as the criminal defense bar. For an increased sense of cooperation to work, all stakeholders in the system must be represented at the table. While each jurisdiction should decide what specific forum will work best, e.g., a law and justice committee or another specially created group, a definitive body whose purpose is to improve the local court system is fundamental to these recommendations.
Each Trial Court Coordination Council should be charged with the responsibility in a given jurisdiction of developing a coordination plan to submit to the BJA and, thereafter, implementing such plan. This plan would set forth in some detail how a jurisdiction intends to increase cooperation and coordination, and to specify those areas where cooperation would improve the system. Under this scenario, trial courts and the Trial Court Coordination Council in a jurisdiction would receive funds from the Legislature, under the administration of BJA and the Office of the Administrator for the Courts, for each of the following activities: (i) organizing a Trial Court Coordination Council, (ii) developing a coordination plan, and (iii) implementing the coordination plan. The BJA should determine timelines that jurisdictions must follow in order to use the funding effectively.
The project emphasizes the importance of maintaining local options so that courts may develop efficient and innovative approaches that are consistent with their local legal culture. It is a responsibility of presiding judges and court managers to coordinate services and functions with other courts in their jurisdiction to achieve reduction in duplication and the maximum use of limited court resources. There are a variety of examples of collaborative efforts currently in place in Washington courts. Yakima, King, Snohomish, Jefferson, Clark and Whatcom Counties all have programs involving some level of cooperation between the superior courts and district courts. Often coordination between the district and superior courts is informal and more dependent upon circumstances and personalities than planning. Successful efforts such as these would benefit from a more formal structure to ensure their continuation. These efforts were designed locally to meet the unique needs and characteristics of each location. The project concluded that activities such as these that demonstrate best practices should be promoted to other jurisdictions for consideration, and that the Board for Judicial Administration and the Court Management Council should play a role in encouraging trial courts to coordinate their services and activities. Trial court jurisdictions should develop a plan to achieve the goals of coordination. Improvements and implementation successes should be tracked and communicated to all courts in the state.
The enormous productivity gains offered by technology, management, and customer service innovations of the past few decades have greatly expanded the opportunities for administrative cooperation, coordination, collaboration, and even consolidation in the nation's trial courts. For example, dramatic advances in computer and telecommunications technology now allow courts of all types and at all levels to rapidly, i.e., electronically, exchange information for case processing, as well as allow for new vehicles for public access to all of the courts, such as case filing using the internet. While these developments offer the potential for significant gains in the operation of Washington courts, without adequate funding of the JIS system and local data systems, these benefits will not be realized.
Moreover, court management approaches that focus on the functions of courts and the way work can be done more efficiently, rather than on the formal organization of courts, have provided numerous innovations - such as unified family courts, shared juror and interpreter recruitment, and liberal cross assignment between district and superior court judges - that effectively cut across the traditional distinctions between limited and general jurisdiction trial courts. Perhaps most importantly, public expectations for one-stop service counters, pro se assistance, and streamlined court bureaucracy as well as procedures, have all focused attention on court cooperation, coordination, and consolidation.
In addition, experience in trial courts across the nation has suggested that many of the desirable goals and outcomes of court unification can be achieved by implementing collaborative efforts rather than by fundamentally altering the structure and organization of the courts. In particular, a variety of administrative approaches short of complete trial court unification can support the goals of trial courts to:
Finally, court innovations tried across the nation have suggested that the formal structure and organization of a state's trial courts likely has become much less of a determinant of the possibilities for working across different types and levels of courts than was once thought possible. The project concluded that significant strides can be made by Washington courts by functional coordination of operations; that total consolidation is neither possible or warranted given the funding history and local orientation of Washington trial courts.
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