Best Practices Committee
May 11, 2006
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS
Judge Spector called the meeting to order, noting that Judge Sperline has completed his term on the BJA and has stepped down as the Best Practices Committee chair; she has volunteered to act as chair until the BJA appoints a replacement.
Judge Spector asked if there were any changes to the March 16 minutes. Two errors were noted, Judge Barnett and Ms. Daniels’ first names were misspelled.
The March 16, 2006 minutes were approved with these two corrections.
ATTORNEY SURVEY UPDATE
Court of Appeals
Ms. Eliot reported that a letter was delivered to the chief judges of the appellate courts on April 14, following Judge Schindler’s introduction of the project at the appellate court judges’ annual meeting. To date, two of the three chief judges have commented on the survey. Ms. Eliot also remarked that, although there are a few minor differences, it basically mirrors the other attorney surveys.
Feedback included the following:
Chief Judge Marlin Appelwick, Court of Appeals Division I, offers a couple of survey edits for the committee to consider.
Chief Judge Dennis Sweeney, Court of Appeals Division III, says he has “no particular comment” on the survey, but he questions the efficacy of surveying lawyers at all.
In discussing Judge Appelwick’s first concern, Judge Lucas offered an alternate phrasing – something like, “The court is neutral, showing neither favoritism nor hostility in the following groups…”
Judge Spector suggested that our phrasing of Questions 28 and 29 may be more appropriate as they are in the US Census format. It was decided to leave these two questions as they are.
Judge Appelwick’s second concern is a valid one; the comment was made that if Judge Appelwick didn’t understand it, others wouldn’t either. After further discussion, it was decided that the following change would be appropriate.
At the top of Page 2, “Clarity of Opinions and Rulings” will be changed to “Court Opinions and Rulings.”
Regarding Judge Sweeney’s comments, Ms. Eliot and Judge Schindler will talk to him about his comments.
Superior and District Courts
The Whitman County Superior Court survey was sent to 476 attorneys. They were due back yesterday, a total of 79 have been received. The fact that this was labeled a ‘test’ survey may have impacted the numbers.
Ms. Piazza made a couple of suggestions. In the next iteration, don’t call it a test, send out reminders after the due date (or close to the due date), and possibly offer a web-based survey (although this will require having all of the email addresses). Judge Spector suggested going through the WSBA to obtain email addresses.
Ms. Williams asked about a web-based survey company. Ms. Piazza replied that AOC does have the ability to create and run these in-house.
Ms. Williams added that she did send the request for participation to the Seattle Municipal Court judges but has not received any comments from them. They currently have technology issues that are consuming their resources. It’s possible they may be able to participate in August or September, perhaps doing an on-line survey if there is enough time to put it together.
The Kitsap District Court judges are willing to participate in the survey but not until after the elections.
Judge Spector said the King County Superior Court judges are still considering participating at this time. There are a couple of reasons they are hesitant – King County attorneys are surveyed often through other organizations, and statewide concerns may not necessarily be shared by King County.
Ms. Eliot reminded the committee that we do have an appellate court, superior court and district/municipal court to participate in the pilot. We don’t necessarily need to test more than once at each court level, but King County would be good to test.
Mr. Hall said the lower response rate might be okay. Assuming the information is valid; will it mean anything to the court?
Judge Spector asked staff to send a summary of the 79 responses to the committee members when they are tallied.
COURTOOLS – BPC BASE MEASURES COMPARISON
Our measures do overlap with CourTools. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has taken 64 measures and narrowed them down to 10 CourTools; six are very similar to ours, although we name and organize them slightly differently. Staff suggests the Best Practices Committee adopt the CourTools and put the modifications and rationale in writing.
Judge Lucas asked if we have looked at other states (CA, DE, KS, LA, MI, and NC). Mr. Hall responded that yes, we have.
Ms. Eliot said the staff proposal to tie the CourTools measures to our measures will lend credence to what the committee is doing and assist in moving forward in methodology for testing, building on work that has already been done.
Ms. Williams asked if modifying the CourTools will change the results.
Ms. Eliot replied that we are building on their foundation, utilizing what the NCSC has already done. We can state that we have basically adopted this national standard and methodology, for the reasons above, but modified them for Washington court needs.
Judge Schindler said that for the appellate courts there might be a better measure available, it is important to keep that in mind and to be open to it. Mr. Hall added that there are National Appellate Court Standards.
Ms. Pettus and Mr. Hall have a lot of historic knowledge regarding the NCSC standards and measures and our (Washington’s) role in developing them. They, along with Ms. Eliot, will discuss, summarize and send information out to the committee members.
Judge Barnett asked about the status of physical access (disabilities) in relation to the standards. Ms. Pettus replied that this was in the structured interviews with the presiding judges. Ms. Eliot noted that we intend to discuss this and other access issues later in the agenda.
MEASURE 8: COURT RESPONSE TO FINANCIAL AUDITS
Ms. Eliot went over the materials provided to the committee members. She added that this is not a recommendation from staff for a particular methodology.
Background: Periodic audits of financial practices are designed to reveal whether revenues and expenditures of governmental organizations are handled in accordance with law, regulation, contractual obligations and, in some cases, policy. This measure focuses on whether the court uses formal financial auditing to prevent and detect mistakes and malfeasance in its financial practices.
Measure Evaluation: This measure shows how well courts are using financial audits as a management tool to improve their financial practices, where needed. In addition, it provides a high-level affirmation to the State Auditor’s Office financial audits.
The TCPS model addresses whether or not there was a finding by the state auditor and if the court took action as well as whether or not the court used an internal financial audit.
It was noted that the auditor may identify issues that need to be addressed during the exit conference but not issue findings. Findings may be published when the court hasn’t responded to the issues identified in the previous audit’s exit conference.
Staff’s suggestion is to test a modified version of the evaluation, focusing on the state audits and if the court responded to findings and giving a general description of the court’s financial practices for context.
A second part to this might set some kind of expectation that a court should be auditing its financial process every (specified) period.
Ms. Daniels stressed that performance audits should not include Clerk’s offices.
Judge Schindler suggested using a term other than “audit,” possibly something like “financial accountability.”
After discussion by the committee, it was decided that staff would do further tests, including the three courts with recent findings and using the recommended methodology before making a decision on this measure. One issue is the limitation of resources and how valuable this measure really is.
MEASURE 12: ALTERNATIVES INVENTORY FOR FINANCIALLY DISADVANTAGED
The subcommittee for this issue met by conference call on April 20. Ms. Eliot reported that Jim Bamberger will work with her and Jeff Hall to revise Form 1.5.1 (A Checklist of Court Activities to Promote Affordable Access to Justice) in accordance with the goals and objectives discussed by the subcommittee. These include:
Court Practice Standards/Goals
In general, a court should:
Performance Measure Objectives
The audit team will:
Note: The above goals may be achieved in different ways, based on the differing needs and resources available throughout the state. The committee should identify specific expectations within each general category that all courts should meet, such as statewide mandates and generally agreed-upon standards that are minimal requirements for removing financial barriers to the courts. In addition, the committee should consider ways to include and inventory strategies that may only apply locally or that may be “best practices” that demonstrate excellence in removing financial barriers to the courts. These goals and local/best practices should be reflected in the questions asked in the inventory sheet.
The following items were discussed.
Judge Schindler said the highlighted sections of Form 1.5.1 seem to grasp the financial access issues that courts should be concerned with. Ideally we want access for everybody, but what is reasonable? The subcommittee should focus on what the reasonable baseline would be.
Ms. Eaton suggested an incremental baseline, based on number of judges, possibly three different levels (small, medium and large courts).
Judge Lucas added that the SCJA Equality & Fairness committee is also working on court access issues. He asked what the recommended minimum is for Measure 1.5.1. He suggested beginning with that, then cutting it down to a “minimum” guide to this standard. He suggested using one form as a guideline, using minimum standards.
Regarding “Part V. Activities Ensuring Affordability,” Mr. Hall asked what is the minimum a court should do? There are some [reasonable] things that every court should do; those are what we should be measuring. Also, do we implement a Pass/Fail scenario or have a scale? Will we give courts ‘credit’ for at least making an effort? Maybe the resources aren’t available in that county.
Judge Brown reminded the committee that a ‘standard’ has to be published for at least two years, per BJA, before it is officially accepted as a standard.
Judge Spector said the subcommittee that met on April 20 will need to meet again to discuss everything talked about today; she will get in touch with them, and they will report back to the committee.
Ms. Williams thanked the committee members and told them that this was her last meeting; she has already served two terms.
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, July 27, from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m.
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