Problem Definition Work Group
Members in attendance:
Welcome and Introductions
The meeting was called to order at 10:00 a.m. The meeting notes from April 10 were entered into the record as written.
Court Funding Task Force
Ms. Michels informed the work group that the full Court Funding Task Force (CFTF) will meet in Seattle on May 22; she and Mr. Amram will provide a status report.
Ms. Michels advised that at the May 22 meeting, Wayne Blair (CFTF Chair) is hoping the CFTF and work groups can lay out the plans for this summer and fall. One of the programs he is proposing for this summer is to have a ‘think tank’ meeting which will include people outside of the current work groups. It is ambitious to think that a report will be done and recommendations ready for the next legislative session, it is more realistic that it will probably be 2004 before the recommendations from the various work groups begin to be implemented.
The Implementation Strategies Work Group will take over once the recommendations/reports are received from the other work groups. It is reasonable to expect that recommendations will be introduced slowly and over an extended period of time.
Ms. Paradis gave a brief overview of the juvenile system. She began by noting there are three types of cases: juvenile offenders, at-risk youth, and dependency cases. The juvenile courts have the responsibility of intervening in these types of cases.
Juvenile offender cases are generally brought to the courts by local prosecutors; at-risk youth by schools and/or parents; and dependency cases by the Office of the Attorney General. In some Counties, the Prosecutor will act on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General in dependency cases. There are approximately 22 courts in the state that have detention facilities; five to six counties purchase detention services from a private provider. All courts have access to detention services, either by contract or operating their own facility.
Funding is split approximately 40-60 between the state and counties; although she thinks there may be a little more from the county side. Most of the state funding comes through the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration under the Department of Health Services. Included in that is a consolidated juvenile services contract which provides funding for services to high risk kids (at-risk population), most of that money buys FTE's for intensive supervision. This concept originated because the state was interested in keeping this population out of institutions, so they paid counties to do extra with these kids. There are other programs funded by the consolidated contract includingsexual offender; chemical dependency, and research-based programs (aggression replacement training; functional family therapy; multi-systemic therapy). Juvenile courts may offer one or more of these programs.
Offender cases are prosecuted by the Prosecutor's Office in each county. Defense services for offender matters are generally at county expense, and sometimes are through contracts with individual providers or with public defender agencies or organizations.
Judicial Officers in Juvenile Court may be budgeted in the Superior Court budget or in the separate Juvenile Court budget. The budget practice for judicial positions differs county to county. In some counties Superior Court Judges hear juvenile matters and in other counties juvenile matters are heard by Court Commissioners.
Discussion of Superior Court Judges’ Association Input
Judge Harris observed that the workload of judges is increasing without corresponding judicial assistants. This leaves judges without the time to stay up-to-date with current caselaw and advance sheets. The lack of judicial assistants affects the research that needs to be done; there just is not enough time for everything with the overall docket load. Is there anyway to set a reasonable caseload standard? Could there be a best practice for this? Judge Harris added that it would be interesting to see what the rate of reversal on cases is for the last 30 years, as the caseload has increased.
Mr. Johns said there was a suggestion to broaden the scope to the whole judicial system, adding other entities into the overall funding, such as prosecution, corrections, courts, as they are already well-funded. It might be an easier “sell” if we were to establish a funding structure for justice. What we’re doing now is carving out the trial courts, which is only part of the problem. It was noted that the other entities might not want to do this, keeping their funding close to them and not wanting to risk losing any of it by sharing.
Mr. Johns continued, he did not hear any suggestions for complete state funding, such as Oregon. There seemed to be recognition that sharing the burden was the best way to approach funding.
Ms. Pettus added some specific concerns that were voiced if the state were to assume more funding responsibility for the trial courts:
There was also discussion that this subject may not grab the public’s interest, as a relatively small percentage of the public interact with the courts. Some members of the public may also have the perception that judges do not have that much to do. Whether it is this work group’s responsibility or another work group, it is important to have numbers and information to show the workload of the courts.
Projecting the Overall Need
Ms. Michels noted that commissioners in the superior courts pick up a lot of the overload at the courts. They are absorbing some of the new work that has resulted from legislative change and it is not adequately reflected in the judges’ workload.
She also reminded the work group that the courts currently receive 10 percent of their funding from the state, while the national average is about 48 percent. It is a good goal to try for a mid-range of state funding.
It was noted that the courts’ dire need may not be so apparent to the public – for so long, court personnel have been doing more with fewer resources. The work may be getting done, but has the quality of the work suffered?
Ms. Stone said it is important to build a large, long-term picture of the courts’ needs; and these need to be important to the public.
Ms. Hollis agreed that there needs to be a long-term strategic plan; to be implemented in pieces.
It was also noted that the Chief Justice would like to have the recommendations identified by the Civil Equal Justice Task Force folded into this task force's recommendations. As we go forward with the funding needs, it is part of the prioritization.
Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC)
Ms. Pettus gave an overview of the AOC budget and functions. The Judicial Information System (JIS) is the biggest part of the AOC budget. The JIS budget funds the computer systems that are used by all Juvenile, Municipal, District, Superior and Appellate courts. Depending on available funding, hardware, terminals, printers, and printing supplies are provided to the trial courts. There is a sum of money from the Public Safety and Education Account (PSEA) that goes to the Board for Court Education (BCE); they split up the money between different groups such as the Superior, District and Municipal courts, Court Administrators and County Clerks for funding conferences and other education opportunities, such as the Judicial College for all judges.
Other AOC monies that go directly to trial courts include half of mandatory arbitration costs; half of pro tem costs; half of criminal cost bills in felony cases (i.e., witness fees).
Other AOC functions include pattern forms, secretariat functions, payroll, and human resource services to Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. AOC also supports the Minority and Justice Commission and Gender and Justice Commission. The AOC Legal Services department produces benchbooks, staffs the Ethics Advisory Committee, and works with the Supreme Court Rules Committee.
It was noted that AOC provides no money for drug courts, that comes mainly from DSHS and federal money.
The total revenue generated by all courts is $111 million per year. Expenses for all courts are $417 million per year.
Ms. Michels distributed a chart listing the ‘services’ that fall into four different areas: Trial Courts; Judicial Branch; Justice System; and Social Justice. This was referred to as an “onion chart” as there are many different layers for each item listed. (See Attachment A) The work group discussed the many levels of this chart.
The question was asked, with the overloaded court dockets, are more felonies being reduced to misdemeanors?
And with the budget ever tightening, what will be the next things cut? Hours of operation, court facilitators, collections, non-mandated items (such as phone service), identity theft prosecution, probation services, and records maintenance (imaging) were suggested as possible areas of future cuts. The courts’ budgets are ever tightening, but numbers of police are increasing, which brings an overload into the courts. The courts are coming close to the point where they will lose the ability to even look for efficiencies.
Other points expressed include:
It is important to define the ‘big picture’ of the court problems, but to focus on the trial courts. This information will then be passed on to the CFTF and to other work groups.
Ms. Pettus will distribute, by email, the results of two surveys done by AOC, one done in October 2002 and one done in March 2003. Each of the surveys was sent to court managers, asking about budget constraints and reductions.
Topics/Materials for Next Meeting
Future Meeting Dates
The next meeting is scheduled for:
Thursday, May 15
Center circle - Trial Courts
Next Circle - Judicial BranchSupreme Court
Court of Appeals
Administrative Office of the Courts
Development of forms
Regulation of the practice of law
Indigent appellate representation
State and local law libraries
Civil legal services
Next Circle - Justice SystemProsecution
Criminal justice training
Domestic violence advocates
Next Circle - Social JusticePrivate Dispute Resolution
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