Problem Definition Work Group
Members in attendance:
Welcome and Introductions
The meeting was called to order at 10:10 a.m. Those present introduced themselves. The meeting notes from May 1 were entered into the record as written.
Mr. Hall addressed the financial data that is available. He provided copies of the 1980 Washington State Court Finance Study which had been prepared by the AOC. One of the first things noted in the report is if the courts of the state want to have good, consistent financial data, all courts in the state need to structure their budgets in the same way; otherwise it will take six months to pull the information together – which is what we are doing now.
It was noted that courts report all the same data, but in different groupings, by different bar codes, etc. This report does provide some good baseline data. One table shows the aggregated expenditure data of the Washington court system for 1978, 1979 and 1980 with a better than 95% accuracy as confirmed by comparison with local government financial reports submitted to the State Auditor. Although these figures do not include all operating costs attributable to the system. (Page 27 of report)
Mr. Hall said that in a number of areas, AOC will be able to compare detail to detail from 1980 to 2000 (the year that data is currently being collected from).
The question was asked about converting the 1980 dollars to compare with current dollars. Dr. Glenn said that a common price index would assist in making the comparison.
In this report; counties were grouped together, per capita expenses were looked at for similar-sized courts. It was noted that some counties may be in different categories now, as some have changed significantly in population.
Mr. Hall continued on, discussing some of the preliminary 2000 data that has been submitted. He stressed that this is all very preliminary and shouldn’t be interpreted as final data; it’s merely being used to show the work group what is being compiled; so they can begin seeing what kind of questions can be answered. Differences in courts should also be able to be distinguished. The summary will include (but may not be limited to):
It was suggested that travel and training expenses be added. Mr. Hall took suggestions for refining the data tables. There was discussion that the smaller counties’ budgets can be tremendously impacted by one or two extraordinary cases; also about overhead expenses (i.e. cleaning services, facilities), that need to be taken into account.
Mr. Hall also noted that there will be four main areas they will be compiling: County Clerk, District Courts, Municipal Courts, and Superior Courts.
The Justice Management Institute has been contracted to work with mostly the Court of Limited Jurisdiction work group. They are in the process of picking a set of municipalities to study. As there are so many municipal courts across the state, we will take that same set of municipalities and do this work with their budget.
Ms. Jenni Christopher, AOC Research Services, talked about what court data is available and the variety of research her department does. The backbone of their efforts is caseload data; this is a routine source of information that is collected consistently from month-to-month, year-to-year. It provides a resource that allows comparisons over time and across counties.
Caseload data is basic information about the courts’ workload (i.e., filings, dispositions, proceedings, time in process). It is not an exhaustive measure of court workload. At years’ end this information is supplemented with staffing information for the trial courts. Pending caseloads are also included.
Ms. Christopher also provided handouts for the courts of limited jurisdiction (summary, filings, dispositions, proceedings and revenue); and superior courts (overall court activity, criminal activity, civil activity, domestic activity, and juvenile activity). This information was compiled from http://www.courts.wa.gov/caseload/.
Ms. Christopher supplied some background comments on caseload statistics; these statistics are drawn directly from JIS. There are programs that go out on a monthly basis that extract information from the data that is entered as the courts process their cases. That automatic process uploads reports for each court to the internet every month; this information is available to everyone (legislature, public).
In addition to uploading monthly reports for each court and compiling totals for the state each month, AOC also aggregates that data for a running year-to-date total. Five years of caseload data are available on the website.
The monthly process gives current information; at the end of each calendar year, AOC compiles tables that are more policy directed, these are called ‘trend tables’.
Ms. Christopher continued by reviewing some of these trend tables to familiarize the work group with what information is available to them and how to interpret some of the data.
The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (CLJ) information is drawn from JIS; there are a very small number of CLJ courts that aren’t on JIS. In addition, traffic violation bureaus are not included. There a few CLJ courts that are on JIS that choose to do some portion of their activity off JIS, typically parking violations, using locally developed software. This is important to remember when interpreting the data. For the non-parking caseload, even taking into consideration the few courts that are not on JIS, it is estimated we are losing roughly one-half of a percent of the total statewide caseload; so the numbers are pretty accurate statewide.
There is a concerted effort to maintain a uniform accounting statewide; an effort has been made by several committees to maintain consistency and uniformity.
With the Superior Courts, a few major model changes have been adopted in the last few years. The most recent change was in 1998 with total filings; some filings were under separate categories. If data prior to 1998 is being looked at you need to know what areas to look at to get the whole picture. There will be a huge jump in filings from 1997 to 1998; it’s just a difference in reporting, not a change in workload.
Ms. Christopher said that Research Services can plumb available caseload data to address as best possible information this work group needs; they just need the questions posed to them.
The question of how far back information can be accessed (reliably) was asked. For the CLJ, information may be as far back as 1985; for the superior courts from 1992 (there was a big model change that year). Older information is available in hard copy, but not electronically.
Ms. Michels asked about ‘mega data,’ one of this work group’s charges is to describe deterioration in the ability to provide court services. What strong data would be available to address this?
Dr. Glenn replied, the filings and resolution data is pretty solid, proceedings information a little less so. Detailed questions would assist in compiling these answers.
When pulling together all the information, Mr. Hall suggested going back 20 years to show the differences in case filings per judge. It was noted that a lot of the filings that come into the courts may not necessarily go in front of a judge.
Mr. Johns observed that comparing the 1980 dollars to 2000 dollars may be difficult; today there are programs and expenses that didn’t exist in 1980 (court facilitators, drug courts).
Mr. Hall said the key people that implement changes for the court, in most instances, tend to be a small group of legislators; along with other constituencies such as local/county government. It is important to keep the public aware of the issue, but a large section of the public doesn’t appear to be interested in what makes the courts work – just that they do work.
He continued, what tends to sell court funding are the merits of the argument, appealing to the broader idea and ideals, and basing it on the importance of courts rather than they’re just short of funds.
How do we get the public’s attention and make them care about the courts’ needs?
Judge Harris added that it is the state’s obligation to protect its children; it does that through the courts: juvenile crime deterrent, juvenile courts, foster care, dependency, divorce, and truancy,
Mr. Blair stated that he has heard comments such as “Why should we worry about civil cases in the courts? Why can’t they use private arbitrators?” (paraphrased) As part of a compelling case for court funding, he feels this issue needs to be addressed. It’s not enough to say it’s the law, it’s a policy matter.
Judge Harris replied that private arbitrators can’t enforce what they do; only courts can enforce the law. They have a contract with the parties to resolve the issue, if they don’t resolve it; they have to go to court. There are areas in the private sector that aren’t geared to arbitration, such as property boundaries, trademarks.
The legislature should care about the judiciary, because if the judiciary doesn’t function properly it will impact how the legislature functions and how the public perceives the government.
Problem Definition Work Group (Draft) Reports
Ms. Michels asked for feedback on the blue and green draft reports (paper). It was mentioned that it would be helpful to specify levels of courts throughout the report.
Court Funding Task Force Meeting
There were also suggestions for speakers to be invited to future meetings, which Ms. Michels will discuss at the May 22 meeting, whether it’s appropriate at the work group level or at the full task force meeting.
The work group brainstormed on broad categories of court functions/areas that need funding and responsibility. See Attachment 1.
Topics/Materials for Next Meeting
Ms. Michels will report on the Court Funding Task Force meeting which will be on May 22.
Future Meeting Dates
The next meeting is scheduled for:
Thursday, June 12
Courts enforce the law (statutes and policy), laws passed by the state, and by the county
Courts provide recourse for protection of citizen rights
Protect individual rights
Protect individual’s constitutional rights from the tyranny of the majority and/or government
Enforcement of contracts and agreements
Protection of the vulnerable (ill, infirm, elderly, minors, domestic violence)
Enforcement of “low level” criminal activity; lesser offenses become a lower priority
Criminal cases supercede civil and family
Enforcement of court orders and judgments
Length of time to resolve cases (justice delayed is justice denied)
Limited and shrinking Judge time per court hearing or event
King County District Court – telephone and in-person contact.
Pro Se litigants do not receive adequate or timely information or support – assistance with legal procedures
Information, advice, assistance and referral
Time and money for court to plan and develop services
No one to help and no where to go
Technology improvements to expedite matters
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE
State ought to be responsible as the entity creating the responsibility and workload.
Historical funding structure made sense at time of enactment, but are no longer adequate in our modern system of government.
Transition from local courts to “state” courts – justice of the peace to district courts. (Sentencing Reform is another example)
Comments from Bob Drewel:
State and local government are both committed to created positive future for our community.
State and locals are in a partnership together.
We need to realize we share a common mission.
S/L need to talk and communicate to avoid making matters worse.
We need to address the local impact of state mandated laws and procedures – state creates criminal laws and local governments house them.
Counties provide prosecution, defense, courts, and corrections.
From County perspective - Need to clearly correlate services and responsible governmental unit.
State patrol, gambling commission, fish/game/wildlife, liquor control – about 20% of law enforcement budget – use about 40% prosecutors/ defenders, court, jail resources, and revenue distribution does not follow.
Equal protection between and among counties – per capita costs and per capita expenditures.
From legislators? Why do we care about civil justice?
Why do we care if two litigants have to go to “private justice” paid for out of their own pockets?
There are types of litigation that are not suited to private resolution – property boundaries - it cannot address public issues.
Only the courts can evolve the law – the common law system that distinguishes us from the rest of the world. In private litigation, the law suffers and does not evolve.
If the business community loses it’s trust in the courts, will the rest of the community follow?
If the business community turns to private justice, will the rest of the community follow, losing trust in the courts.
The public record of public cases set the standard and facilitate settlement. Private justice precludes the public knowledge of the outcome of disputes.
Portray state government as three-legged stool, when one leg gets wobbly, the other two weebles wobble too.
The Mexican constitution is an elegant document – but lacks enforcement in the courts. The result…
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