Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Judicial Reorganization

Everywhere I go in Vermont, whether to meet with bar members or not, there is talk about the reorganization of our judiciary. The Report of the Commission on Judicial Operation was recently cited as a partial answer to the impending budget crisis for the next legislative session. Don’t let this get by you! Read the report; ask questions if you have them; and then let your legislators know what you think can and should be done. I will try to get you answers on any questions you may have. Likewise, I am happy to pass on your comments to the Court if you’d like.
Remember that the charge to the Commission went way beyond saving $1 million as some are now saying. It began in May 2008 with the following:
Consolidation of staff, including clerks of courts, paid by the state within the judiciary budget and consolidation of staff functions, across courts in individual counties and statewide;
Regionalization of court administrative functions, both those now performed at the state level and those performed at the county level;
Use of technology, including video technology, to reduce unnecessary expenditures, including transport of prisoners, while improving access and maintaining the quality of adjudication;
Flexibility in use of resources to respond to the demands on the judiciary overall and particularly in instances where the amount and nature of demand changes;
Reallocation of jurisdiction between courts, consistent with effective and efficient operation; and
Any other idea for the efficient and effective delivery of judicial services.

We have heard our Chief Justice speak on numerous occasions about the effect the budget crisis has had and continues to have on the operation of our courts. I recently read something in the court’s October update from the court administrator that I’ve never seen before. The shortage of staff has prompted court employees to move around to help out in other courts outside the county.
Here is what I just read:

Cross Training and Job Sharing Successes
We want to express our thanks and kudos to the many case managers who have been regularly covering case manager conferences in other county courts to support staff shortages. Case managers have historically covered conferences in other courts as needed, even before JUDSLIST was implemented. With vacant positions and other staff shortages, they are pitching in more than ever. We are grateful to the following case managers for sharing the burden across county lines:

Karen Ackermann from Caledonia to Orleans and Washington
Margaret Crowley from Chittenden to Orleans
Beth Aiken from Washington to Orleans
Denise Gladding from Orange to Lamoille and Orleans
Charles Hacker from WRJ to Orleans
Cindy Mundell from Essex to Orleans

Kudos to Caledonia District, Family and Superior Court Staff
We wish to acknowledge Tammy Tyda, Deb Towle, and Bridget Sargent for the valuable
coverage they are providing to other courts, especially for Washington and Lamoille counties. Court manager Kathleen Pearl notes that being fully staffed with experienced, skilled individuals has made it possible to provide this kind of coverage consistently to other courts. Also, beginning in November, 2009, Essex County District Court arraignments and hearings will be held in the Caledonia District court, with the exception of jury draws and jury trials.

Seeing it spelled out like this somehow increases the urgency of needing to fix the system. I hope this helps in your understanding of this process.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Today's Commission meeting

The Commission on Judicial Operation unanimously voted to approve the draft report this morning and then adjourned just before 11:30. The work of the Commission is probably now finished. They also approved "in concept" a draft bill that carries out the intention of the report. Legislative Counsel Eric Fitzpatrick will take the draft the Commission posted yesterday and check it for errors, consistency, etc. before it is introduced in the legislature in January. It's my understanding that it will begin as a House bill and most likely be handled by the House Judiciary Committee.
Today's unanimous Commission vote was not without reservations on the part of every Commission member that spoke. Each understood the challenge facing the judiciary; each said that it's time to make hard choices; and each speaker didn't like the choices available. In particular, each person acknowledged reservations about the recommendations to change the Probate Court structure. But in the end, this is a proposal to the legislature that, for all the Commission work to date, will probably come out the other end looking very different!

Draft Reorganization Bill Posted

Late yesterday the Commission on Judicial Operation posted draft legislation on the judiciary's website. It would put into effect the changes listed in the draft report. The Commission meeting will begin in about an hour and we'll see if the draft is adopted, rejected, modified, etc. I'll report back later today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Commission on Judicial Operation

Well it’s been four months since I last posted anything to this blog. Now that the draft final report of the Commission on Judicial Operation is online and will be discussed at the Commission’s “final” meeting on Friday, November 6th, it’s time to reactivate this blog and for all of us to stay in closer contact as this plays out. And it won’t be long before the legislature returns to town. I want to thank all of you that responded to the five question survey this summer and/or attended county bar focus groups to offer your input. We also had a very successful Annual Meeting “town hall” at which many of you participated. Now is the time to read the report which is found on the judiciary’s website under the link to November 6. It’s still a draft, remember. I’ll post here when the Commission votes on the final product. Between then and the opening of the legislative session I urge all of you to contact your house and senate members and let them know how you feel about the proposals. It’s important that they hear from the bar about access to justice. Don’t assume that every legislator, especially those not serving on the judiciary or appropriations committees, fully understands the depth of the crisis facing the courts. Doing nothing is not an option at this time. You may or may not like what the Commission will finally recommend. I don’t doubt that you may have other ideas or suggestions after spending some time with this report. I would be happy to hear those ideas and share them with the Chief Justice and the Court Administrator. Of course, you can take those directly to your legislators if you so choose. I’ll be posting more frequently now as we move into the session.