Friday, January 19, 2007

State of Washington's Judiciary

Chief Justice Alexander delivered his State of the Judiciary Address to a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday (Jan. 17). In addition to reading the transcript, you can watch and listen to a video of his speech on TVW.

The Chief Justice focused on the Justice in Jeopardy Initiative. Background: In 2002, the Board for Judicial Administration set up a Court Funding Task Force. The task force included lawyers, judges, legislators, and representatives of citizens and professional organizations. Its major report was Justice in Jeopardy: The Court Funding Crisis in Washington State (Dec. 2004). Here's a way our state stands out: at the time of the report, we ranked last among all states in state funding of trial courts, indigent defense, and prosecution. Unlike some well-meaning task forces, this group did not stall out after issuing a report. It's still plugging. See Justice in Jeopardy 2007/2009 Biennium Information & Advocacy Guide.

And so the Chief Justice began by reporting on progress already made in the last two legislative sessions. For instance, state funding of trial courts has improved -- but local governments still pay 80% of the burden. With incremental improvements, he would like the state to pay 50% eventually.

The areas he highlighted for this legislature:

  • improved funding of civil legal aid, especially in rural areas.
  • progress made in funding trial courts (including a pilot study of increasing the daily fees paid to jurors).
  • $8 million to improve interpreter services -- a major access-to-justice issue.
  • improving funding for public defense (although progress has been made, we still aren't fulfulling the promise of Gideon, he says).
  • increased funding for CASA, a program that trains and places volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children.
  • updating court technology -- they're going to upgrade the case management system statewide.
Finally, the Chief Justice remarked that the system of judicial elections is getting attention and there may be bills addressing it. He recommends a publicly funded judicial voters pamphlet. As far as various other proposals, "at this point, the judiciary as a whole has not taken a position in response to any of these specific proposals but I can assure you that we are intensely interested in the subject and we may take a position on all or some of these proposals, provided we can do so without compromising our ethical obligations."
"[T]he provision of justice, on both the criminal and civil side, is a core function of government that should be adequately supported by all taxpayers, not just users of the system." -- Chief Justice Gerry Alexander
Chief Justice Roberts focused his annual report on the need for raises for judges (see earlier post). Chief Justice Alexander asked for funding for public defenders, interpreters, and legal aid. Interesting contrast.

Thanks: Arbitrary & Capricious.

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