Back to the Future?; NCSC introduces CourtMD, an Online Court Diagnostic Tool


    February 2014

A Message from the President: Back to the Future?

Zig Pines

Many of you are probably familiar with Yogi Berra's famous quote: “It's déjà vu all over again.” Court administrators who have been “around the block” a few times can probably appreciate the Hall of Famer's insight.

The Yankee’s wisdom came to mind when I pulled a book from my office shelf. The 1993 national bestseller, Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Graebler, was all the rage during the Clinton-Gore administration because it presumably offered a blueprint for making the public sector more entrepreneurial, efficient, and cost-effective. The ideas were recognized as the most revolutionary attempt to restructure government since the Progressive Era.

Glancing through the book once again, I recalled some of the authors' basic principles and goals: generating more community collaboration and empowerment; measuring results through objective performance targets; reducing functional silos; and promoting a more customer-driven and user-friendly approach. The authors stressed that a lack of funding was not the real problem; rather, it was not wisely allocating the various pots of money.

The reinvention movement spawned many initiatives within governments, including court systems, notwithstanding the fact that the entrepreneurial model has obvious limitations. We saw, for example, the growth of “futures commissions” and “strategic planning” committees. Often, these well-intentioned visionary reports remained more a static noun than a transformative verb.

But if you look at the last 20 years, courts have indeed adopted and converted many of the generalized reinventing strategies into results-oriented goals and tactics, including performance measures, problem-solving (courts) collaborations, assistance for self-represented and LEP litigants' access to justice, structural realignments to reduce redundancies and improve efficiencies, and standardization of processes and forms, not to mention massive technological changes (e-filing, e-pay, case management, social media) to promote transparency and accountability.

The remarkable fact is that modern judicial administration has been a truly effective catalyst for positive change. Over time, however, the context of our work has been qualitatively different and ominously much more restrictive, that is, reduced or level funding. Today, we talk about reengineering and using best practices. Regardless of how we label or market our initiatives, as agents for transformative change, we have always focused on the judiciary's bottom-line mission—to deliver fair, timely, and accessible justice.

In Reinventing Government, the authors stressed the importance of “anticipatory government.” I thought of this principle when I saw the results of the National Association for Court Management's recent article, “Did You See That Coming?,” Court Manager 28, no 4. (2013-14). The article is based on a survey of multigenerational court professionals (including court administrators). The purpose of the survey was to take an “environmental scan” of 44 different scenarios that our courts may face in 2025.  It's a fascinating and thought-provoking picture.

The NACM survey reminded me of another wise “Yogiism”—“If you don't know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

NCSC introduces CourtMD, an Online Court Diagnostic Tool

The National Center for State Courts is launching CourtMD, a first-of-its kind diagnostic tool to help court managers identify problem areas and find solutions for improving their court’s operations. The initial roll out of CourtMD addresses caseflow management.

The CourtMD tool asks court managers to answer a series of questions about their court and their case type of concern. For

  • Has your court adapted overall time standards for criminal/civil cases?
  • Are you familiar with the basic concepts of caseflow management?
  • Has your court decided which caseflow management performance measure to use?

Once all questions are answered, CourtMD points court managers to a set of solutions tailored for their situation.

CourtMD is a work in progress, and user feedback will help improve future versions.

Joint Technology Committee Forms New Strategic Groups

The Joint Technology Committee (JTC)—whose mission is to improve the administration of justice through technology—recently formed four strategic working groups: IT governance, data management, electronic courts, and communications. If you’d like to learn more about the work that JTC is engaged in, read this PowerPoint overview of the committee’s mission, vision, and goals, or check out their webpage.  You can also watch this 90-second video of NCSC Vice President Thomas M. Clarke discussing JTC.  COSCA has five seats on the committee: David Slayton (Texas, Co-Chair), David K. Byers (Arizona), Laurie Dudgeon (Kentucky), Pam Harris (Maryland), and Robin Sweet (Nevada).  The Court Information Technology Officers Consortium, National Association for Court Management, and National Center for State Courts also appoint representatives to the committee.


NCSC Standardizes Definitions and Counting Rules for SRLs

Reports have long asserted that self-represented litigation, SRL, is on the rise. But validating those reports or accurately appropriating resources to support SRL cases has been nearly impossible for state courts.

NCSC has developed a set of standardized definitions, counting rules, and reporting guidelines for national reporting of cases with self-represented litigants. The definitions and counting rules are being incorporated into the latest edition of the State Court Guide to Statistical Reporting, published by the NCSC’s Court Statistics Project (CSP), and also will be included in updates to the court technology functional standards.

For years, the lack of standardized definitions and counting rules has prevented state courts from comparing caseloads across jurisdictions and inhibited courts from accurately calculating judges’ and staffs’ workloads. Something as basic as whether to count cases involving self-represented litigants or the litigants themselves is not uniform. “This represents an important first step toward the routine and systematic use of data to drive management decisions to improve the access to justice for self-represented litigants,” said Shauna Strickland, NCSC senior court research analyst. This project was funded by a grant from the State Justice Institute.

State Supreme Courts available as iBook

State Supreme Courts, NCSC’s coffee-table book of the history and images of state supreme courthouses and courtrooms, can now be downloaded to an iPad for $14.99.  This book was published in 2013 to showcase the buildings and stories of America’s state courts of last resort and brings into focus the wide varieties of architectural approaches the states and territories have taken to underscore the concept of justice.  Hard copies of State Supreme Courts can be ordered on a “print-on-demand” basis from

Nebraska State Court Administrator to Retire

Nebraska State Court Administrator Janice Walker has announced her retirement, effective May 5.

Janice was appointed in May 2005 to oversee the administrative operations of the statewide court system. She is only the fourth person appointed to the position.

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican says Janice prioritized better service to the public and greater electronic access to the courts during her tenure and noted that he "could not have done my job without her considerable assistance."


Member Spotlight:  Lilia Judson, Indiana

Why and how did you become a state court administrator? 

My entry in the field of court administration was quite accidental.   When I started law school, I did not have a clear goal of where I wanted to end up.  While still in school, I started working with the Indiana Judicial Study Commission, which was spearheading court reform in Indiana and the creation of an office of judicial administration.  I became interested in this nascent field and asked the then chief justice if I could join the new, small team.  I was the fifth member of a team comprising the chief court administrator, three secretaries, and the legal staff—me. 

What do you like most and least about being a state court administrator?

I love the mix of duties—legal, financial, technological, and managerial.  These responsibilities have helped me learn and stay abreast of changes in the law, technology, and a myriad of innovations, few of which I would have studied on my own. Also, I am fortunate to work with a court whose members are and have been brilliant legal scholars, astute writers, and outstanding people.  But most of all, I love my COSCA colleagues.  It never ceases to amaze me how smart, dedicated, competent, and fun court administrators are. Our daily struggles and performances may actually be good fodder for a TV sit com, but no one would buy the title.  

Dealing with personnel management issues is my least attractive duty.  As often as possible, I try to groom others for this task, by giving them lots of experience in dealing with difficult situations.  But, unfortunately, in some cases the buck has to stop with me. 

Tell us about your family.

My family is pretty small. My husband (of many years) and I have one adult, married son who is expecting—fraternal TWINS!!!!—in June.  After working in management for a GE subsidiary for 20 some years, my husband started a small business, which kept him busy until his retirement about a year ago. Between the two of us, we have three ancient parents—98, 94, and 92.  Although this is wonderful in many ways, their advanced ages are a challenge, and take up a lot of our time.  We each have siblings, but through happenstance, we are the ones remaining in Indianapolis, in charge of the elders. 

What is your philosophy about using social networking?  If you use social networking, which sites do you prefer?

The underlying concept of social networking is a very attractive one.  It has shrunk distances and enabled today’s generations to reconnect and maintain bonds forever.  I do not use social media, although I think I am on Facebook without a face.  This is more due to lack of time than any philosophical aversion.

If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do? 

I would probably be a lifelong student of different disciplines—art, architecture, maybe even theoretical physics, but only if I don’t have to take tests.  Also, I would be a much more public and vocal advocate (or critic) of things that matter to me. I may even become one of those crazy writers of letters to the editor. 

Anniversaries . . .

COSCA congratulates the following members for achieving anniversaries in office in December and January:  Ted Glessner of Maine (21 years); Michael Evans of Oklahoma (8 years); John Smith of North Carolina (5 years); Rod Maile of Hawaii, Tim Averill of Louisiana, Robin Sweet of Nevada, and Gail Prudenti of New York (3 years); and Rich Hobson of Alabama (2 years).

. . . and Birthdays

Eight COSCA members celebrate their birthdays in December and January.  Happy Birthday to Ted Glessner of Maine (December 23); Glenn Grant of New Jersey and Artie Pepin of New Mexico (December 29); Sonia Vélez of Puerto Rico (January 7); Beth McLaughlin of Montana (January 21); Pam Harris of Maryland (January 23); Christine Johnson of Alaska (January 24); and Greg Sattizahn of South Dakota (January 31).



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