Like many of you, I am just back in the office after a whirlwind few weeks, culminating in COSCA’s midyear meeting in Monterey, California. The educational program at the midyear meeting was excellent, and the topics timely. The program included sessions on pretrial justice—“Policy Reforms: Rethinking Pretrial Practice” and “Pretrial Justice: Research, Practice and Implementation”—which explored pretrial practices and existing research on those practices, including the impact of pretrial incarceration on offenders over the long-term and the use of risk assessment for the pretrial release/detention decision.
Artie Pepin, who presented on the policy reform panel, and I had arrived in California early the morning of the pretrial-justice-policy-reform session, following a quick trip to Washington, D.C. to participate on December 2 and 3 in panels at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Working Session on “Poverty and the Criminal Justice System: The Effect and Fairness of Fees and Fines” and in an event at the White House titled “A Cycle of Incarceration: Prison, Debt and Bail Practices.” USDOJ indicated that the purpose of those events was to “bring public attention to the connection between poverty and the criminal justice system and highlight state reform efforts.” In addition to COSCA’s representation, several chiefs attended the D.C. events, including Chief Justices Maureen O’Connor (OH), Patricia Breckenridge (MO), and Nathan Hecht (TX); Chief Judge Eric Washington (DC); Mary McQueen and a few other National Center for State Courts staff; and Jonathan Mattiello, executive director of the State Justice Institute.
CCJ and COSCA are in strong leadership positions related to the court collections and pretrial efforts. We have long recognized that court functions should be funded by general operating funds of state and local governments and supported principles such as waiving fees for indigent defendants and not establishing separate local fees (see COSCA’s 2012 position paper, “Courts Are Not Revenue Centers”). The COSCA and CCJ boards met jointly on November 18, 2015 and agreed to establish a joint CCJ/COSCA task force focusing on state court issues related to the collection of court fines and fees, as well as pretrial practices. The task force will be composed of national judicial and legal leaders, working with other stakeholders in partnership with the State Justice Institute, and will be co-chaired by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor (OH) and Laurie Dudgeon (KY). It is in the process of getting established and will begin its work shortly. We anticipate that the task force may have some preliminary recommendations to report by the COSCA/CCJ annual meeting next summer.
At the COSCA midyear meeting, Past President David Boyd pointed out that there has been tremendous turnover in COSCA membership in recent years. In fact, close to one-half of our members came into their positions within the last three years. To repeat what I said in my first COSCA president’s column last summer, our new colleagues should not hesitate to contact any of us in COSCA if you would like to discuss an issue you are facing or have questions. COSCA’s Services to New Members Committee has a mentoring program, and I encourage you to consider your COSCA mentor as a resource to help with “thorny” issues. I would be willing to bet that another COSCA member has faced a similar issue and can share what to do—or not to do (I have a few of those).
One last thing—a little while ago, COSCA members received a copy of the joint COSCA/CCJ resolution in memory of Edward B. McConnell, who passed away in August 2015. Ed began his service as the administrative director of the New Jersey Courts in 1953, and was instrumental in the founding of the Conference of State Court Administrators in 1955. In 1973, he became the first president of the newly created National Center for State Courts and served in that role until his retirement in 1990. Even today, 25 years after he retired, his accomplishments continue to provide benefits to litigants and state courts throughout the country. I received the following note from Ed’s daughter that I wanted to share with other COSCA members:
On behalf of Ed McConnell’s whole family, thank you for the COSCA resolution honoring him. We all truly appreciate your thoughtfulness. Rob Baldwin read it at the celebration of life last week at the National Center and it is now part of our family’s memorabilia about Dad.
We were always very proud of Dad and his work but hearing such praise and admiration from national groups dedicated to improving justice made us realize what a tremendous force he was in his field. It was a complete surprise to most of his neighbors and tennis/golf buddies because Dad was so modest about his work—your resolution was an eye-opener to them! Thanks again from all of us.
Finally, as I “settle my brain for a long winter nap,” I would like to wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year. It is not exactly “visions of sugarplums” dancing in our heads, but it won’t be long before the website for this summer’s annual meeting in Wyoming will be up and we can make plans for that exciting meeting. Best wishes.
New NCSC Report Shows Dramatic Changes of Civil Caseloads over Past 20 Years
NCSC has released a report on The Landscape of Civil Litigation of State Courts, which examines case characteristics and outcomes for civil cases disposed during a one-year interval from courts in 10 urban counties in the United States. The Landscape data set includes approximately 5 percent of civil cases disposed in state courts nationally. Among the report’s key findings:
More than half of the cases were low-value debt-collection, landlord/tenant, and small-claims cases.
Three-quarters of all monetary judgments entered were for $5,200 or less.
Most cases were resolved through an administrative process, rather than an adversarial proceeding.
At least one party was self-represented in more than three-quarters of the cases.
Landscape is the first multi-jurisdiction study of civil caseloads since the 1992 Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, and is more comprehensive than the 1992 study insofar that it examines the entire civil caseload, rather than just cases filed in general-jurisdiction courts.
COSCA Member Spotlight: Corey R. Steel, Nebraska
Why and how did you become a state court administrator?
I started out in the justice field as a probation officer. I always knew I wanted to be in the administrative role. This desire grew stronger after completing my master’s degree in administration with an emphasis in leadership. I worked my way up through the years into the Administrative Office of Courts and Probation as a deputy probation administrator. In 2014, Court Administrator Janice Walker retired, and I was approached as a potential candidate for the position. After interviewing with the Supreme Court, I was fortunate enough to be appointed as the state court administrator by Chief Justice Heavican.
What do you like most and least about being a state court administrator?
What I like most is every day is a new challenge. There are never two days that are the same. It is a very challenging and rewarding career.
What I like least about my position would be the amount of balls you are juggling at one time. Sometimes it can get really crazy with the amount of projects and deadlines placed on you. It gets hard to focus as much attention on things as you would like.
Tell us about your family.
I have a lovely wife of 17 years, Jill, and we were blessed with three children. Payten, our 13-year-old daughter, is in 7th grade. She is active in competitive cheer, softball, and volleyball. Caden, our 11-year-old son, is in 5th grade. He is busy with baseball, football, basketball, and soccer. Our youngest son, Brycen, is 5 years old and in kindergarten. He is taking after his older brother in all the same sports. The three of them keep Jill and I very busy.
What is your philosophy about using social networking? If you use social networking, which sites do you prefer, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, or others?
I am not a big social media guy. I only have a Linked In account that I rarely use. I am more of a people person and like personal interacting with others.
If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do?
Hunting and fishing are my passion. I am an avid outdoorsman and love to be in a deer stand in the woods or on a pond bank fishing. I truly enjoy sharing my passion of the outdoors with my kids. Seeing one of them catch a fish or harvest an animal gives me great pride. It is a great feeling to be able to pass on this tradition to my kids.
NCSC Releases 2015 State of State Courts Survey
NCSC’s 2015 “State of State Courts” finds that courts remain the most trusted branch of government, and Americans recognize their unique role in protecting individual rights. But persistent concerns about customer service, inefficiency, and bias are undermining the public’s confidence in the courts and leading them to look for alternative means of resolving disputes. Key findings from this year’s survey include support for the courts is stronger than in the heart of the recession, but shows signs of softening; concerns about inefficiency and unfairness are deep-seated and real; such concerns may be making the public enthusiastic about alternatives to traditional dispute resolution; and African-Americans express significantly less faith in the courts that the population as a whole. The survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,000 registered voters nationwide. The interviews were completed between October 26-29, 2015 by GBA Strategies.
Judicial Ethics Subject of January Webinar
On Friday January 15, 2016, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. central time, the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Judicial Ethics is presenting a webinar on the “Top Judicial Ethics Stories of 2015.” The webinar will review the 2015 cases and developments in judicial ethics and discipline that grabbed the headlines and illuminated current and recurring issues in judicial conduct, including Facebook and e-mail, campaign fund-raising, gay marriage, and appropriate sanctions. The speakers will be Colin Winchester, executive director, Utah Judicial Conduct Commission, and Cynthia Gray, director, Center for Judicial Ethics. The webinar is free, but you must sign up ahead of time.
Anniversaries . . .
COSCA congratulates the following members for achieving anniversaries in office in December and January: Ted Glessner of Maine (23 years); Rod Maile of Hawaii (5 years); Robin Sweet of Nevada (4 years); Rich Hobson of Alabama (3 years); Joshua Tenorio of Guam and Linda Copple Trout of Idaho (2 years); and Mike Buenger of Ohio, Kathy Lloyd of Missouri, and Deborah Tate of Tennessee (1 year).
. . . and Birthdays
Twelve COSCA members celebrate their birthdays in December and January. Happy Birthday to Milt Mack of Michigan (December 21); Ted Glessner of Maine (December 23); PK Jameson of Florida (December 24); Glenn Grant of New Jersey and Artie Pepin of New Mexico (December 29); Joshua Tenorio of Guam (December 30); Lily Sharpe of Wyoming (January 8); Martin Hoshino of California (January 20); 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).