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Posted on Jan 26, 1999 in Speeches


by the


Chief Justice

Supreme Court of Hawai`i

Tuesday, January 26, 1999

Senate Chambers; State Capitol

Governor Cayetano, Lieutenant Governor Hirono, Speaker Say, President Mizuguchi, Legislators, members of the federal and state Judiciaries, other distinguished guests, family, and friends, it is my privilege to be here today to deliver my third State of the Judiciary Address. What I want to do today is share with you how we’re doing, talk about the changes we’re making, reaffirm our commitment to working together, and finally, look to the future.

How Are We Doing: First, how is Hawai`i’s Judiciary doing? To answer that question, we must remind ourselves that justice is about laws and procedures, but, above all, justice is about people. As you are aware, the Judiciary is involved in every aspect of people’s lives, working towards helping them resolve their problems and disagreements.

During the past year, our judges have continued to make thousands of decisions that have directly impacted peoples’ liberty, property, and family relations. Of those thousands of decisions, only a handful have generated headlines in the media — some of which were quite critical. I firmly believe, however, that we should not, and must not, measure the Judiciary’s success by the amount or kind of media coverage our decisions generate. Nevertheless, I realize that, to a large extent, the media is the public’s, and often your, only source of information about judicial decisions. As I have stated in the past, public scrutiny of judicial decisions is healthy, but it must not be allowed to cast a cloud over an entire judicial system that functions very well on a daily basis. And so I ask you to keep media criticism in perspective.

In helping us answer the question “how are we doing?,” we also look to the attorneys, who appear in our courts, as well as the public, who use our courts, every day. We solicit the views of attorneys through written, confidential evaluation surveys. And they tell us, consistently, that Hawai`i’s judges have keen legal ability, excellent judicial management skills, and valued personal attributes. Through our “We Value Your Opinion” surveys, the public tells us that it is generally pleased with the service it receives. Additionally, others outside of our great State assure us that we can be proud of our Judiciary. Our Family Court, our alternative dispute resolution initiatives, and our Drug Court have been acclaimed nationally and serve as models for other judiciaries to emulate.

I, therefore, say to you today, with confidence and pride, that the state of Hawai`i’s Judiciary is sound. But, there is always room for improvement. Throughout the United States, the perception is that judiciaries are too steeped in tradition and too slow to change. We must not find comfort with the status quo. Like you, and the members of the Executive Branch, we are stewards of the public trust, and, as such, we must continually search for ways to improve and better serve the public.

Improvement Initiatives: This past year, we started, and in some cases completed, initiatives intended to address changing conditions and to better serve the public. Allow me to review just a few of those initiatives with you.

Access to the Courts: As the grandson of Korean immigrants, I know first hand what it is like to be confronted by the realization that this country’s most valued rights are not always available to everyone. After graduating from high school in 1958, I left for college in Iowa. Living in Iowa during that first year was a culturally shocking experience for me. At that time, the Korean War had been over for only a few years, and the war with Japan was still fresh in the minds of many of the students, teachers, and town folk. For the first time, I experienced the sting of discrimination — not being allowed to join a fraternity because of its “White” clause, not being served at a restaurant, and not being allowed access to a restroom at a service station. I therefore understand the feelings of frustration and despair when members of the public perceive our courts as being inaccessible. Indeed, access to our courts is about as fundamental a right as I can imagine. That is why Hawai`i’s Judiciary devotes so much energy to making it easier for people to access and understand our court system as well as work their way through it.

In our district courts, for example, a significant number of individuals pursue claims without the benefit of counsel and rely on the many preprinted court forms that are available to assist them in processing their claims. These fill-in-the-blank or -box type forms can be quite labor-intensive and time-consuming to complete. Thus, in keeping with our goal of enhancing access to the courts, we converted our district court forms to electronic format. Forms are now available on computers at the public library, may be downloaded from the Internet, or purchased on diskettes at a nominal cost. Self-represented litigants as well as attorneys and their clients have benefited from this time- and money-saving modern technology. Of course, preprinted court forms are still available for those of us who are uncomfortable around computers.

If you tuned in to the public access stations during the past few months, you may have seen our new district court videos on traffic and small claims proceedings. These videos give step-by-step explanations of various options and procedures in plain, everyday language. The videos have also been dubbed in Ilocano and Korean, and the English-language version is captioned for the deaf and hearing impaired. All three versions of the videos are available in public libraries throughout the State.

Because our immigrant community and its legal needs continue to grow, we have also established a Multilingual Lawline. Our non-English speaking citizens can now hear recorded messages about juvenile proceedings, domestic violence, divorce, and other law-related topics in seven different languages. By avoiding legalese and providing information in user-friendly formats, court users can now better evaluate and make knowledgable decisions regarding their circumstances.

Equally important, however, is a court user’s ability to effectively maneuver through court proceedings. Over the last year, we gave much thought as to how we could better assist court users in finding where they need to go and what they need to do once they get there. As a result, the Ho`okele Court Navigation Project was born. Ho okele will consist of a Court Concierge Program at the entrance to the courthouse and Customer Service Centers in those courts where many litigants are not represented by attorneys.

Juror Innovations: Just as we must make it easier for the public to understand and use the court system, so too must we fully utilize the talents of those who generously give of their time to serve as jurors. Each year, more than 63,000 Hawai`i citizens are called for jury service. This past fiscal year, more than 7,500 individuals actually served as jurors. As you are probably aware, many of our citizens who are called for jury service would rather be somewhere else. The strength of our jury trial system, however, depends in large part on the willingness of our citizens to participate in it. The jury trial, as envisioned by our forefathers, provides an opportunity for our citizens to directly participate in the decision-making process by assisting our judges in resolving disputes. We are therefore committed to finding ways to make jury service both meaningful and relevant.

In furtherance of those goals, we implemented a Jury Innovations Pilot Project to study the effect of various changes to the traditional jury trial procedure. Jurors who serve in the courts participating in the pilot project are, among other things: (1) advised at the beginning of the trial, rather than at the end, about what each party must prove in order to win; (2) allowed to take notes; (3) instructed about the law applicable to the case before, rather than after, the attorneys’ closing arguments; and (4) allowed to submit questions that might be asked of witnesses. Jurors who have participated in the pilot project have told us these changes helped them to better concentrate on the information presented and helped keep their attention throughout the trial. We firmly believe that, by making the jury service process more meaningful and relevant to those called upon to serve, we can increase juror satisfaction and, in turn, elevate public trust and confidence in the justice system.

Technology: No discussion about change would be complete without addressing technology. Plainly and simply, the Judiciary’s obsolete technology slows us down. For example, we have difficulty keeping track of the massive amounts of paperwork and information that are processed in our courts because the eleven or so computer systems that the Judiciary relies on are antiquated, limited in their applications, don’t “talk” to each other, and are in need of major overhaul or replacement. All of these factors significantly impact our ability to manage our cases effectively and efficiently, track and collect fines and penalties owed to the State, as well as restitution owed to victims of crime, and so forth. We are also racing against time to ensure that our computer applications are Year-2000 compliant.

But all is not lost. In visionary legislation, you established the Judiciary Computer System Special Fund in 1996 to enable the Judiciary to address its critical technological needs. We are diligently working on a plan to implement a statewide automated integrated case management system, that, when fully implemented, will allow courts at all levels to manage information associated with individual cases, streamline work flow, organize data, ensure compliance with court orders, eliminate redundant data entry, generate reports, and handle repetitive tasks that presently require considerable manual effort. The Judiciary is also planning the design and installation of the necessary infrastructure to connect employees statewide on a common communications network.

Court Improvement Process Initiative: We recognize, however, that technology is only part of the solution to helping us manage our cases and information more effectively and efficiently. Thus, in July, the Judiciary began a systematic, in-depth process to critically re-examine its structure, procedures, and scope of functions with an eye toward increasing efficiency, reducing duplication, producing cost savings, and generating revenue. We firmly believe that this self-examination process will enable us to address future needs more effectively.

We acknowledged, from the outset of the Court Improvement Process Initiative, that the Judiciary does some things solely because we’ve always done them and that there are some things that we should be doing, but we aren’t, simply because we never have. This initiative is providing a forum in which to determine whether the Judiciary has moved beyond its mission, whether its processes can be streamlined, and whether its services can be performed at less cost. The answers to these questions will necessarily involve change, and, whenever one talks about change, feelings of uncertainty and anxiety inevitably arise. Although we are aware that our Court Improvement Process Initiative has created, and will undoubtedly continue to create, some uncertainty and anxiety, we cannot, and must not, allow the fear of change to stand in the way of finding better avenues to service the people of Hawai`i. We ask for everyone’s patience, understanding, and support as we consider various options.

The initiatives I’ve mentioned — improving access to the courts, jury reform, technology projects, and our Court Improvement Process — all have one common purpose, and, that is, to position the Judiciary to enter the 21st Century better prepared to meet the needs of the people of Hawai`i.

The Agents of Change: The Judiciary, however, cannot succeed in isolation. The external agents of change are too great. A struggling economy, changes in divorce and employment rates, variations in demographics and lifestyle patterns, and overcrowded prisons place significant demands on our state court system and transform the types of conflicts that arise. The number of cases of domestic violence, crimes against property, and child abuse signal personal and social stresses on and among Hawai`i’s people. And, business failings register the existence of the economic pressures on Hawai`i’s business and financial communities.

We cannot, however, fight change. John F. Kennedy understood this when he said, “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” Our challenge is to continue our collaborative efforts to find appropriate and workable solutions around these external agents of change. In both your Standing and Conference Committee Reports last session, you expressed gratitude for the cooperative working relationship between the Judiciary and the Legislature during the session. We appreciate your sentiments and pledge to continue that cooperative relationship this session.

We look forward to continuing the partnerships we have formed with the Executive Branch. For example, we are working very closely with the Attorney General’s Office to facilitate the collection of fines and restitution; our Drug Court could not succeed without the full cooperation of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health; our Family Courts have worked hand in hand with the Department of Human Services to improve adoption procedures; and sheriffs from the Department of Public Safety provide much needed security for judges, staff, and the public.

We also look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts with the community at large. For example, earlier, I spoke about our most far-reaching effort to date — the Court Improvement Process Initiative. The draft recommendations generated by this initiative were based, in part, on the more than 750 surveys we received from interested individuals outside the Judiciary. I also spoke about our Jury Innovations Project. The Jury Innovations Committee, which formulated the project, includes former jurors. The Committee’s recommendations also reflect community input obtained through three public meetings, a live, call-in program on Olelo, and written comments from the public. And, finally, the Judicial Council, which acts as an advisory board to the Chief Justice on matters concerning the administration of justice, has representation from the labor, business, medical, and legal communities, as well as from this Legislature and the media. Recently, the Judicial Council assisted in identifying public trust and confidence issues facing the Judiciary and developed strategies to address those issues. These issues and strategies were forwarded to a national committee organized by the American Bar Association, in cooperation with the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators. The national committee will use the input received from all fifty states to create the agenda for a National Conference on Building Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System to be held this coming May in Washington, D.C. As you can see, the community has responded enthusiastically to our call for input, and we are grateful for its assistance so we can do our jobs better.

The Future: When I look to the future, I see a modern, efficient, fair, and accessible Judiciary. But, the Judiciary needs your help in making that vision a reality. Although a State of the Judiciary Address should not be confused with testimony at a budget hearing before the money committees, I would be remiss if I did not mention certain vital areas needing your assistance. First, because Hawai`i’s Drug Court is an innovative, multi-disciplinary means of addressing an urgent community concern, we will be asking you this session to solidify the Drug Court’s future by converting the temporary staff to permanent status.

Second, despite the progress I noted in the area of technology, much work remains if a modern integrated case management system is to become a reality. The Computer System Special Fund is scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2000. Because court automation is a long-term and continuing endeavor, and because its implementation is crucial to the Judiciary’s goal of improving justice, access, and service to the public as well as increasing the efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity of the courts, the Judiciary will be seeking repeal of the sunset date on the fund.

Third, the Ho okele Court Navigation Project that I mentioned earlier cannot become a reality without your support. This customer-service oriented project requires staff in the entryways of the O`ahu District and Circuit Courts to answer questions about court activities and to direct individuals to the appropriate sources of information. We will ask that you consider providing additional staff to implement the project.

Fourth, I know you agree that no area creates more concern than domestic violence and child abuse in our State. We are therefore requesting funds for two additional Family Court judgeships to help stay abreast of these cases.

And, finally, in order to attract and keep competent judges, we seek your support of the Judicial Salary Commission’s recommendations to increase judicial compensation.

Ladies and gentlemen — our citizens look to our courts to protect their lives, liberties, property, communities, and democratic values. They expect the courts to administer the same justice whether the parties are rich or poor, well-known or obscure, powerful or powerless, victims or offenders. In that sense, we are not talking about the future at all. These are our responsibilities for today, as well as for tomorrow, and I pledge to continue to work with you to “do justice.”

I also pledge to stay in touch as we each work toward the “big picture” of an integrated, pluralistic, and dynamic conflict resolution system. And, I pledge to communicate the progress that the Judiciary makes toward its goal of ensuring justice for all of our citizens.

Thank you again for the privilege of speaking with you today.