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Young Lawyers’ Division of the Hawai`i State Bar Association

Posted on Dec 2, 1999 in Speeches

Graphic Hawaii State Judiciary Logo

(Young Lawyers Division)


Thursday, December 2, 1999
Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel


For the first three years of my term as Chief Justice, I delivered my State of the Judiciary address at the Hawai`i State Bar Association’s Annual Bar Convention. Since 1997, however, I have accepted the invitation of the legislative leadership to deliver my State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Hawai`i State Legislature. Although I certainly appreciate the opportunity to address our legislative body, I have missed those days of speaking to you about the Judiciary. And so, today, is like coming home.
I would like to thank Bar President Randy Roth for his kind invitation to address you today about some of the things that the Judiciary is doing, or plans to do, that will affect your practice and about how we can work together to improve the legal profession and the administration of justice. Since my time is limited, I have narrowed my choice of topics to three areas: court technology, the Judiciary’s restructuring efforts, and judicial performance evaluations. Although these three areas may seem somewhat discrete, they do share commonalities — that is, they each require collaboration between the Bench and Bar, and each will have a profound effect on how the public perceives us.
I believe that nowhere has the practice of law and the Judiciary been more impacted than in the area of technology. I am here today to tell you, unequivocally, that the Judiciary is — technologically — well poised to enter the 21st century. First, the immediate issue of Y2K compliance. All ten of the Judiciary’s major administrative computer systems are Year 2000 compliant. In addition, each of our courts has developed a Y2K contingency plan to cover matters such as case scheduling and staffing. These Y2K contingency plans acknowledge that individual courts and programs will have different needs based on their own resources, caseloads, and other unique characteristics. At the same time, these Y2K contingency plans recognize that a threshold level of uniformity and coordination is necessary across the courts and circuits.
Beyond the immediate Y2K issue, the Judiciary, this past year, finalized and published its technological vision, which represents a strategic outlook of the role technology will play in the Judiciary through the Year 2010. The lynchpin of our strategic vision is an integrated case management system. Currently, the Judiciary’s case management systems are antiquated, fragmented, and cumbersome. Many of these systems were designed and implemented in the 1970’s and, therefore, reflect the state of the art back then. As a result, processes are manually and paper intensive, which makes it very difficult to expedite the judicial process and to provide timely and adequate information to our “customers.”
Under an integrated case management system, cases will be filed electronically. Court calendars and even case information will be published on the Internet. Case information will cross venues electronically without having to be inputted into the computer again — thereby enhancing speed and data quality. The process will be faster, more accurate, and more convenient.
How far off is such a system? We will implement the system in phases, beginning in late 2000, and we anticipate completion within seven years of implementation. A requirements study, which was completed in November of this year, revealed that our basic caseflow practices are sound. What we learned, however, was that we must more actively monitor the progress of cases as well as define and enforce case-processing time standards. The next step is for us to issue a Request for Proposals and, thereafter, to select the vendor that will oversee the implementation of the Integrated Case Management System.
As you know so well, technology is expensive. The good news is that the Legislature, during the last session, made permanent the Judiciary’s Computer System Special Fund. Of the $7 charge for a traffic abstract, $2 go into this special fund. The fund generates approximately $800,000 a year and currently holds almost $2 million. The bad news, however, is that we expect an integrated case management system to cost between $15 and $30 million. Considering the current fiscal environment, we will need to be creative in searching for additional ways to fund this critical system. A combination of computer system special funds, state general funds, grants, court fees, and project phasing are the most likely answer.
In the short time we have today, I could not begin to discuss the many technological innovations the Judiciary is either implementing or are on the immediate horizon. From our video arraignment project to our Family Court SEER project, from our Traffic Interactive Voice Response Unit and On-Line Payments project to our HAJIS On-Line Access Initiative, from the start and constant expansion of our Judiciary Homepage to our efforts toward electronic filing, the Judiciary is determined to offer you, and the clients you represent, access to the most advanced technology available.
I do want to announce today that, this Spring, I will convene a court technology summit. We plan to enlist the aid of a national expert in court technology to facilitate the summit. We will be inviting all of the stakeholders, including, of course, the Hawai i State Bar Association, to meet with us over a full day regarding court technology. At the summit, we will share, in detail, exactly where the Judiciary is with respect to every aspect of our court technology, and where we hope to go. Equally, or perhaps more important, you will have a forum to help shape the Judiciary’s technology landscape.
Although technology is an important part of a much larger picture, it comprises only one part of it. Therefore, I want to spend a few minutes talking to you about “the bigger picture.” Beginning in 1998, the Judiciary embarked on an inclusive and comprehensive court improvement initiative, which we are calling “ACE” or Achieving Court Excellence. Our goal was to develop a far-reaching plan based on an in-depth, systematic, and critical self-examination that would enable the Judiciary to enter the new millennium better prepared to meet the needs of the people of Hawai i. (I could not get through a speech without saying the words, “new millennium”, at least once!)
Based in part on input from you, the practitioner, we have developed a 29-point plan to accomplish our goal. Some of the initiatives will directly impact you — the most immediate one being the change from a master calendar system to an individual calendar system in First Circuit Court for civil cases. Under the individual calendar system, judges will have increased responsibility for managing an assigned caseload. We believe that, under an individual calendar, judges can be more proactive and can employ case management procedures that should reduce the expense and delay of litigation. I understand that the impending move to an individual calendar is on the Bench/Bar Conference agenda for tomorrow. Although the decision to move to an individual calendar is firm, and the transition plan almost complete, your constructive input tomorrow regarding how to ensure a successful transition is most welcome.
The ACE initiative also calls for a one-tier trial court system — that is, where all judges would be at the circuit level — with appropriate speciality divisions, which will allow greater flexibility in using judicial resources more effectively. In addition, ACE envisions establishing time standards for disposing of cases and further limiting continuances. The greater use of effective caseflow management principles will further reduce case delay which, in turn, will help to enhance public trust and confidence in the courts.
There are many other ACE initiatives dealing with administrative and court consolidation, decentralization, moving certain programs out of the Judiciary, standardization of court practices and procedures, user fees, training, and customer service. I wish we had time to discuss all of them with you; however, suffice it to say that the ACE initiative is far reaching and will impact all of us — inside and outside the Judiciary for many years to come. It represents the most tangible example that we, in the Hawai i State Judiciary, will not stand still and ignore the changes going on all around us. As the Judiciary works to implement ACE, I recognize and reaffirm what all of us already know — and that is, — change is difficult. I ask for your support, and cooperation, as we work together to make a good system, even better.
Which leads me to my third, and last subject, judicial performance evaluations. Over the past year, 49 of our 65 trial court judges were evaluated. That is a remarkable number and reflects the determination and commitment of the Special Committee on Judicial Performance, otherwise known as a the Rule 19 Committee, to wrestle with the complex operational and programmatic challenges until they developed a system that worked. As you know, the Rule 19 Committee is comprised of members from the Bar and the Judiciary, and I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to them for their hard work and dedication.
Under Rule 19 of the Rules of the Supreme Court, a judge’s individual evaluation results are confidential. Recently, however, discussions have arisen regarding the release of a judge’s individual performance evaluation results to the media and the public-at-large. My position on this issue has remained steadfast throughout. I firmly believe that public disclosure of the names and scores of individual judges will adversely impact judicial independence. We know this to be true as a result of a study by the American Judicature Society of the evaluation programs in four states — namely, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. In those states, judges are subject to judicial retention elections. Therefore, the stated purpose and intent of public disclosure, which is to inform its citizens so that they may vote intelligently, is met. However, public disclosure of individual judicial performance scores in states, like Hawai`i, with a merit selection process — as opposed to an electoral process — threatens the independence of the third brach of government. In fact, even in those four states I just mentioned where the public purpose is met, some judges believed that public disclosure undermines or compromises judicial independence. One judge was quoted as saying, “It undermines judicial independence. People with negative thoughts are more likely to respond. Other negative thoughts result from disagreement with judges who run a tight and efficient court.” Another judge said, “It compromises judicial independence; judges concern themselves too much with popularity.”
Non-public disclosure, however, does not mean that results are not shared under any circumstance or not published at all. Under Rule 19, individual evaluations are forwarded to the Judicial Selection Commission, upon request, at the time the Commission is reviewing a particular judge’s request for retention. In addition, evaluation results are publicly disclosed, in general terms, via the Judiciary’s Report on the Judicial Performance Program. The report discloses the group mean or average score of same-level-judges in the areas of legal ability, judicial management skills, comportment, and settlement/plea agreement ability. Thus, in weighing the pros and cons, I firmly believe that the preservation of judicial independence far outweighs any benefit that could be derived from public disclosure of judges’ names and their respective scores. The potential for judges — whether elected or appointed — to be distracted by concerns over their ranking or popularity would not be consistent with preserving judicial independence.
And, although I remain firm in my opposition to public disclosure of judicial evaluation results, I have come to believe that at least one change is in order. I intend to immediately begin discussions with Bar leadership regarding the formation of a Committee to assist me in reviewing the evaluation results with individual judges. I envision a Committee of approximately 5-7 persons, made up of former judges, members of the public knowledgeable in the law, and retired practitioners. This Committee will participate in meetings with the individual judges to review their evaluation results. Membership on this committee will be conditioned upon the agreement that the performance results are not to be discussed outside the Committee.
I believe such a Committee would address the concern that the current evaluation process is completely “in-house,” and thus subject to question. Relatedly, creating such a Committee will further promote public trust and confidence in the courts. In addition, our judges would surely benefit from the wisdom and counsel of respected persons in the community. Moreover, the significant burden on me to review and meet with each evaluated judge will be lessened. And, most importantly, because the Committee will not release the results to the media or general public, judicial independence will be preserved.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are journeying on the same path. Our roles are different, but our goals are similar and, in one particular case, our goal is the same — to advance the administration of justice.
I am deeply grateful for your support, patience, and encouragement these past almost 7 years that I have been Chief Justice. I look forward to our future together — it has been, and I am confident will continue to be — a bright one.