State Court Assessment Project
The Standing Committee on Judicial Independence (SCJI) launched its State Court Assessment Project (SCAP) in 2005. The project is designed to assist court systems in determining how well they are addressing the needs and concerns of the populace they serve by providing an independent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a state's court system. Thus far, SJCI has conducted an assessment in three states, Missouri, New Mexico, and New Hampshire.
In conducting the assessment, SCJI focuses on judicial independence, judicial accountability, and judicial efficiency and effectiveness. It measures performance based on thirty-four factors within those areas. To assess how well a state court system is operating, SCJI reviews publicly available information on the court system and conducts interviews with knowledgeable persons throughout the state. These interviews are confidential in order to ensure candid responses, with interviewees drawn from both inside and outside government, and efforts made to ensure diversity in terms of job, region, race, gender, and other criteria. Finally, for each factor SJCI rates the court system on a three-point scale: positive, mixed, or negative.
It should be noted that a mixed or negative rating did not necessarily suggest a failure on the part of the state judiciary itself. Some factors crucial for a properly functioning court system-such as security for court personnel and effective provision of legal assistance to indigent defendants-may be under the control of other branches of government rather than the judiciary. Other deficiencies may be caused by insufficient resources, and the courts' funding is likewise beyond the judiciary's control.
Once the assessment is completed, the SCAP report is sent to the Chief Justice of the state, who determines the further distribution of the report. Chief Justice Wolff of Missouri, who received the initial SCAP report, was enthusiastic about the project, believing that it would provide the basis for long-range planning for the state's judiciary and also help the judiciary in its relations with other branches of state government.