May 01, 2013

We Never Saw It Coming . . . or Did We?

By Janet G. Cornell, Phillip Knox, and Peter Kiefer

There is a new political and economic pressure in our country—pressure that our judiciary and administrators have not seen in recent history. Courts are witness to severe battles between principles and purse. Taxpayers demand published court performance data yet still harbor major misperceptions of the judiciary’s role. Administrators must manage in an era of accelerating change and unanticipated user expectations. Courts deal with this pressure framed by a backdrop that they lack the power to support themselves through taxes and are yoked by the political priorities of the executive and legislature.

Typically, court employees comprise more than 75 percent of a court’s budget, so cuts (especially those as deep as have been experienced in the past several years) impact line workers and sometimes constitutionally mandated judicial officers. Court delays inherent in budget reductions and loss of employees are often viewed by those seeking access to justice as problems with the court’s functioning. Commensurate with delays in deciding cases is the overall increase in case aging, time to disposition, case clearance rates, age of active pending caseloads, and the certainty of scheduled trial dates.

First developed in 2005, the National Association for Court Management (NACM) 2010–2015 National Agenda is a meaningful way to analyze the importance of management practices and a way to educate court professionals, the bench, the bar, and the public generally of necessary priorities. In this article, we attempt to peer into just a few aspects of the future and how it will affect America’s state courts.

We asked a group of over 90 court managers from around the country to assess the likelihood of over 40 different scenarios of the future involving courts. In this article, we look at just a few of the scenarios that the group determined were likely to occur by the year 2025. (The scenarios are shown in the sidebar.) We did this through the prism of the six priorities from NACM’s National Agenda.

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