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December 19, 2019 Feature

Searching for the Future

By Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr.

Editor’s note: We honor Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. in this issue devoted to promoting judicial outreach. Judge Fruin has been a pioneer of judicial outreach for decades, laying the groundwork for and establishing the importance of judicial outreach that continues today. He helped change the view that judges should not actively educate the public on the judiciary and has proven that judges’ interacting with the public greatly strengthens confidence in the courts.

To many readers, I must appear like a bleary-eyed Rip Van Winkle awakening after a 20-year sleep. Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, the editor for this theme issue on judicial outreach, emailed to me advance copies of the articles slated for this issue, and, reading them, I was amazed at the changes in judicial outreach from only 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, the ABA published a book I authored titled Judicial Outreach on a Shoestring: A Working Manual. That book in successive chapters described outreach projects created by judges I met in the ABA’s Judicial Division and featured a collection of work papers from those projects (agendas, scripts, PowerPoints) that could be used to replicate outreach programs.

The book found a need. The Missouri Supreme Court purchased 700 copies for distribution within its court system. The U.S. State Department, I am told, used the book as a resource for its education programs for judges in the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe. The 5,000 copies of the book were sold out by 2010.

The book came to be because West Publishing Company had given a $20,000 publishing credit to the Judicial Division with the condition that the credit had to be used, or at least committed, by the end of 1998. I was at that time the Division chair, having been before my appointment to the bench the chair of the Lawyers Conference, and I had been intrigued by stories told by judges at Division meetings about their efforts to educate the public about the work of the courts. I encouraged those judges to write up their experiences in the hope of producing a product to use that publishing credit. But judges are busy people, and I found no takers. So, I took it upon myself to write up those outreach programs that I had learned about and to collect photographs and working papers to illustrate the narratives. The Judicial Division helped by providing a part-time editor. (My son, a budding artist, designed the cover.) The project took five months. I presented a manuscript that barely beat the deadline to gain the publishing credit.

My book is now out of date (as well as out of print) given the proliferation of judicial outreach programs, as so vividly described by my fellow article writers in this theme issue.

There have been, since 1999, two momentous social changes that have stimulated judicial outreach. The first is the emergence of the internet as an unparalleled communications tool. The internet can be used in many ways to promote judicial outreach—for instance, to send out invitations and to confirm attendance at court events or to publicize a successful outreach event on the court’s website. Today an update to Judicial Outreach on a Shoestring would be published online rather than in book form.

The other change is that many courts, compared to 20 years ago, have recognized judicial outreach as an institutional responsibility rather than the extracurricular activity of individual judges. This attitude change was facilitated when the ABA approved outreach as a judicial function in adopting new model rules for judges. See, Fruin, How Judicial Outreach Became Part of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Judges’ Journal, Fall, 2007.

In the early 2000s, I became active in organizing a committee to promote judicial outreach in my home court. Our court has actively supported outreach programs for students. Our judges, for instance, regularly conduct Teen Courts in high schools throughout Los Angeles County. In Teen Court, high school students conduct a trial and act as jurors for infractions and hate crimes charged against juveniles. Our new committee, therefore, endeavored to create outreach programs to adult audiences, particularly to those we identified as “multiplier audiences.” An audience that will use the information that judges can provide about the court system in their own activities is a “multiplier audience.” One of the most successful were full-day seminars that our judges (and other professionals) presented to clergy and other religious leaders that they could use in pastoral counseling. Our programs covered such topics a criminal and juvenile procedures, drug courts, domestic violence, child abuse, and landlord tenant issues. Our average attendance in presenting court/clergy conferences has been 125 from religious communities. The court/clergy conference is a direct borrowing from the inaugural program developed by Judge Adam Grant, whom I met in the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges. Another “multiplier audience” is high school government teachers to whom our judges make presentations and provide materials to assist them in teaching about the justice system.

The California Judges Association recently established an outreach committee. Its first assignment has been to develop an online version of Judicial Outreach on a Shoestring—in order to publish available materials to encourage more courts to present outreach programs particularly to adult audiences.

After laboring 20 years in the vineyard, perhaps I may close with some general observations about judicial outreach programs. These are the following (very briefly, as each would justify a separate article):

Judicial outreach programs provide value to our communities. There is great interest in our community to hear from judges and to obtain accurate information about the work of the courts.

Judges are effective presenters to audiences (staying within ethical bounds of course) about the day-to-day work of the courts. Judicial time, however, is limited. Judges are the scarcest resource needed for judicial outreach programs. Court leadership needs to enlist court staff and, depending on the program, bar associations, to institutionalize judicial outreach programs.

Court leadership should develop a way to evaluate the effectiveness of particular outreach programs given the particular objectives of individual courts. This would require courts to develop a metric to measure the effectiveness of individual programs.

Judicial outreach programs have different, often overlapping, purposes—to educate, to change public perceptions, to obtain feedback. Judicial outreach is said to increase public trust and confidence in our justice system. All that is true, but I would suggest as well that judicial outreach provides value to our communities by explaining the role of courts in enforcing our laws and providing a way to resolve disputes.

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Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr.

Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. presides over the Los Angles Superior Court. He was chair of the Lawyers Conference in 1992–93 and of the Judicial Division in 1997–98. He continues to write frequently about judicial outreach.