I grew up in Minnesota. The winters were long, that probably goes without saying. Usually by April, the cold was losing its grip. However, you could always count on a ‘teaser day,’ the wind would be a little warmer, the snow would melt, the sun would be brighter, but you knew, just knew, that this wasn’t it. There would be more--more snow, more cold, more gloom. You’d go out and enjoy the warm weather but you didn’t put away the shovels and scarves.
Somehow this fall felt a little like those ‘teaser days;’ is the isolation over, is it ok to get together, or is there more? We hope for the best and plan for the worst. We are planning for an in-person meeting in Seattle, and we’ve all gotten so good at pivoting that no matter what happens, we will make it work. But when will we know what the next normal is? How can we tell that the snow is really gone and spring is here to stay? Courts have had to deal with the same uncertainty. How to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Like the rest of us, the courts have had ups and downs. The internet has viral videos of the “I am not a cat” lawyer and the defendants in pajamas or performing surgery (?!). But for each epic failure there were a dozen treatment courts that figured out how to keep helping people stay sober and accountable, hundreds of clients who didn’t have to pay their lawyer to drive to court and wait their turn for a 10-minute proceeding, and an opportunity for everyone to listen in on oral arguments at the United States Supreme Court. Undeniably, the crisis accelerated innovation and the use of technology. Was all of it great? Nope. Was all of it bad? Again, nope. The measure of a successful exit from the crisis will be how the justice system responds to the end of the spikes and surges, if and when that comes.
The most resilient courts will continue to innovate, to meet the due process needs of the parties, to expand access to justice, and to use technology to increase efficiency. Their leadership will examine what worked and what didn’t, with the careful deliberation they employ in the courtroom. Numerous entities are available to assist, the National Center for State Courts has gathered a tremendous amount of information and best practices to aid courts in moving forward. The National Judicial College is training judges in new technologies and best practices. The Administrative Office of the Courts has resources for the federal bench.
The Judicial Division stands ready to assist any judge in any court with our network of judges at every level to share what worked and what didn’t. Our members are the greatest strength of the JD, we are grateful to them all for their time and talents and the way they so generously share both.
Happy New Year and we hope to see you all at the Midyear Meeting in February!