January 01, 2014

Delivering Justice The Medium Is the Message Too

What can judges and lawyers do to respond to the reasonable desires of citizens for procedural justice?

Hon. Susan K. Gauvey

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What do people want of their judicial system? What makes court processes fair in their eyes? What are we doing right, and what are we doing wrong, to instill trust and confidence?

Surveys and research have demonstrated that “among the various sources of public dissatisfaction, perceptions of the relative fairness of court dispute processes are what ultimately determine the level of public trust [in the court system].” Roger K. Warren, “Public Trust and Procedural Justice,” Ct. Rev., Fall 2000, at 13. As David B. Rottman of the National Center for State Courts has observed, “[s]atisfaction with the outcomes of decisions is important, of course, but the key to understanding what people think of the courts is their assessment of the equity and efficiency of the procedures that courts use to make decisions.”

In the intense concentration on the legal issues before them, judges tend to forget that how they reach their decisions matters to the public. Judges and lawyers have tunnel vision, focusing on the legal merits and dissecting legal principles. We are intent on deriving the right result. Because of that focus, we often neglect the envelope—the “medium”—in which we deliver our “message”—our ruling.

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