History of Court Processes, Programs, and Initiatives
Deliver Justice Effectively, Efficiently, and Fairly
- A Brief History of Court Funding
- The Unification of Florida’s Courts System
- Judicial Branch Governance
- Florida’s Judicial Councils: A History
- The Judicial Branch’s 2016 – 2021 Long-Range Plan and its Antecedents
In 1972, more than two-thirds of Florida voters approved reforms to Article V of the state constitution that sought to bring greater consistency and uniformity to the judicial branch. The ultimate goal of these reforms was to ensure that litigants, regardless of where in Florida they reside, receive similar treatment under Florida law. This constitutional revision had seismic effects on the judicial branch: outcomes included the reorganization of Florida’s 16 different types of trial courts into a two-tier system of 20 circuit and 67 county courts; the institution of a series of requirements designed to ensure that judges would be qualified and impartial; and the requirement that the salaries of judges and their assistants be paid by the state, rather than by local governments.
However, most of the other costs of running the courts system were still shouldered by the counties, which often meant substantial discrepancies in funding and services between one county and another. That changed in 2004, with the implementation of section 14 to Article V of the Florida Constitution, commonly called Revision 7. Approved by 67 percent of Florida voters in 1998, Revision 7 had two purposes: to relieve local governments of the increasing costs of subsidizing the trial courts and to ensure equity in court funding across each county in the state.
With the 2004 implementation of Revision 7, general revenue became the primary funding source for the courts. This means when the economy is robust, and sales tax and property revenues are growing, the state’s general revenue fund flourishes, giving rise to a healthy court budget. Conversely, when the economy is pinched, every entity that depends on state funding—including the courts system—feels the squeeze. Indeed, during the gloomiest stretch of the recent economic downturn, when the state’s general revenue fund plunged dramatically (from fiscal years 2007 – 08 through 2008 – 09), the court budget suffered a 12 percent reduction resulting in the elimination of nearly 300 staff positions, a hiring and travel freeze, a reduction in the number of judicial education programs, and a suspension in the work of numerous court committees. And, as is typical in times of economic distress, just as court services were being reduced or eliminated, citizens and businesses were turning to the courts in greater numbers.
At the same time, foreclosure case filings began rising at historical levels, causing a spike in backlogged foreclosure cases. This had both direct and indirect economic consequences, further destabilizing Florida’s already fragile financial state. To ensure the timely administration of justice and to safeguard the viability of the courts system, branch leaders began advocating the adoption of budgeting practices that would better stabilize the operations of the courts during periods of fiscal crisis.
To protect the courts from further reductions in budget and personnel during economically-distressed times, in January 2009, lawmakers established the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund, which they bolstered with higher filing fees and some fine revenues. With the creation of this dedicated funding source for the branch, the courts shifted from being primarily general revenue-funded to being primarily trust-funded (for instance, in the first year after this change was instituted, fiscal year 2009 – 10, the court budget was 70 percent trust-funded; in fiscal years 2010 – 11 and 2011 – 12, it was 90 percent trust-funded).
In spring 2009, after foreclosure filings began reaching singular heights, the legislature designated foreclosure filing fees as the principal source of revenue for the trust fund. However, with this change—coupled with the shift to being primarily trust-funded—the judicial branch budget became vulnerable to volatility beyond its control. This vulnerability became especially pronounced in October 2010, when foreclosure filings, which had grown to average more than 30,000 per month, fell to under 9,000 per month. Inescapably, this monumental drop in filings caused a huge shortfall in the trust fund, and when trust fund revenue was insufficient to support the branch’s appropriated budget, the chief justice had to secure emergency funding from the governor and legislature.
Seeking to restore revenue stability to the state courts system, the legislature adopted a different approach in spring 2012: given the unpredictable swings in mortgage foreclosure filings, lawmakers decided to direct most of those filing fees away from the courts system’s trust fund and into the state’s general revenue fund (which, because of its size, can better withstand the swings), thereby making general revenue the primary funding source for the courts once again.
In fiscal year 2014 – 15, for instance, 78 percent of the court budget derived from general revenue, with 22 percent coming from trust funds; in the 2015 – 16 fiscal year, 81 percent came from general revenue and 19 percent, from trust funds; and in the 2016 – 17 fiscal year, 83 came from general revenue, with 17 percent coming from trust funds.
Note: Florida’s courts system is paid for in part by court users, pursuant to fees specified by the legislature. Such court-related revenue also supports the clerks of court and various non-court state entities and programs. All told, Florida’s judicial branch receives less than one percent of the state’s total budget (generally, lawmakers appropriate between .6 and .7 percent of the state budget to the courts). (To learn more about court funding and courts system appropriations, take this link.)
The phenomenon called the Florida State Courts System didn’t really exist until fairly recently. Florida’s judiciary used to consist of a host of relatively independent, local courts of varying calibers. The courts didn’t begin to become a system until the passage of a 1972 constitutional revision overhauling Article V of the state constitution (which establishes the judicial branch). This constitutional revision established the two-tier courts system, created the position of chief judge, and designated the chief justice as the chief administrative officer for the entire courts system, instituting the structural unification of Florida’s courts—the first step toward becoming a system.
To ensure the swift and smooth administration of justice, the judicial branch needed to continue on this path toward modernization. Increasingly, the courts were finding it necessary to make use of supplementary resources (e.g., case managers, magistrates and hearing officers, court interpreters, administrative and technology staff) due to the growing number of cases; the expanding classification of crimes; the implementation of new, mandatory criminal procedural requirements; the increasing complexity of legal issues; and the changing demographics of the state. These resources needed to be managed efficiently and effectively. Therefore, not long after the 1972 constitutional revision was passed, the judicial branch turned its focus to the establishment of administrative unification—the next stage in the evolution of the courts system.
Meanwhile, although the state still funded the salaries of judges and their assistants, most other costs of running the courts system were covered locally, which often meant dramatic inequities in funding and services between one county and another. In 1998, 67 percent of Florida voters approved amending section 14 to Article V of the Florida Constitution, commonly called Revision 7—an amendment designed to relieve local governments of the increasing costs of subsidizing the trial courts and to ensure equity in court funding in each county—so that all Floridians, regardless of their county of residence, could have access to the same essential trial court services. Since the passage of Revision 7, which was implemented in 2004, the courts system has been progressing toward budgetary unification.
As a result of these steps—beginning with structural unification and moving on to administrative and budgetary unification—the courts system has become better organized and more consolidated, able to provide more homogenous treatment and more equitable services to Floridians all across the state.
“The judicial branch will be governed in an effective and efficient manner.” With these words, the judicial branch’s second long-range plan (The Long-Range Strategic Plan for the Florida Judicial Branch: 2009 – 2015) enunciated the first goal of issue #1, Strengthening Governance and Independence. The plan recommended several strategies for achieving this goal, the first of which was to “reform and strengthen the governance and policy development structures of the judicial branch.” The plan held that “A more permanent and streamlined framework for decision-making and setting policy would benefit the branch as well as court system users and provide for greater consistency and continuity of administration.”
Responding to this recommendation, then Chief Justice Peggy A. Quince, in an October 2009 administrative order, stated that it was “appropriate and timely for the judicial branch to undertake a study of its present governance structure.” In addition to calling attention to the above recommendation of the long-range plan, the chief justice named several other issues that prompted her interest in re-examining the judicial branch’s internal governance structure: specifically, the branch’s historically diffuse governance and administrative structure; the effects of the shift, from the local to the state level, of the greater responsibility for court funding; the growing complexity of issues coming before the courts; and the need to develop and implement responsive, consistent, and timely court policies. To address these issues, she established the Judicial Branch Governance Study Group; she appointed Justice Ricky Polston to chair this 11-member body, which included representation from each of the four tiers of court (membership comprised two supreme court justices, two DCA judges, three circuit court judges, and two county court judges, as well as two Florida Bar representatives).
The administrative order directed the study group to perform an in-depth analysis of the branch’s current governance system and, based on its findings, to draft a report that included an examination of the structure and functions of the present governance system and an evaluation of its efficiency and effectiveness; recommendations of actions or activities that would improve the governance of the branch; and recommendations of any changes to the current structure that would improve the effective and efficient management of the branch. (This link goes to the administrative order.)
To carry out this in-depth study, the group took a thorough, three-pronged approach. The first prong consisted of in-person or phone interviews with more than 40 key court system experts (e.g., presiding and former justices, chairs of judicial conferences, chief judges, chairs of court committees, justice partners, and professional court staff) about governance practices currently in place. Prong two was a web-based survey of a diverse sampling of 100 judges and 350 court staff about intra-branch communication. For the third prong, Justice Polston solicited comments regarding collaboration with court leadership on policy development, rulemaking processes, and legislative/funding issues from groups with a stake in the court system’s governance structure (e.g., members of select Florida Bar sections and rules committees, statewide business associations). Simultaneously, OSCA’s Strategic Planning Unit, which was providing staff support, researched the judicial branch governance structures of other states. Supported by a State Justice Institute grant, the study group hired consultants from the National Center for State Courts to help with the extensive data collection and with analyzing and synthesizing all the materials gathered; the consultants finalized the research results in a report to the study group.
Members of the study group were divided into subcommittees to make recommendations in response to the consultants’ conclusions, and then the full group met in person to consider each subcommittee’s recommendations. After spirited discussion, the study group revised the recommendations, voted (votes were unanimous on most topics), and approved the proposed recommendations. It submitted its final report to the supreme court in January 2011. (This link goes to the study group’s final report.)
The supreme court responded to the report in a per curiam opinion in February 2012. In In Re: Implementation of Judicial Branch Governance Study Group Recommendations—Amendments to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, the court began by outlining the six categories of recommendations proffered by the study group: 1) the role and responsibilities of the supreme court and the roles, responsibilities, terms, and selection of the chief justice as well as the chief judges of the DCAs and trial courts; 2) the role of OSCA; 3) the role and structure of the Judicial Management Council; 4) the authority of the conferences of judges; 5) communication within the branch; and 6) legislative advocacy on behalf of the branch. The opinion then stated, “We adopt many of the rule changes as suggested, adopt some suggested changes with modifications, and adopt other rule changes on our own motion.” (Follow this link to the opinion.)
The most momentous changes involved leadership and communication issues. For instance, adopted amendments recognized the supreme court’s authority to establish policy for the entire judicial branch; defined more clearly and strengthened the leadership role and authority of the chief justice; defined more clearly and strengthened the leadership role and authority of the chief judges of the trial courts and DCAs; and prescribed regular meetings between the chief justice and chief judges to discuss, exchange information about, and provide feedback on the implementation of policies and practices that have statewide impact.
Another rule change established the Judicial Management Council that is currently in operation (this is, in fact, the judicial branch’s fifth judicial management council; prior incarnations were operational from 1953 – 1980; from 1985 – 1995; from 1995 – 2004; and from 2006 – 2008). This council has a more limited membership than its forebears (only 15 voting members): it is chaired by the chief justice and includes another supreme court justice, representatives from each level of court, Florida Bar members, and public members; the state courts administrator is a nonvoting member. The council, which meets at least quarterly, has five areas of responsibility: to identify potential crisis situations affecting the branch and develop strategies for addressing them; to identify and evaluate information that will assist in improving the performance and effectiveness of the branch; to develop and monitor progress related to the branch’s long-range planning endeavors; to review the charges of the various court and Florida Bar commissions and committees, recommend consolidation or revision, and propose a method for coordinating their work; and to address issues that the court brings to the council. As articulated in the per curiam opinion, the council is “part of a loop that will assist the Court with forward-looking vision, while the Court gets feedback from the trial and district courts, the chief judges, and the conferences.”
The opinion emphasizes that the rule changes adopted by the supreme court “are intended to strengthen the governance and policy development structures of the Florida judicial branch, improve the effective and efficient management of the branch, and enhance communication within the branch”—ultimately enabling the branch to better fulfill its mission and achieve its vision.
Florida’s Judicial Councils: A History
In a 2012 per curiam opinion responding to the recommendations of the Judicial Branch Study Group, the supreme court called for the re-creation of the Judicial Management Council. Members of Florida’s court family are likely to remember the branch’s prior council, established by then Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis in 2006 and operative until 2008. And some might recall an earlier version of the council, active between 1995 and 2002. In fact, these councils have a pair of even more distant ancestors: the first incarnation, called the Judicial Council of Florida, was created by the legislature in 1953 and served the court system until 1980; this was followed by the 1985 establishment, by court rule, of a second Judicial Council. This article traces the unfolding of these advisory bodies—unveiling the august foundation on which the most recently created council was built.
The impetus to institute the state’s first judicial council actually came from The Florida Bar, which had been “long concerned about the congestion in the courts of the State, especially in the court of last resort, the Supreme Court, in which the number of cases had risen to about 1250 yearly, in contrast with a national average of about 333 cases in courts of final appellate jurisdiction” (former Justice Elwyn Thomas, “The Judicial Council of Florida,” 1958). Seeking strategies for remedying the overloaded court and for achieving a more efficient administration of justice generally, The Florida Bar, through its legislative committee, successfully sponsored a bill to create the council in the 1953 legislative session. That year, just over half the states in the nation had a judicial council: “Florida became the twenty-third state to have a Judicial Council by legislative enactment; five other states [had] a judicial council by constitution, court rule or other authority” (Herbert U. Feibelman, “Florida’s Judicial Council,” Florida Bar Journal, March 1954).
As defined in the statute, the governor made all appointments to that 17-member body, and membership included a supreme court justice or retired justice, who served as the presiding officer; a circuit judge; a county judge; the attorney general or designee; four Bar members; and nine laypeople.
The council’s overarching responsibility was to make a “continuous survey and study of the organization, procedure, practice, rules, and methods of administration and operation of each and all of the courts of this state, the volume and condition of business in said courts, the work accomplished and the results obtained.” Toward that end, it was specifically tasked with collecting and analyzing statistics showing the work of the various courts; gathering and considering criticism and suggestions from sources associated with the administration of justice; and recommending to lawmakers any changes in the organization, jurisdiction, operation, procedure, and methods of conducting the business of the courts that would require legislative action—and recommending to the courts any changes in the rules and practices or methods of administrating judicial business that might simplify, improve, or expedite the administration of justice (section 43.15, Florida Statutes, 1953).
One of the council’s most notable accomplishments was its drafting of the 1956 amendment to the Florida Constitution. Adopted by the legislature and ratified by voters, this amendment created intermediate courts of appeal to alleviate the overburdened supreme court and to make appellate courts more accessible to litigants; defined the new jurisdiction of the supreme court; and empowered the chief justice to adopt uniform rules governing the practice and procedure in all the state courts. Soon after the amendment passed, the state’s first DCAs were established; housed in Tallahassee, Lakeland, and Miami, the three DCAs were each initially staffed with three judges. (The council had other visionary proposals that, in the end, were excluded from the 1956 amendment but were adopted in later periods of judicial reform; read about them in A. Bradford Smith’s “Progress in Florida: The Judicial Council and Its Work,” ABA Journal, June 1956.)
A less conspicuous accomplishment of the state’s first Judicial Council—but still very important, and now of historical interest—was its gathering of caseload statistics, publicized in its annual reports (it released 25 reports in all). Each year, and on each court, the council collected data on, among other things, the number and categories of cases on the docket, number of cases added, number of cases disposed of, and number of cases pending. Through the late 70s, these annual reports were the only repositories of these statewide data. (Please note: OSCA did not begin capturing statewide data until 1978, so it cannot verify the accuracy of these numbers.)
The council was considered an active leader in judicial reform through 1972—the year that voters approved another set of dramatic revisions to Article V of the state constitution—this time, modernizing and bringing greater consistency and uniformity to the judicial branch. That year, all lower courts were placed under the administrative supervision of the chief justice. Also that year, to support its burgeoning administrative responsibilities, the supreme court created the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA), whose primary responsibility, at first, was the development of a uniform case reporting system (i.e., a mechanism for methodically capturing categories of cases, time required in the disposition of cases, and manner of disposition of cases); ultimately, the branch was seeking to establish uniform criteria to help it determine judicial need, best allocate its resources, and manage individual and collective dockets. With OSCA now responsible for the collection of judicial data, one of the Judicial Council’s major tasks had become redundant. For this, and several other reasons, the legislature decided to sunset the Judicial Council in 1980.
Then in 1985, in a per curiam opinion, the supreme court adopted rule 2.125 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, establishing a “permanent judicial council.” The rule stipulated that the chief justice or a designee serve as presiding officer of the council; others on this 23-member body included three DCA judges (including the conference president), three circuit court judges (including the conference chair), three county court judges (including the conference president), a state attorney, a public defender, a clerk of the court, four Florida Bar members (including the Bar president), and six public members. Excepting the responsibility of collecting, analyzing, and publishing caseload statistics—with which OSCA was now tasked—the specifics of the council’s charges were articulated similarly to those of its predecessor: in essence, its job was to aid the judicial branch in managing its resources and to study and recommend to the supreme court changes to simplify, expedite, and improve the administration of justice in Florida.
During its tenure, the Judicial Council released several reports. OSCA still retains copies of many of these reports. In addition, the Florida Supreme Court Library has copies of two of the council’s annual reports (1986 and 1987). The first report reveals that one of the first major issues the council addressed was establishing time standards for disposing of cases in trial and appellate courts (it references the chief justice’s administrative orders implementing the council’s recommendations for time standards). The second report notes that the council “made recommendations concerning the implementation of alternative dispute processes, child support matters, reducing costs and improving efficiency in court reporter services, the substantial need for increased funding for public defender offices, the need for a detailed study concerning consolidation of Florida’s trial courts, impeachment of judges, and procedures for selecting and terminating trial court administrators.” The council produced at least two other reports (available at the State Library of Florida): one, a study of the appropriate roles for state and local governments in financing the trial court system (1987), and the second, a review of Article V costs and revenues and proposals for financing the court system (1991).
In 1995, the court reorganized the Judicial Council. The 1995 rule amendment (now rule 2.225) completely replaced the previous rule, and, to reflect the council’s new focuses, the court made a name change, calling the new body the Judicial Management Council (JMC). The JMC had 21 official members (and varying numbers of ex-officio members over the years), all appointed by the chief justice; in addition to the membership spectrum of prior councils, this one included someone from the governor’s legal office, two legislators, and a member of the Florida Council of 100. It was tasked with the comprehensive study and formulation of recommendations on issues related to the efficient and effective administration of justice that might have statewide impact, affect multiple levels of the court system, or affect multiple constituencies in the court and justice community; the development of the long-range strategic plan and an accountability program for the branch; the development of recommendations to the Constitution Revision Commission; the review of other commissions, committees, etc., that consider matters with policy, funding, or operational implications for the judicial branch; and liaising with private sector entities with an interest in the court system.
The JMC’s first considerable undertaking was its development of the branch’s first long-range plans; in conjunction, it produced the first two-year operational plan. The JMC also undertook several initiatives to build public trust and confidence in the branch (e.g., through its Committee on Communications and Public Information, established in 1996, and through a series of discussion forums with representatives from the three branches of government, the legal community, and the general public). In addition, the JMC focused on branch performance and accountability (it established a Committee on District Court of Appeal Performance and Accountability in 1997 and a Committee on Trial Court Performance and Accountability in 1998—whose work became particularly pressing as the court system moved toward implementing Revision 7). The JMC remained active until 2002, when the court system’s top priority was the 2004 implementation of Revision 7. At that point, the JMC became dormant, and activity in critical areas was shifted to committees outside the JMC.
In 2006, with Revision 7 fully implemented and the branch having resumed a more quotidian rhythm once again, then Chief Justice Lewis declared, “It is appropriate to reauthorize and renew the Council.” In an administrative order, the JMC was “reconstituted as a judicial branch advisory council for the purposes of providing a formal mechanism for effective two-way communication about the justice system between major citizen constituencies and the courts, informing the public about the justice system, and providing a unique and broad perspective on significant court initiatives.” Taking a “collaborative approach,” this 27-member JMC, whose membership configuration was similar to its immediate predecessor’s, was designed to provide branch leaders “with a broad perspective on the myriad of administrative challenges facing the Florida courts.”
Like its antecedents, the goals of this JMC were indisputably admirable and important. But time, unfortunately, was not on the council’s side. For not long after it was established, Florida, like the rest of the nation, began struggling with the ramifications of the escalating recession. Between fiscal years 2007—08 and 2008—09, the court system’s budget suffered a dramatic decline: beginning at $491 million, it was reduced to $478 million, then to $438 million, and finally settled at $433 million—a 12% drop. Meanwhile, close to 300 court positions across the state were eliminated; a hiring freeze and travel freeze were instituted; court education programs were curtailed; and many committees and task forces were temporarily suspended. At the same time, caseloads, particularly mortgage foreclosure filings, began soaring. This was not the sort of climate in which the JMC could flourish, and it was put in abeyance in 2008.
Nonetheless, this JMC clearly re-galvanized interest among branch leaders in having an advisory council in place. When the economy began to recover and court funding began to show signs of stabilizing, the supreme court re-created the JMC.
The current Judicial Management Council has a more limited membership and more circumscribed responsibilities than its forebears. The chief justice chairs it, and the 15 voting members comprise the chief justice and another justice, representatives from each level of court, and public members; the state courts administrator is a nonvoting member. On a temporary, as-needed basis, the council invites others to participate as nonvoting members.
The 2012 per curiam opinion envisioned the new council as being “part of a loop that will assist the Court with forward-looking vision, while the Court gets feedback from the trial and district courts, the chief judges, and the conferences.” Meeting at least quarterly, the council has five areas of responsibility: to identify potential crisis situations affecting the branch and develop strategies for addressing them; to identify and evaluate information that will assist in improving the performance and effectiveness of the branch; to develop and monitor progress related to the branch’s long-range planning endeavors; to review the charges of the various court and Florida Bar commissions and commissions, recommending consolidation or revision, and propose a method for coordinating the work of these bodies; and to address issues that the court brings to the council.
The JMC was designed to function as a nimble body that can respond swiftly and dynamically to administrative issues the branch is facing. This agility is achieved through the creation of workgroups, each of which is charged with specific tasks and is sunsetted when its tasks are completed. Initially, the chief justice established three workgroups: Access to Justice; Performance; and Education and Outreach. The Access to Justice Workgroup has been focusing on the development of interactive, web-based, guided interviews to facilitate self-represented litigants’ access to the courts. The Performance Workgroup, after reviewing filing and disposition trends by case type and level of work, made recommendations to the court about how to meet future branch needs for uniform and consistent data reporting and analysis in some crucial performance areas. To address issues relating to effective internal and external communication, public trust and confidence, and the use of clear, unified messages within and outside the judicial branch, the Education and Outreach Workgroup updated the branch-wide communication plan; the plan was approved by the supreme court, and implementation began in January 2016. Then in 2014 – 15, the Long-Range Strategic Planning Workgroup was established to refresh the branch’s long-range plan; the Long-Range Strategic Plan for the Florida Judicial Branch 2016 – 2021 plan was approved by the supreme court, and implementation began in January 2016. In 2016, two additional workgroups were appointed: the Trial Court Security Workgroup and the Guardianship Workgroup.
At the twilight of 2015, the judicial branch released its third long-range plan, Justice: Fair and Accessible to All, The Long-Range Strategic Plan for the Florida Judicial Branch, 2016 – 2021. Chief Justice Labarga described the new plan as “a comprehensive and balanced blueprint based on more than a year of meticulous work.”
The new plan has much in common with its two predecessors, Taking Bearings, Setting Course, published in 1998, and The Long-Range Strategic Plan for the Florida Judicial Branch: 2009 – 2015, published in 2009. Each is the product of a comprehensive outreach effort that included hard copy and/or electronic surveys devised for a variety of court audiences (judges, quasi-judicial officers, court personnel, clerk of the court personnel, attorneys, justice partners, jurors, court users, and the general public); telephone and/or mail surveys; meetings with justice system partners; and regional public forums. Also, each of the three plans is organized around five long-range issues that frame the basic direction of the branch over the long term. In addition, each was designed to function as a roadmap that embodies where the judicial branch is and where it hopes to be; these roadmaps are simultaneously aspirational (in that they reach toward a desired end) and practical (in that they enumerate goals that must be met to achieve that end). And, finally, because branch leaders have long-recognized that an organization guided by a long-range plan is best-situated to exercise a measure of control over the shape and health of its future, the three long-range plans were all developed to support branch efforts to anticipate change (and to react quickly, dexterously, and effectively when change does occur) and to keep its ultimate objectives in sight, even in crisis situations.
But even though it shares these fundamental similarities, the newly released plan is also quite different from its forerunners. Most conspicuously, the new plan is emphatically more concise. Taking Bearings, Setting Course (which comprises the first long-range plan plus a host of rich introductory materials and appendices) stretches for more than 100 pages. Although considerably shorter, the second plan (with its accompanying materials) is still more than 30 pages long. In stark contrast, the new plan is a trifold—slim, elegant, and portable enough to tuck into one’s 10-inch tablet folio. According to the Judicial Management Council’s Long-Range Strategic Planning Workgroup (the entity that was responsible for re-evaluating and refreshing the long-range plan), the hope is that a pithy plan will be digestible and accessible, thus more routinely usable, useful, and, ultimately, implementable than a lengthy plan.
Less immediately evident are the differences in the long-range issues around which the three plans are structured. Three of the long-range issues in the current plan share a close kinship with issues in the prior plans (though the accents fall on slightly different notes this time), and two of the long-range issues, though implicit in the prior plans, now have a prominence they didn’t have previously. For instance, readers are likely to recognize the language of long-range issues 2, 4, and 5—“Enhance Access to Justice and Court Services,” “Modernize the Administration of Justice and Operation of Court Facilities,” and “Maintain a Professional, Ethical, and Skilled Judiciary and Workforce.” Less familiar is the language of the new long-range issues 1 and 3—“Deliver Justice Effectively, Efficiently, and Fairly” and “Improve Understanding of the Judicial Process.” The evolution of the long-range issues and their desired end states reflects the necessarily adaptive nature of a long-range plan. Over time, trends change; circumstances change; the challenges facing the courts change. Thus, in order to keep its long-range plan responsive, relevant, and useful, the judicial branch must review it periodically, modifying the long-range issues and goals in answer to the changes the courts are facing.
A highly salient and significant difference between the current plan and its ancestors is that the new plan does not suggest particular strategies for achieving its goals. The first plan enumerated 13 goals and offered 39 strategies for reaching them; the second plan articulated 16 goals, with 71 strategies for actualizing them. The current plan identifies 29 goals, but the workgroup chose not to include strategies so as to allow for flexibility in determining which goals to target and how to achieve them. The elimination of goal-related strategies is connected to another considerable difference between the current plan and its forebears. In years past, no formal procedure was in place for institutionalizing the plan or for monitoring advances toward achieving its goals. This time, however, in seeking to ensure that the plan is carried out, the supreme court approved a course of action that urges local jurisdictions and court committees to develop their own strategies for realizing the goals.
On the local level, courts were asked to identify their own priorities and needs within the context of the plan and to devise strategies to carry out whichever of the 29 goals are most likely to help them equip themselves to address the challenges of providing justice to all. OSCA’s Strategic Planning Unit was directed to provide local jurisdictions with the support they need to address the aspects of the plan on which they decide to focus. And on the statewide level, the supreme court relies heavily on the 21 supreme court committees that are staffed by OSCA personnel for monitoring initiatives related to the plan. Committee chairs were asked to identify activities in progress or about to be undertaken that can serve as strategies for advancing specific goals within the plan. In addition, as the chief justice develops new administrative orders for committee terms, the charges contain references to the plan and specific goal language, as appropriate. The Judicial Management Council, charged with “developing and monitoring progress relating to long-range planning for the judicial branch,” will evaluate advances toward goal achievement on an ongoing basis.
The plan was released in December 2015, and the supreme court identified it as a branch priority. To promulgate it, the Judicial Management Council’s Long-Range Strategic Planning Workgroup developed a compelling brochure (the trifold described earlier) depicting the plan’s issues and goals and has distributed it to judges and court personnel throughout the court system. The plan is also available online—along with some background information about the development of the plan, an executive summary of the workgroup’s outreach findings, and the results of an environmental scan that the Strategic Planning Unit performed in 2014 in anticipation of the revising of the long-range plan. (This link provides access to all these documents.) In addition, to make the framework of the plan accessible to judges, court personnel, and the public, a video about the plan was developed and posted on many court websites; featuring Chief Justice Labarga, the video emphasizes the priority of the plan and explains the importance of its long-range issues and goals. (This link goes to the video.) Judicial Management Council members and Strategic Planning Unit staff are also helping to promote the plan, making themselves available to present informational sessions about it and to offer practical implementation strategies at court committee meetings, court conferences, and other court-related gatherings.
Heralding the publication of the plan, Chief Justice Labarga called it “faithful to the fundamental role courts play in our society and our government.” He also emphasized that the plan “serves as an essential warning of the changing circumstances that have already begun to confront courts and will become even more significant over the next several years.” But while serving as a cautionary note, the long-range plan also acts as a ballast—for, as the branch navigates these changing circumstances, the plan is firmly in place to “assist the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice as they provide leadership and direction to the branch.”