Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Public Education' Category

Colorado Judiciary Turns to Twitter

Colorado’s judiciary is turning to social media — specifically, Twitter accounts — to help educate the public.

The state’s Judicial Branch has announced that the state Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Office of the State Court Administrator will use Twitter to communicate breaking news, insights about the work of the courts, and ongoing community education initiatives.

“Social media platforms such as Twitter have proven to be powerful and useful communication tools with deep reach to broad audiences,” Colorado Chief Justice Nancy Rice said.  “I believe that Twitter will enhance our outreach and communication efforts as we pursue our mission to educate Coloradans about the roles, responsibilities and actions of our Courts.”

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New Code Encourages MA Judges to Engage With the Public

Massachusetts_quarter,_reverse_side,_2000A new code of conduct for Massachusetts judges, adopted by the state Supreme Judicial Court, encourages jurists to engage with the public and offers specific guidelines and limits.

“We don’t want our judges to be forced to isolate themselves so much from the real world that they lose touch with the rest of society,” Lisa Goodheart, an attorney who sat on the committee that drafted the code, told The Boston Globe.  “It’s hard for the public to have confidence in the judiciary and faith in the rule of law unless they have an understanding of it.”

Under the code, judges would not be permitted to address a fund-raiser, but they are permitted to speak at such events as bar association luncheons.

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We Are ‘Helping Other Iowans Solve Disputes,” IA Chief Justice Says

cady1-300x224Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court sat down for an interview with the Newton Daily News, in advance of the court’s hearing arguments at the local high school. The court has held sessions around the state to inform the public about the judiciary and its workings, Cady said:

“We are Iowans helping other Iowans solve disputes. A lot of questions are addressed are, how is it that you relate to us? Coming out into the communities and having our court hearings in their communities help explain how we function in everyone’s lives.”

Cady will stand for retention (up-or-down) election next year. He was the author of a court opinion in 2009  that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, three Iowa justices were removed by voters in a retention election. Cady was Read more

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Opinion: ‘Crusade’ by Judges Needed to Rebuild Waning Trust

At a time of all-time low public trust in our courts, it’s imperative that judges from the Supreme Court in Washington to courthouses across America work to build trust, contends a past president of the American Judges Association.

“The ability of courts to be a strong voice in our democracy is dependent upon the trust the people have in the ability of judges to make fair decisions,” explains Hennepin County (Minnesota) District Judge Kevin Burke in a Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary.

Burke writes that “Part of the essence of an effective judiciary is respect for differing opinions on critical issues,” and he suggests it didn’t help when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used derisive language about the court when it found a right to marry for same-sex couples. He also says there is danger in the expenditure during the upcoming elections of billions of dollars for images that paint “impending apocalypse that will erode trust in government even more dramatically.” Read more

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N.C. Journalist Worries About Eroding Trust in Fair Courts

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Appointed to a new commission aiming to improve North Carolina’s judicial system, a journalist says he hopes that its work will help build public trust in the independence and impartiality of our courts.

Doug Clark of the Greensboro News & Record says in a column that he’s especially concerned about trust in the state courts and in helping educate the public to better understand how they work:

“In recent court races, we’ve seen outside groups with partisan interests spend millions of dollars to promote or attack judicial candidates. Our legislature ended public funding for appellate campaigns, which had been successfully adopted after the 1996 report and relieved candidates of having to raise so much money. Now lawmakers aim to return partisan labels to the ballot for some judicial races. These aren’t steps that instill public trust in the impartiality of our justice system.

“I’m also concerned about a lack of transparency and access to information in the justice system, as well as the public’s lack of understanding about the work of judges and the courts.”

Read more

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Reform Aimed to Inform More Ohio Voters About Judicial Races

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002Reforms led by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor are aimed at raising the profile of judicial elections and helping voters be more informed about them, a Columbus Dispatch editorial says.

Part of the effort to get more voters to participate in judicial elections will be a website, Judicial Votes Count, to be launched soon. It will have biographical information about candidates, their responses to a standard questionnaire and lists of candidates’ endorsements.

While Justice O’Connor has spoken of interest by some in the legal community in a switch to merit selection of judges, she believes that is unlikely to be adopted given public opinion polling in the state, according to the editorial.

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On Politics and On Courts, Texas Judge Finds Twitter Useful

Willett3The Texas Tweeter Laureate is … a judge. Yes, you read that correctly. And in an intriguing Washington Times op-ed, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett shows flashes of the humor and succinctness that are part of his social media effort to demystify our courts:

  • “People know far more about American Idol judges than judges.”
  • “I’m probably the most avid social-media judge in America—which is like being the tallest Munchkin in Oz. It’s a bar so low it’s subterranean. But apparently I’m part of the Twitterati (think Illuminati, but with gavels).”
  • “People are genuinely amazed that a nerdy judge can be engaging, and believe me, my geekery is on an uber-elite level. But it’s rare for a Supreme Court Justice to step out from behind the bench and demystify things.”
  • “If you’re a Texas Supreme Court Justice hopscotching across 254 counties, trying to tattoo your name onto the noggins of millions of voters, you must find creative ways to raise visibility and build awareness. Twitter, Facebook, etc. are low-cost but high-yield ways to leverage the support of key influencers and opinion leaders. Bottom line: It’s political malpractice not to engage people smartly via social media.”
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Construction Starts Soon on Wyoming Judicial Learning Center

IMG_1148Construction of an interactive judicial learning center, where visitors will be able to learn about the workings of the state’s court system, will begin next month in the Wyoming Supreme Court building in Cheyenne.

According to the Center’s website, planned exhibits include the following: Judicial Milestones; Hear From a Judge;  Wyoming (courts) Map; iCivics Learning Stations; and Rule of Law Theatre. ICivics is a civics education program co-founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice at Stake’s first Honorary Chair.

A Casper Star-Tribune article said the legislature appropriated $280,000 for the project with an understanding matching funds would come from other sources. The facility was inspired by the Colorado Judicial Learning Center.

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New Judicial Evaluation Data Available for Utah Voters

UtahUtah voters will be able to get more information about sitting judges to help them decide how to cast their ballots in upcoming retention (yes-or-no) elections, as a result of an effort by the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

The Standard-Examiner reported, “[V]oters can now go to and learn whether the judges on the ballot have been recommended by an independent state commission, how the judges performed compared to their peers, how attorneys, court staff and jurors rated judges on a survey, and how citizens evaluated each judge’s courtroom.” The information also is available in a printed pamphlet for voters who call to request it. Read more

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Partner Group Works to Inform Voters About Judge's Role

national-association-of-women-judgesThe National Association of Women Judges, a Justice at Stake partner organization, is working to inform voters in Florida about the role of a judge in the state court system. The group’s efforts were the topic of a recent WLRN report. 

“It’s not about the individual judges and whether they continue in their career. It’s about what kind of courts do we as citizens in this democracy want,” said Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Washington, D.C.

“The public should be informed about the reasons we have a third, separate branch of government. A branch that is to be above politics and above special interests,” says Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente,  co-chair of the Florida Informed Voters Project.

On Election Day, Florida voters will decide whether to retain 22 District Court of Appeal judges.

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