Thomas W. Lyons, ESQ.
Thomas W. Lyons is editor of the Rhode Island Bar Journal and a partner at Strauss, Factor, Laing and Lyons.
Recent surveys have shown that many Americans do not have complete confidence in our judicial systems, although those surveys had mixed results. While most respondents said the American legal system was the best in the world, only fifty percent had confidence in the Supreme Court and the results for other courts were lower with family or divorce courts getting the lowest ratings. Only sixteen percent expressed approval for attorneys generally.
In May 1999 Chief Justice Weisberger led a “blue-ribbon” group of Rhode Islanders to a symposium in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American Bar Association, the League of Women Voters and the Conference of Chief Justices to discuss building trust and confidence in the American judicial systems. Some 500 judges, lawyers and distinguished laypeople attended. The national symposium had two main principal suggestions: courts should improve their performance and should communicate better what the public can expect from court systems so that they do not expect more than can be delivered. The national symposium also recommended each state have a similar symposium.
The Roger Williams University Symposium
On April 1, 2000, the Roger Williams University School of Law hosted a symposium on Trust and Confidence in the Judicial System. Approximately eighty judges, governmental leaders, lawyers, educators, and other invited community leaders attended. Dean Harvey Rishikof introduced the Chief Justice who described the history of the project leading up to the symposium. The Chief Justice noted that historically lawyers and legal systems have not been popular. However, he emphasized the importance in a democracy of its citizens having confidence in all their systems of government. Without that confidence, people will cease participating in their government and it will wither. The Chief Justice used as an example the Weimar Republic which lost the confidence of its citizens who then turned to Adolf Hitler and tyranny.
Judge Pirraglia spoke next. He commented that the national symposium was prompted by the increasing ferocity and frequency of verbal attacks on the judiciary, especially by people who are highly regarded. The judge said the public surveys showed the public believed that cases were not handled well or quickly; that judges do not take time to understand cases and explain decisions; that their decisions were affected by politics; that cases were too expensive to bring; that family courts got especially bad reviews; that minorities felt they were treated unfairly; and, that the public had little knowledge of governmental organization. In 1987, a Rhode Island survey had similar results.
There were some positive results from the national surveys. Eighty percent of respondents believe America had the best judicial system; seventy percent thought the jury system the fairest; those respondents who were the most knowledgeable about our government were the most supportive; and, many respondents wanted to know more about the judicial system.
Judge Pirraglia suggested the surveys raised several questions:
- Is public perception of poor performance accurate or based on misinformation?
- How does Rhode Island compare in speed of case resolution?
- Is the judicial process affordable for the average person?
- Are all people treated fairly?
- Are our courts user friendly?
- Can and should our courts respond to outside changes by providing new and different services?
- Is the adversarial “winner-take-all” system best?
- Should judges take a more active role in resolutions of litigation?
- Are the courts organized in the best way?
- Should judges more actively inform the public about their role and the functions of the courts?
Justice Lederberg spoke next.
She discussed the Judicial Evaluation Committee which she thought was illustrative of the issues. The Committee receives written evaluations of judges with lifetime appointments. Lawyers and parties who have appeared before the judges provide the evaluations. Justice Lederberg said the reviews of Rhode Island’s sitting judges are very high, usually between 4 and 5 on scale of 5. In general, the courts which handle the largest number of claims and the fewest number of pro se litigants get the highest ratings. This indicates that those who are most knowledgeable about what courts can do better appreciate the process and the results.
Justice Lederberg also mentioned the Law Day committee which recruits judges and lawyers to speak in schools and at other public forums about the legal system. These presentations help inform people about the legal system and the roles of judges within that system.
Justice Flanders then discussed the Supreme Court’s User-Friendly Committee which he chairs. The “friendliness” of the court system, including its employees, directly affects how fairly litigants feel they have been treated. He said we must continue to make access to courts better for laypeople.
Gary Sasse of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council also attended the national conference. He commented that Mario Cuomo has said we must distinguish the judicial system from the political system. Many people often do not appreciate the difference which affects how they perceive the operations of the judicial system. A perception of unequal treatment also arises where judicial personnel are not demographically representative. Two other significant issues are the cost of the legal process and physical access to the courts.
Joel Rawson, Executive Editor of the Providence Journal, mentioned only half-jokingly that the media will continue to expect total access to judges and courtrooms and instant answers to all their questions. Tracy Breton, a reporter for the Providence Journal, said the local judicial system works fairly well. She thought that there is a public perception that judges are too concerned with process and that the rigidity of the rules works against people. The public thinks there is “conveyor belt” justice. The Derrick Hazard case shows minorities feel there is unfairness in the system. Ms. Breton noted there are language barriers even when there are interpreters because interpreters sometimes do not understand the judges and do not know what to interpret. People think that wealthy criminal defendants do better than poor ones. Finally, she wondered why defendants have to wait past appeal for post-conviction relief.
Jim Taricani, a reporter for Channel 10 television (WJAR), said the broadcast media operate under significant time constraints, often with reporters who lack much expertise. His station is now owned by General Electric, instead of a local company. As a result, Channel 10 is now much more cost conscious and has much less permanent local staff. There is also much more control from New York.
Mr. Taricani commented that many people thought former Gov. DiPrete got off easily because he had political connections. People still think judges are politically connected. Mr. Taricani suggested judges should provide better public explanations of the sentences they impose and should also do more to educate reporters.
Barbara Meagher, a reporter for Channel 6 television (WLNE), recommended changing the jury obligation from two weeks to one day as is done in Massachusetts. She thought this would get broader representation in the jury pools.
John Tarantino, past president of the Bar Association, said people do not understand the litigation process and burdens of proof. They compare the legal process with processes with which they are most familiar. We need to better inform people why legal process works the way it does. In this respect, Law Day and similar programs are very important. He added that the media has an obligation to become better informed about the legal process.
Lauren Jones, another past president, went to the national conference as our president and a practicing lawyer. He thinks lawyers have missed their obligation to educate clients as to what they can expect from the system, especially as to the lawyer’s role as an advocate and an adversary.
Sheldon Whitehouse, Attorney General, said there is a general lack of knowledge and confidence about government, especially among members of minority communities. He suggested education and knowledge is the route to greater confidence. Judges and the judicial system lack administrative and technological support. Courthouses and legal forms must be more user-friendly.
Judge Nugent, who was the Chief Public Defender at the time of the symposium, said the Public Defender’s office needs greater resources, including paralegals. There has been a great increase in the budget since he took office and much better facilities and space. Judge Nugent believes there should be more minorities in the Public Defenders Office but its salaries are not competitive, particularly, for new lawyers with heavy student loans. He noted that prosecutors can get student loans forgiven but the public defenders could not, as yet.
Col. Edmund Culhane, Superintendent of the State Police, commented that pollsters say those agencies which cannot publicly articulate their purpose have little chance of obtaining the public’s confidence. Police departments are attempting to better educate people about what they do. Government must do a better job of seeking feedback. The state police have adopted a quality assurance program and have been surveying the public for views on police performance.
Judge Thompson attended as the representative of the Committee on Women and Minorities in the Courts. She said the terrible events which occurred in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho show what happens when people lose trust and confidence in the judicial system. It seems like only recent history that women and minorities were given at least nominally equal rights in the legal system. Judge Thompson suggested we need to address public complaints, such as racial profiling, which arise before people get to the courtroom when they deal with police and police policies.
She also observed there has been a great increase in the number of non-English speaking people in the court system. The judge wondered how much confidence they had in the accuracy and adequacy of translation in courts. There was new legislation, effective July 1, 2000, respecting judges’ obligations to non-English speaking litigants. Following a midmorning break, there was a panel discussion moderated by Judge Pirraglia on judicial independence. He said it does not mean lack of accountability. He asked whether Rhode Island should adopt quality performance standards.
Judge Flanders thought we should consider standards. He noted the public dissatisfaction with how long it takes to decide matters. Consideration of standards could inform the public of how judges make decisions and why deciding can be difficult.
Lauren Jones was concerned that “performance” standards could diminish the quality of justice.
Justice Lederberg said that in California, judges’ salaries depend on timely rendering decisions. She thinks television distorts the way justice works and she decried use of the term “technicality” as in someone “got off on a technicality.” She said the media does not explain the importance of those “technicalities.”
Judge Fortunato commented that he is pessimistic about what the press can do to educate the public. He would like to see greater coverage of legal events, rather than sensational coverage of sports or house fires. Mr. Rawson said media coverage responds to the level of public interest. At the Providence Journal [which has also gone from local to out-of-state ownership], a number of reporters are responsible for covering the courts, at least part time. Those in the various outlying bureaus get great discretion as to what local legal issues to cover. When Judge Fortunato asked what obligation the media has to cover less notorious legal issues, Mr. Rawson responded essentially that there will likely be no changes in way the media does its business.
Eva Mancuso said there should be a process to allow specialization by lawyers. Specialization would lead to better quality legal services and greater public confidence. Justice Weisberger remembered that years ago Justice Joslin had chaired a committee which determined it was too difficult to set up and administer a program to certify competence in specialized areas of the law. He then appointed Ms. Mancuso the chair of a newly formed committee to study the issue again.
Ms. Breton said that she had learned quite a bit from Judges Shea and Needham in off-the-record conversations when she began her career as a reporter. Many reporters do not understand the legal process and need education from those who do, such as lawyers and judges.
Chief Judge Torres saw a paradox from the discussion. Courts operate very publicly, with open proceedings, with a record, and with judges who are supposed to explain the reasons for their decisions. However, people still do not understand how the courts work. Judges need to do a better job of explaining their decisions and how the process works. The media needs to do a better job of explaining judicial proceeding and schools must do a better job of educating students.
Mr. Taricani suggested that people who are unhappy with media coverage call general managers of media outlets and ask why the coverage was inaccurate or inadequate.
Judge Pirraglia remembered that a fellow judge was once asked why judges could not decide cases as fast as “Judge Judy.” The National Judicial College has begun addressing the issue of educating the public about the judicial system. The California judicial system recently confronted the quandary of the ethical rules which constrain judges from commenting on their decisions. They encourage judges to talk about the process of cases before them and mandate that they engage in public outreach.
Justice Weisberger said the ethical constraints are not an easy issue. Judges can certainly participate in community outreach and most do so on Law Day. They should not indicate any opinion about the merits of a pending case because this will raise, at least, the appearance of partiality. Judges can, however, answer questions about the legal process. Justice Lederberg said a judge cannot explain out of court the evolution of her thinking on a decision, any more so than she can release a draft decision. Her position can change in the process of thinking through an issue and public comment could lock a judge in a position prematurely. Justice Flanders thought judges were too leery of commenting on the judicial process. He said judges should not be required to participate in outreach programs but should do more voluntarily.
Attorney General Whitehouse commented that the middle of a media interview is not when an interviewer wants to be educated. The education must occur before the interview. Also, we must be sure that the quest for public understanding must not become a quest for public approval. Judges are supposed to be occasionally contrarian.
Judge Clifton said public misperception of courts occurs, in part, because dramatic presentations of the legal process are often inaccurate. He said cameras are only in the courtroom when the media are interested in a particular case. It would be helpful if reporters spent an entire day in a courthouse observing how courts actually operate.
Clifford Monteiro, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, added that he is a deputy sheriff and of Cape Verdean descent. He said everyone must address racism and sexism issues. He responds to many people who call complaining that one judge or another is racist. He wondered how judges can acquire and maintain sensitivity towards concerns of minorities and how to educate minorities that courts usually operate fairly.
Judge Thompson said her committee has suggested gender sensitivity training. She thinks diversity training could help judges. She believes judges can unconsciously give off racist signals. Mr. Rawson said the Providence Journal tries to educate the public every day, but noted 60 percent of the public does not read a newspaper every day.
He wondered how the media is supposed to overcome the deficiencies of the educational system. Some people are not interested in being educated, some are very interested, others are interested only when something sensational occurs. Those are the moments when we have the opportunity to educate them.
Arthur Capaldi, a practicing lawyer and municipal court judge, said the media will not cover mundane events, but the Providence Municipal Court gets coverage on public cable access television. He learned this when a defendant quoted Providence Municipal Judge Caprio to him. Mr. Capaldi said education will only occur through televising “mundane” cases on public access.
Claudette Field, of the Rhode Island Legal Education Partnership, said her organization has trained hundreds of teachers about the judicial system, but she continued to be appalled by the ignorance of new teachers. People do not understand because they are not reading newspapers.
During his luncheon presentation, Chancellor Santoro pointed out that criticism of and lack of confidence in the judicial system was not new. He quoted comments to this affect which Dean Roscoe Pound made in the early part of the century. Nevertheless, the bench and bar should be concerned about these issues because a public which lacks confidence in the judicial system will not obey its rules and decisions.
Chancellor Santoro saw three reasons for the public’s lack of confidence. First, the application of general rules of law to “immaterial elements of particular controversies” conflicts with individuals’ views of their cases. Often, these rules of law may not reflect what the public or a significant minority wants. This is an unavoidable result, nevertheless, the reasons for the application of the general rules could be better explained.
Second, most Americans have little understanding of the adversarial and traditional system of litigation. Litigation is intended to produce winners and losers through a highly contentious process over which individual litigants have little control. Chancellor Santoro suggested using alternative dispute resolution mechanisms which the public better understands. In arbitration and mediation, the litigants can usually express themselves fully at a relatively informal hearing. “Participation creates trust.”
The third cause is that lawyers and judges do not always carry out their responsibilities as officers of the court in a professional, efficient and accountable manner. In particular, judges and court systems should be evaluated on five performance areas: access to justice; expedition and timeliness; equality, fairness and integrity; independence and accountability; and public trust and confidence. “Judges must come to realize that independence is inextricably entwined with accountability.”
Chancellor Santoro summarized the experiential factors which influence support, confidence and trust. These include favorable outcomes, influence over outcomes, opportunity for participation, dignified and respectful treatment, and neutrality in decision making. Psychologists say that participation, even without control, is the most important factor affecting trustworthiness.
Following the lunch break, the attendees split up into breakout groups to discuss a variety of issues and then reported back to the group as a whole. Professor Kent added his comments. He suggested there should be a Court-Media Committee to address differences and problems in communication between the two groups. He also emphasized the need to promote respect for the legal system and respect for those who are users or prospective users of the legal system. This includes communicating “bad news” in a sensitive manner. Lastly, he suggested the local legal community needs to make greater use of the Law School’s talents and assets. The Chief Justice concluded the symposium by stating it was the first step in a process of making Rhode Island’s legal system the best in the country.
The Law School and the Supreme Court subsequently issued a report summarizing many of the various comments and recommendations made during the symposium. Each member of the bar should obtain a copy of the report from the Law School because they propose many significant changes in our judicial system. These are a few highlights of the report.
The User Friendly Committee’s proposed recommendations included more and better communication between court officials and court users. The present court visitation programs in place should be expanded and systematized as an ongoing court function. The process of going to court should be made less intimidating and more user friendly by assigning staff to assist court users in finding where they need to go and in helping them understand what will happen once they get there. Staff information booths should be placed at the entrances of all court buildings. More diversity in the composition of the court staff would help make the public feel more comfortable interfacing with the courts.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Independence suggested fostering greater judicial accessibility and outreach to the public through judges getting out more into the community and schools.
Among the recommendations of the Future of the Courts Committee were consideration of the adoption of court performance standards; and, increasing the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the District Court to allow its judges to take felony pleas, to hear cases involving damages beyond the $10,000 cap presently in place, and to handle de novo appeals issuing from the court.
The Permanent Advisory Committee on Women and Minorities in the Courts proposed adopting a formal grievance procedure to process complaints of bias and prejudice on the part of non-judicial court officials and employees; better informing the public about the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline; appointing an ombudsman to provide information to the public as to their substantive and procedural rights when discrimination complaints arise; establishing a public education campaign to air the perception of minorities that are not being treated fairly in the courts; promoting a more diverse judicial branch; and, diversity sensitivity training.
The Court Media Committee recommended judges and members of the press should meet more often to discuss court media relations and other matters of joint concern. Members of the bench and bar should work to insure that the press is provided with the information they need to cover court proceedings accurately.
The Interpreter Task Force suggested the new Interpreter Certification Law be implemented as soon as possible.
The National Conference Committee on Building Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System proposed finding cost effective ways to provide expanded legal services to persons who want but cannot afford an attorney. They said we should reconsider the “cash bail” system because many who come into contact with the criminal justice system and receive fines as penalties, or criminal sanctions, often are not able to afford “cash bail.”
The Bar Association Annual Meeting
During the Bar Association’s annual meeting in June 2000, Dean Rishikof moderated a discussion on public trust and confidence in the judicial system. With the exception of Chief Justice Weisberger, the panelists were different from those who spoke at Roger Williams. Some raised points made previously and some provided new comments and questions. In addition, judges and prominent attorneys in the audience offered new insights. (For the sake of space, I will not restate the repeat comments).
John Lynch suggested greater use of computers and technology by the courts. Courts should post their calendars on a website. Lawyers should be able to communicate with judges by e-mail. He also thought jurors should be allowed to take notes during the trial and take copies of the jury instructions into the jury room during deliberations.
It was suggested we change the method of calling people for jury duty, specifically, that information other than voter lists be used. Presiding Justice Rodgers responded that the Superior Court also uses lists of licensed drivers and of the elderly who receive government benefits. He observed that 15,000 of 50,000 jury summons recently sent out were returned. Eighty percent of the returned summons were in Providence and Bristol Counties.
Lise Gescheidt said attorneys need a way of addressing judicial problems without fear of retaliation. She wondered what happens when lawyers return the judicial evaluation forms they receive. Judge Rodgers said the forms come to him and he brings their anonymous comments, especially the negative ones, to the respective judge’s attention. He has on occasion called upon retired Judges Giannini or Gallant to discuss the reviews with a particular judge. Judge Rodgers said he could only recall three or four instances when an attorney said he or she perceived racism or sexism.
The House of Delegates Meeting
Justice Flanders, Judge Pirraglia and Dean Rishikof came to the Bar Association’s House of Delegates meeting on July 31, 2000. Judge Pirraglia gave a brief history of the project leading up to the report and summarized some of the report’s recommendations. He requested the Association’s support for the recommendations and said those involved were willing to work with the members to obtain and consider suggestions for implementing the recommendations.
Justice Flanders also highlighted certain of the report’s recommendations and requested the Association’s support. The judiciary was going to meet with members of the bar and public to discuss the recommendations and how to accomplish them.
Dean Rishikof said he was aware that many of the officers and delegates present had been previously involved in the project. The project’s steering committee planned to meet with local bar associations to discuss the report and to generate ideas on accomplishing the recommendations. He suggested that those who had ideas could post them on the law school’s website (http://law.rwu.edu) or write to him. (His address is Roger Williams University School of Law, 10 Metacom Avenue, Bristol, Rhode Island 02809-5171).
The House of Delegates voted to support the recommendations.
Brown University Report
In August 2000, Professor Darrell West of Brown University released a report on a survey which had been done of people who came into the Providence Superior, District, Family and Workers Compensation Courts on March 9 and 13, 1998. (The report is available online at http://www.insidepolitics.org/policy reports/CTREP800.html). The report highlighted, and the media publicized, the racial disparities in responses to certain questions. Specifically, sixty-four percent of whites felt the court process was fair, however, only forty-one percent of non-whites felt that way. Sixty-five percent of whites felt the court process was dignified but only forty four percent of non-white felt that way. Sixty-seven percent of whites thought court processes were explained, only forty-nine percent of non-whites thought so. Fifty-seven percent of whites thought judges’ decisions were timely, just forty percent of non-whites agreed. Similarly, fifty-seven percent of whites gave the courts overall excellent or good marks whereas only forty-two percent of non-whites did. (There were no significant gender differences in the responses to these questions).
However, eighteen questions which addressed more specific aspects of the judicial experience generally had much less disparate answers. For example, there were numerous questions about whether court personnel were helpful, courteous and sensitive. For the most part, there were not racially significant responses to these questions. There were exceptions, some of which seem inconsistent (at least, to this writer’s lay perspective).
For example, while both whites and non-whites mostly gave the Capitol Police good or excellent marks for “courteousness” and “helpfulness,” non-whites rated them much lower for “sensitivity” (68% vs. 85%). The differences may be in varying cultural views of what is sensitive or appropriate behavior for court personnel. If so, we need to determine what those views are and the extent to which they can be accommodated within our judicial system.
The upshot seems to be that while there were few racial differences in the various, small component parts of laypeople’s judicial experiences, there were significant differences in the overall perception of fairness and excellence. This naturally gives rise to questions as to why there would be these differences. One possibility may be culturally different expectations of judicial systems. Some people may get their impressions of how court systems should operate either from a different native country or from popular entertainment, such as “Judge Judy.” Or, more distressing, there may be genuine issues of bias in some facets of our judicial system. However, non-whites may be much less satisfied with the results of their trips to court for other reasons. For example, if members of minority groups comprise disparately large percentages of defendants in criminal and collection cases, which defendants usually lose regardless of race or ethnicity, then one might expect minority defendants, their family members and friends, to be disproportionately dissatisfied. (Of the 1384 respondents who identified their racial group, 10 percent said “non-white.” Another 340 respondents, 20 percent of the total, did not answer that question). Similarly, pro se litigants are usually unsuccessful.
The reasons why minorities are not proportionately represented in criminal and collection cases, or are pro se, may be political, economic and cultural, and have little to do with fairness or excellence within the courthouse. If the differences arise from culturally different expectations, then we need to assess whether to address them through changes in the judicial system, better education about the judicial system or a combination of both. Finally, we must eliminate any genuine racial or ethnic bias.
Relationship Between the Courts and the Media
On October 28, 2000, the Law School hosted a symposium on the relationship between the courts and the media. The Chief Justice emphasized the importance of public confidence in the institutions of government and the role of the First Amendment in helping maintain that confidence. On the other hand, judges have constitutional, statutory and ethical responsibilities to the judicial system and to the parties to ensure fair, unbiased trials and legal proceedings. The issue is to what extent these may require constraints on the public’s and press’s access to information or the proceedings.
Attorney General Whitehouse introduced members of his office, Gerald Coyne, Randy White, and Steve Dambruch, who explained the prosecutorial process from the initial investigation through appeal. Tony Cabrero of the Public Defenders Office responded and added his comments.
This presentation was followed by a panel discussion on media access to criminal trials. Justice Weisberger and Judge Pirraglia moderated Judge Thunberg, Michael DiLauro of the Public Defenders Office, Gerald Coyne of the Attorney Gerneral’s office, attorney Joseph Cavanagh, and reporter Tracey Breton of the Providence Journal. Members of the media on the panel and in the audience urged greater media access to trials including cameras and audio recordings. The judges and lawyers present had varying responses, including concerns that a greater press presence could affect the fairness of trials or, at least, further complicate their jobs. Judge Thunberg said it was her personal belief that jurors generally adhere to her instructions not to read any media reports during the trial.
Judge Young of the federal district court in Boston said no judge could definitively say the media had influenced a trial. However, he added that pretrial publicity had made selecting a jury much more difficult in certain cases. Judge Young’s concern was more with the daily reports of courtroom pundits. Their comments are often accurate, however, viewers begin judging a case on a daily basis rather than withholding judgment until they are aware of all the evidence. Judge Young cited the O.J. Simpson case as the prime example.
Justice Lederberg noted that the Supreme Court accommodates the media. Nevertheless, the public seems occasionally surprised or even shocked by the Court’s decisions. She suggested this reaction was her primary concern with respect to public trust and confidence in the judicial system. Judge Young spoke at the luncheon. He challenged the media to cover the institutional changes in the judicial system, not just the sensational cases. As examples, he mentioned the increasing federalization of law, whether by preemption or creation of federal causes of action. In addition, fewer criminal cases and fewer cases generally are being tried to a jury. One big reason is the federal sentencing guidelines which can punish a defendant who goes to trial. Judge Young said statistics show that criminal defendants who are convicted at trial get sentences five times longer than a defendant who pleads to the same crime. Obviously, this is a great deterrent to exercising the right to trial.
Dean Rishikof moderated a discussion of ethical issues raised by court-media relations and coverage. The panel members were Judge Alice Gibney, Mr. Taricani, and Bill Ketter of the Boston University School of Journalism. The panel and the audience used the criminal prosecution of former Gov. DiPrete as the basis of the discussion.
Judge Darigan then led a discussion on how judges should deal with the electronic media. The panel included Carol Young of the Providence Journal, Kelly Kingsley of Channel 6, Glen Laxton of Channel 12, Larry Sasso of The Observer newspapers, Rick Wilson, publisher of the South County Independent newspaper, and Barbara Cottam, press secretary to former Gov. Bruce Sundlun. In sum, the media people said stories need to have a compelling, personal angle. The television broadcasters look for interesting video and not “BOPSA” (Bunch of People Sitting Around) which is how many legal stories are presented.
The Chief Justice, Judge Pirraglia and Dean Rishikof have continued meeting with members of the bar to continue the efforts to interest the bar in the project. Unfortunately, some lawyers seem to think the project is not important because the public has no choice but to bring their litigation business to the court system. However, that is not true. If the public has no confidence in the judicial system they may simply choose not to pursue legitimate claims. They may settle without resort to the court system, for example, through commercial dispute resolution programs. Finally, they may go to court pro se. It is in lawyers’ economic interest that the public have confidence in the judicial system and in them. Most importantly, citizens should have a fair and effective forum to vindicate their rights and defend their interests.