Thursday, May 1, 2014

Making Policy

In 1997, the judges of the First Judicial District elected me Assistant Chief Judge.  Now, the Chief Judge has the authority, and often, the headaches that go along with administering an organization with 33 judges, as well as the support staff for each of the seven counties and for the administration office.  The Assistant Chief’s main obligation at the time was to serve on the Conference of Chief Judges, which consisted of the Chief and Assistant Chief Judge of each of the ten judicial districts in Minnesota.  Representatives of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court would often join us during our deliberations, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was welcomed whenever he or she could make time to join us.

The Conference of Chief Judges would address budget and policy issues statewide for the District Courts of our State.  The Conference established our budget requests for each legislative session, as well as addressing any issues of policy or budget that was requested from the legislature.  Often, members of the Conference, as well as the administrators, would be called upon to testify at legislative hearings. 

It was most interesting to learn how the different districts approached/ the same issues.  The large caseloads in the bigger counties – Hennepin and Ramsey – required their judges to approach issues in different ways.  For instance, in each of those districts, judges were assigned to Family Court, or Juvenile Court for a period of time.  Those judges did nothing but family or juvenile law for that time.  Quite a difference from the calendars I would have, which routinely mixed family, juvenile, civil and criminal in the same day! 

Often the issues we would deal with included how to establish standard procedures that would work as well in Hennepin County as it would in Sibley.  Tricky work! 

It was such a privilege for me to serve with 19 of my judicial colleagues from across the state to grapple with the big issues of the moment.  It also enabled me to advocate for one of my favorite issues – using technology to assist the judicial system to perform its critical functions.

The Conference of Chief Judges has now been replaced with the Judicial Council, which consists of the Chief Judge of each District, as well as representatives from the Appellate and Supreme Court and from District Court Administration chosen from among the ten District Court Administrators.  The mission of the Council remains similar to the Conference:  To provide justice through a system that assures equal access for the fair and timely resolution of cases and controversies.

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Next Week:  Constitutional Issues