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Public Engagement with the Courts is a Two-way Street

The Massachusetts Trial Court is looking for leaders willing to “commit to a longer-term partnership” between the courts and the community.  In Nebraska, the state Supreme Court wants to better recognize the needs of Native Americans.  The Franklin (Ohio) Municipal Court is learning how under-served populations perceive specialized dockets and its Self-Help Resource Center.

Those are three of the six court systems participating in NCSC’s Public Engagement Pilot Project, which aims to identify proven ways to build trust and confidence in the courts.  Each pilot court is working on a different aspect of court services in connection to public engagement.  After the project ends, toolkits will be available for courts nationwide.

Chief Judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals Anna Blackburne-Rigsby chairs the Community Engagement in the State Courts Initiative, which oversees the pilot project. At the first meeting of the pilot site teams earlier this year, Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby said courts have been working for decades to improve public trust and confidence in the courts, but little progress has been made.  She said the primary method courts have used is outreach to communities. Representatives from state teams and project researchers are pictured at top of the page.

“Outreach is one-way communication,” she said. “Engagement is different.  It involves listening. It’s a two-way.  We are going to come up with strategies, outcomes, toolkits, and data.  This project is going to make a difference.”

The other three pilot sites include:

  • Kansas City (Mo.) Municipal Court, which is integrating court user surveys into its public engagement process;
  • Puerto Rico Judicial Branch, which is focusing on helping communities address neighborhood conflict; and
  • Texas Office of Court Administration, which is building on results from its prior “Beyond the Bench” effort.

The Public Engagement Pilot Project is building on information gathered and analyzed from a three-city listening tour in which judges met with community members to hear about their experiences with – and their impressions of – the courts. The sessions, broadcast on PBS titled “Courting Justice,” were held in Los Angeles, Cleveland and Little Rock, Ark.  After the listening tours, surveys were sent to court and civic leaders to hone in on specific areas of concern that courts need to address.  Each of the pilot sites is engaging the public to address such needs collaboratively.  Tune into this month’s podcast with Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby.