January 2020 marked the start of the Oregon Judicial Department’s two-year Strategic Campaign, developed with SJI support and technical assistance provided by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
This new approach, recommended by the NCSC and focused on identifying short-term, achievable goals – appealed to Chief Justice Martha L. Walters and State Court Administrator Nancy J. Cozine. The campaign, as opposed to a longer-term strategic plan, spans 2020-2021 and employs a more flexible and open-ended methodology to mobilize judges, court staff, and justice partners in the development of vital improvement themes and initiatives. This revised approach reflects the reality that courts often need to pivot quickly in the changing landscapes of social welfare, budget challenges, and local and national policy priorities.
To develop the campaign, the Judiciary engaged in a four-month process of gathering stakeholder input, starting with the creation of a Strategic Campaign Advisory Committee, comprised of judges and administrators from across this state. Working with consultants, the committee developed an engagement and outreach plan to learn where the Judiciary should focus its efforts in the coming years. This resulted in numerous focus groups and outreach meetings with a variety of stakeholders – judges, staff, public defenders, prosecutors, family law attorneys, legal aid leaders, civil practitioners, businesses, state and local government agencies, Bar leadership, and others. The feedback was then presented and discussed at a two-day summit where more than 40 judges and administrators considered where the Judiciary should focus its energy and resources over the next two years.
Four key themes emerged, which became commitments to the people of Oregon, and all who encounter the state justice system:
- We will join with community partners to improve services and outcomes for people who are underserved, vulnerable, or marginalized; and we will develop effective, supportive, and creative solutions to respond to their legal needs.
- We will improve access to justice by eliminating barriers; continuing to simplify and streamline our processes and forms; enhancing service options; leveraging technology; improving interpreter services; and advocating for resources to keep courts open, safe, and secure.
- We will enhance the public’s trust and confidence in Oregon’s state government, including the judicial branch, by listening and responding to the needs of those we serve; holding ourselves to high standards; and communicating the role of our courts in providing justice for all.
- We will create a workplace and courthouse culture that is supportive, inclusive, welcoming, and affirming; that embraces diversity; and where all people can thrive and are treated with respect and dignity.
Each of these commitments is supported by several initiatives designed to carry the goals forward, led by judges and administrators from all over the state. “We face many challenges in our constant effort to provide justice for all Oregonians,” said Chief Justice Walters. “It is my hope that, by undertaking specific commitments and initiatives, we can better address those challenges, increase public trust and confidence in our courts, and improve our services for all.”
This two-year campaign approach proved to be the correct course as Oregon’s judicial branch soon found itself facing unapparelled circumstances in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising social and economic disparity, and the renewed demands for justice. This required some retooling of these initiatives and, fortunately, the campaign structure allowed for needed modifications.
While some of the initiatives may take more time, as new budget challenges and cuts to programs loom on the horizon, nearly all have been launched, finding renewed purpose in this time of change. For example, the initiative team to advance fairness in the imposition and collection of court fines and fees sprang into action, providing immediate relief from collections for those who found themselves suffering from economic hardship during the pandemic. The Judiciary’s efforts to emphasize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the court system led to the rapid development of staff conversations and trainings during the pandemic. The increased demand for remote hearings brought new focus on building technological tools, accessible forms, and best practices for court participation from remote locations.
For questions about this project, or to learn more, please contact Erin M. Pettigrew, Access to Justice Counsel, at Erin.M.Pettigrew@ojd.state.or.us.