REMARKS OF

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

TO THE

NORTH CAROLINA BAR ASSOCIATION

ANNUAL MEETING

MYRTLE BEACH, SC

20 JUNE 1998

 

IT IS MY PLEASURE TO BE HERE WITH YOU AGAIN THIS YEAR. I APPRECIATE YOUR INVITATION TO BRING YOU UP TO DATE ON SOME OF THE INITIATIVES WE HAVE UNDERTAKEN IN RECENT YEARS AND GENERAL TRENDS AFFECTING THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT.

I WOULD LIKE TO FIRST DISCUSS OUR EXPERIMENTAL DRUG TREATMENT COURTS. OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS, WE HAVE BEEN OPERATING DRUG TREATMENT COURTS IN FIVE DISTRICTS -- DISTRICT 26 (MECKLENBURG), DISTRICT 10 (WAKE), DISTRICTS 9 AND 9A (WARREN, PERSON AND CASWELL) AND DISTRICT 21 (FORSYTH). IN DISTRICT 5 (NEW HANOVER) WE ARE CURRENTLY OPERATING THE SAME PROGRAM, USING FEDERAL FUNDS. OVER THE LAST YEAR, 377 DEFENDANTS PARTICIPATED IN THE DRUG TREATMENT COURTS IN OUR STATE.

THE NORTH CAROLINA DRUG TREATMENT COURT ACT OF 1995 ESTABLISHED THESE COURTS. IT CREATED AN EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAM TO REDUCE ALCOHOLISM AND OTHER DRUG DEPENDENCIES AMONG OFFENDERS, AS WELL AS RECIDIVISM AND THE DRUG-RELATED COURT WORKLOAD. THE PROGRAM IS AIMED AT IMPROVING THE PERSONAL, FAMILIAL, AND SOCIETAL ACCOUNTABILITY OF OFFENDERS.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE IS ONE OF THE MAJOR FACTORS -- IF NOT THE MAJOR FACTOR -- IN MOST OF THE SOCIAL PROBLEMS FACING AMERICA TODAY. FOR EXAMPLE, SUBSTANCE ABUSE IS ONE OF THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING CRIME TODAY. ESTIMATES SHOW THAT AT LEAST 50-80% OF VIOLENT CRIMINAL OFFENDERS -- INCLUDING SPOUSE ABUSERS -- HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SOME FORM OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE.

DRUG TREATMENT COURTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY MIX SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT WITH PUNISHMENT FOR CRIMES COMMITTED, AND OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE TO TRADITIONAL COURT. DRUG TREATMENT COURTS OFFER TREATMENT INSTEAD OF INCARCERATION ALONE. THE PROGRAM HAS BEEN DESIGNED WITH AN UNDERSTANDING THAT DRUG ADDICTION IS A DISEASE; A DRUG ADDICT OR ALCOHOLIC CANNOT JUST SAY "NO" AND SIMPLY "WILL AWAY" THE ADDICTION.

NEVERTHELESS, THE PROGRAM REQUIRES THAT PARTICIPANTS TAKE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS. THIS APPROACH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE OVERWHELMING BODY OF RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE WHICH CLEARLY SHOW THAT THE LONGER AN INDIVIDUAL STAYS IN TREATMENT, THE MORE LIKELY HE OR SHE IS TO AVOID FUTURE DRUG OR ALCOHOL ABUSE AND CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR. THE EARLY RESULTS FROM OUR DRUG TREATMENT COURTS ARE VERY ENCOURAGING, PARTICULARLY IN THAT THEY HAVE SHOWN THAT EVEN INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT PROGRAMS CAN BE EFFECTIVE IN A SUBSTANTIAL NUMBER OF CASES.

IN OUR EXPANSION BUDGET REQUEST, WE ARE PROPOSING TO CONTINUE THIS WORTHWHILE EXPERIMENT PAST ITS CURRENT EXPIRATION DATE OF JUNE 30. WE ARE ALSO ASKING TO EXPAND IT INTO DISTRICT 14 (DURHAM), AND TO INCLUDE VANCE COUNTY IN DISTRICT 9. I AM PERSONALLY EXCITED ABOUT THE RESULTS I HAVE SEEN. IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME, WE HAVE ACHIEVED DRAMATIC RESULTS THROUGH THIS PROGRAM. HOWEVER, SUBSTANCE ABUSE CONTINUES TO BE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR TO CRIME AND OUR CASELOADS. LEFT UNCHECKED, IT WILL DEVOUR OUR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.

WE ARE ALSO BEGINNING TO MAKE SOME PROGRESS IN THE AREA OF TECHNOLOGY. WE ARE PLEASED WITH THE PROGRESS WE ARE MAKING TOWARD CREATING A NEW CRIMINAL CASE TRACKING SYSTEM. WE ARE BEGINNING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS AUTOMATED SYSTEM AT THE ENTRY POINT IN OUR COURTS -- THE MAGISTRATES. THE SYSTEM WILL ENABLE US TO AUTOMATE BASIC INFORMATION THE MOMENT AN INDIVIDUAL ENTERS THE SYSTEM. THE DATA CAN THEN BE MADE AVAILABLE ELECTRONICALLY TO LAW ENFORCEMENT, CORRECTIONS, PROBATION AND PAROLE, AND COURT OFFICIALS -- CLERKS, DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, AND JUDGES.

LAST YEAR, WE WERE FORTUNATE TO OBTAIN ALMOST $400,000 IN FEDERAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR THIS SYSTEM WITH THE HELP OF CONGRESSMAN CHARLES TAYLOR. WE ALSO OBTAINED $4 MILLION FOR THIS PROGRAM DUE TO THE SUPPORT OF U.S. SENATOR LAUCH FAIRCLOTH. THIS SUMMER, WE ARE AGAIN WORKING WITH CONGRESS ON ANOTHER APPROPRIATION. THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY ALSO HELPED BY APPROPRIATING $2.5 MILLION LAST YEAR FOR CREATION OF THE SYSTEM.

ALSO ON THE TECHNOLOGY FRONT, WE HAVE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED AN AGREEMENT WITH LEXIS LAW PUBLISHING UNDER WHICH THEY WILL DELIVER THE LATEST COMPUTER LEGAL RESEARCH TOOLS TO OUR JUDGES, DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, AND PUBLIC DEFENDERS. OUR AGREEMENT WITH LEXIS IS PARTICULARLY EXCITING BECAUSE THEY WILL PROVIDE EXTENSIVE COMPUTER TRAINING FOR OUR COURT OFFICIALS.

IN ADDITION, OUR NORTH CAROLINA COURTSí WEB PAGE, WHICH WAS CREATED TWO YEARS AGO, HAS BEEN SO IMPRESSIVE TO LEXIS THAT THEY WILL BE LINKING THEIR ON-LINE SITE TO OUR SITE. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN OUR WEB PAGE, (http://www.aoc.state.nc.us), I URGE YOU TO TAKE A LOOK. ITíS EASY ACCESS TO CRIMINAL AND CIVIL CALENDARS, AOC FORMS, AND LOCAL RULES HAVE GENERATED OVER 30,000 USERS PER WEEK. THIS IS NOT BAD FOR A PROJECT CREATED WITH NO STATE FUNDS. FRED BENSON, JERRY REUTLINGER, AND BOB NORTHRUP DEVELOPED THE INITIAL PAGE FOR THE APPELLATE COURTS. DEPUTY AOC DIRECTOR JEANNE BONDS AND AOC COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER ALLISON FLERL HAVE MADE THE PROJECT AWARD-WINNING BY DESIGNING THE LAYOUT AND ADDING NEW FEATURES, INCLUDING THE ADDITION OF THE TRIAL COURTS. NOW, THIS PROJECT HAS EVOLVED INTO A JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT WEB PAGE.

NOW, LET ME GIVE YOU A BRIEF UPDATE ON THE STATUS OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMISSION FOR THE FUTURE OF JUSTICE AND THE COURTS. THE COMMISSION WAS CHAIRED BY JOHN MEDLIN, FORMER CEO AND CURRENT CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF WACHOVIA CORPORATION. IF YOU HAVEN'T YET READ ITS REPORT, I MOST STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO SO. IT MAKES MANY THOUGHT-PROVOKING RECOMMENDATIONS.

ONE OF THE MOST DRAMATIC SECTIONS OF THE REPORT IS THE SECTION ON GOVERNANCE. IT DETAILS THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH HAS TAKEN OVER MANY OF THE TRADITIONAL FUNCTIONS OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH. THE FUTURES COMMISSION REPORT RECOMMENDS RETURNING SOME OF THOSE FUNCTIONS TO THE COURTS, SUCH AS THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR SETTING THE RULES OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL PROCEDURE AND RULES OF EVIDENCE. THE COMMISSION MEMBERS, MANY OF WHOM ARE BUSINESS LEADERS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, DULY STUDIED THE GOVERNANCE OF THE COURTS AND REALIZED THAT LAWYERS AND JUDGES MUST HAVE MORE CONTROL OF THE COURTS BEFORE THEY MAY FAIRLY BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR SUCCESS OR FAILURE.

ONE IMPORTANT RECOMMENDATION IN THE REPORT CALLS FOR THE CREATION OF A STATE JUDICIAL COUNCIL TO FUNCTION SOMEWHAT LIKE A BOARD OF DIRECTORS OR LIKE THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA SYSTEM. THIS GROUP IS ENVISIONED AS A POLICY-MAKING BODY WHICH WOULD MAKE THE PLANS AND ESTABLISH THE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES MOST LIKELY TO ENSURE THE SUCCESSFUL AND EFFICIENT FUNCTIONING OF THE COURTS. I BELIEVE THIS IS A COMMON SENSE RECOMMENDATION WHICH ANY EXPERIENCED BUSINESS PERSON WOULD MAKE TO ANY ORGANIZATION WHICH EMPLOYS AS MANY PEOPLE AND HAS A BUDGET AS LARGE AS THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF THIS STATE.

AS A PRECURSOR TO SUCH A COUNCIL, I RECENTLY ESTABLISHED A JUDICIAL ADVISORY COMMISSION FOR COURT OPERATIONS, WHICH IS CHAIRED BY OUR SENIOR ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE HENRY FRYE. IT IS COMPRISED OF COURT OFFICIALS AND IS CHARGED WITH IDENTIFYING WHAT MUST BE DONE FOR HANDLING THE CASELOADS OF TOMORROW IN A MORE EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE MANNER. MY MAIN GOAL IN ESTABLISHING THIS COMMISSION IS TO ENCOURAGE MORE PARTICIPATION IN OUR PLANNING AND POLICY-MAKING BY THE GROUPS WHICH MUST MAKE THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT WORK -- THE JUDGES, CLERKS, DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, AND PUBLIC DEFENDERS.

ANOTHER MAJOR RECOMMENDATION IN THE REPORT IS THE CREATION OF FAMILY COURTS. THE NUMBER OF DOMESTIC CASES FILED IN NORTH CAROLINA'S DISTRICT COURTS HAS MORE THAN QUADRUPLED IN THE PAST 25 YEARS. FAMILY COURTS SHOULD BE DEDICATED TO DOMESTIC PROCEEDINGS AND JUVENILE JUSTICE MATTERS. THESE ARE AMONG SOME OF THE MOST COMPLEX AND SENSITIVE CASES IN OUR DISTRICT COURTS.

CURRENTLY, THE GOVERNOR'S BUDGET INCLUDES A JUVENILE JUSTICE INITIATIVE, WHICH INCLUDES A PROVISION AUTHORIZING US TO ESTABLISH UP TO THREE FAMILY COURT PILOTS AND OPERATE THE PILOTS OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A FAMILY COURT IS PERHAPS ONE SOLUTION TO THE EVER-INCREASING DEMAND FOR ATTENTION TO THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN DISTRICT COURTS. FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE COURT, A DIVORCE IS NEVER ABOUT DIVORCE ALONE. QUESTIONS OF CHILD CUSTODY, ALLOCATION OF FINANCIAL RESOURCES IN FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN, AND THE EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELFARE OF CHILDREN AND SPOUSES ALWAYS WEIGH HEAVILY ON THE COURT. IN FAMILY COURT, A SINGLE JUDGE WILL, AS NEARLY AS PRACTICABLE, HEAR ALL MATTERS CONCERNING THE SAME FAMILY. THE ISSUES CONCERNED WILL INVOLVE MATTERS SUCH AS DIVORCE, ALIMONY AND CHILD SUPPORT, EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION, SPOUSE ABUSE, JUVENILE DELINQUENCY AND ALL OF THE OTHER ISSUES WHICH MAY BRING MEMBERS OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY TO COURT. THE JUDGE WILL THEREBY COME TO UNDERSTAND THE ENTIRE RANGE OF PROBLEMS AFFECTING THE PARTICULAR FAMILY. THE FAMILY COURT CONCEPT ANTICIPATES THAT SUCH JUDGES WILL HAVE COUNSELING AND TREATMENT FACILITIES AT THEIR DISPOSAL AND WILL BECOME THOROUGHLY FAMILIAR WITH ALL OF THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE IN ASSISTING THESE FAMILIES.

LIKE THE DRUG TREATMENT COURTS, THE FAMILY COURTS WILL BE VERY LABOR INTENSIVE AND, PERHAPS, SOMEWHAT MORE EXPENSIVE TO RUN THAN ORDINARY COURTS. I AM VERY CONCERNED THAT THE CREATION OF FAMILY COURTS NOT BE ALLOWED TO SIMPLY AMOUNT TO SHIFTING OUR ALREADY INADEQUATE SOURCES AROUND TO MAKE A PRETTIER BUT STILL INADEQUATE EFFORT TO DEAL WITH THESE PROBLEMS. I CONTINUE TO EMPHASIZE THAT WE IN THE COURTS CAN PERFORM ABOUT ANY TASK ASSIGNED US, BUT ONLY IF WE ARE GIVEN THE RESOURCES TO DO SO. HOWEVER, I BELIEVE THAT THE FAMILY COURT CONCEPT IS AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME, AND WE WILL DO OUR ABSOLUTE BEST TO MAKE OUR PILOT PROJECT OR PROJECTS A SUCCESS.

THE FUTURES COMMISSION REPORT ALSO INCLUDED A RECOMMENDATION TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF SUPERIOR COURT DIVISIONS AND RESTRUCTURE THE SUPERIOR AND DISTRICT COURTS INTO CIRCUITS. THE THEORY BEING THAT CIRCUITS LARGER THAN OUR CURRENT DISTRICTS CAN BE DESIGNED TO ALLOW MORE EXPEDITIOUS AND EFFICIENT DISPOSITION OF OUR WORKLOADS AND TO BE MORE COST EFFECTIVE. THIS RECOMMENDATION, HOWEVER, IS CLOSELY TIED TO THE COMMISSIONíS RECOMMENDATION FOR LOCAL CIRCUIT JUDICIAL COUNCILS WHICH WILL BE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE EFFICIENT ADMINISTRATION OF THE COURTS IN THE CIRCUIT. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THESE TWO IDEAS SHOULD STAND OR FALL TOGETHER, AS THE CIRCUITS WILL NOT BE VERY MUCH MORE EFFICIENT WITHOUT THE PLANNING AND SUPPORT WHICH CAN BE REALIZED BY THE CREATION OF THESE LOCAL JUDICIAL COUNCILS.

CURRENTLY, THE LEGISLATURE IS CONSIDERING THE PROPOSALS FOR FAMILY COURT PILOTS, THE CREATION OF A STATE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, AND THE CREATION OF ONE OR MORE PILOT CIRCUITS. THE LEGISLATURE IS ALSO CONSIDERING A CHANGE IN THE PROVISIONS FOR THE APPOINTMENT AND RETENTION OF APPELLATE JUDGES. BILLS CONTAINING ALL OF THESE PROVISIONS ARE NOW UNDER CONSIDERATION BY THE HOUSE AND SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEES.

LASTLY, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO KNOW THAT WE CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE WITH INADEQUATE PERSONAL AND TECHNICAL RESOURCES TO CARRY OUT OUR BASIC CONSTITUTIONAL DUTIES. WE ARE CURRENTLY WORKING WITH THE LEGISLATURE ON OUR UNIFIED JUDICIAL BRANCH EXPANSION BUDGET REQUEST, WHICH WAS PREPARED AS A JOINT EFFORT BY OUR CLERKS, MAGISTRATES, JUDGES, DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, AND PUBLIC DEFENDERS. THIS BUDGET REQUESTS REPRESENTS THE FIRST TIME WE HAVE EVER BROUGHT ALL OF THESE CONSTITUENT GROUPS INTO OUR BUDGET-MAKING PROCESS. IT HELPED EACH OF THOSE GROUPS TO RECOGNIZE THE NEEDS AND PROBLEMS OF THE OTHERS AND TO COOPERATE IN PREPARING OUR BUDGET. AS A RESULT, I BELIEVE THAT THIS COLLABORATIVE EFFORT BY ALL OF THE PLAYERS IN THE COURT SYSTEM REPRESENTS A MORE REALISTIC AND ACCURATE FORECAST OF OUR NEEDS THAN ANY OF OUR PRIOR BUDGET REQUESTS.

I IMPLORE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO CONTINUE TO INVEST IN OUR COURTS. I IMPLORE YOU, LEADERS OF THIS GREAT NORTH CAROLINA BAR ASSOCIATION, TO CONTINUE TO SUPPORT AND ASSIST US IN THESE EFFORTS. YOUR UNFAILING SUPPORT FOR THE RULE OF LAW AND FOR OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE IS MOST APPRECIATED. EVEN WITH ALL OF THE HELP YOU CAN GIVE US, WE WILL FACE DAUNTING CHALLENGES AS WE ATTEMPT TO ADMINISTER THE SYSTEM OF JUSTICE WITH INADEQUATE RESOURCES. WITHOUT YOUR ACTIVE HELP AND SUPPORT, WE SIMPLY CAN NOT HOPE TO SUCCEED IN PRESERVING THAT SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AS WE HAVE KNOWN IT FOR YET ANOTHER GENERATION. WORKING TOGETHER WE CAN AND WILL PREVAIL, AND I THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART FOR YOUR CONSTANT FRIENDSHIP AND SUPPORT IN THESE CRUCIAL ENDEAVORS.