Speach to Bar Council - Oct. 18, 1996

Remarks of

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY MITCHELL, JR.

SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

to the

NC STATE BAR COUNCIL

October 18, 1996

I AM PLEASED TO BE HERE WITH YOU THIS MORNING TO PROVIDE YOUWITH INFORMATION ON SOME OF OUR COURT SUCCESSES OVER THEPAST YEAR. AND TO DISCUSS BOTH THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE OF OURCOURTS AND OUR VISION FOR THE COURTS FOR THE NEXT CENTURY.

AS YOU KNOW, I BECAME CHIEF JUSTICE ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO. ATTHAT TIME THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF THE COURTS WAS AT AN ALLTIME LOW. OUR CITIZENS DESCRIBED OUR COURTS AS INEFFICIENT. AND MOST CITIZENS HAD LITTLE OR NO INFORMATION ABOUT THEVOLUME OF CASES WE HANDLE EACH YEAR (2.5 MILLION) OR THEBUDGET UNDER WHICH OUR COURTS OPERATE (LESS THAN 3%; $280MILLION). OUR COURTS SPEND LESS THAN $300 MILLION PER YEAR TOOPERATE, BUT GENERATE $184 MILLION IN FEES, FINES, ANDFORFEITURES, MONEY THAT IS DISTRIBUTED TO LOCAL. GOVERNMENTSAND THE STATE TREASURER. ANOTHER $713 MILLION IS DISTRIBUTEDFOR CHILD SUPPORT, ALIMONY, AND JUDGMENTS.

I HAVE MADE A SERIOUS EFFORT THIS PAST YEAR TO ADDRESS THEPUBLIC'S PERCEPTION BY EDUCATING OUR CITIZENS ABOUT HOW OURCOURTS WORK. I WANT TO DISPEL THE PERCEPTION THAT OUR COURTS OPERATE LIKE SOME OF THE HIGH PROFILE CASES WE HAVEBEEN INUNDATED WITH OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS. WE HAVEMADE SOME PROGRESS. WE HELD JUROR APPRECIATION EVENTS INSEVEN DISTRICTS THIS SUMMER WHERE I HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO CITIZENS ABOUT THEIR ROLE IN THE COURTS. I ALSO TRAVELEDAROUND THE STATE TO INTRODUCE AND DEMONSTRATE THE NEWAUTOMATED CIVIL CASE PROCESSING SYSTEM. IN BOTH CASES, WEWERE ABLE TO MEET THE PUBLIC AND TALK ABOUT THE ROLE OF THECOURTS AND HOW WE ARE WORKING TO MAKE OUR COURTS MORE"USER-FRIENDLY" TO THE PUBLIC. I WILL CONTINUE TO TRAVEL ANDMEET WITH CITIZENS AND THE PRESS TO DISCUSS SUCCESSFULINITIATIVES IN OUR COURTS. WE HAVE ALSO BEGUN PUBLISHING ANEWSLETTER WITH FEATURE ARTICLES ABOUT NEW INITIATIVES ANDA WEB PAGE ON THE INTERNET WITH INFORMATION ABOUT OURCOURTS AND AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CITIZENS TO E-MAIL QUESTIONSAND INFORMATION REQUESTS TO US.

ONE OF MY FIRST DECISIONS AFTER I BECAME CHIEF JUSTICE WAS TO SEND SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES TO THEIR HOME DISTRICTS TO MEETWITH DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, PUBLIC DEFENDERS, CLERKS OF SUPERIOR

COURT, AND PRIVATE ATTORNEYS ABOUT HOW TO TACKLE THEBACKLOG OF CASES PENDING. THE RESULTS WERE DRAMATIC -- SODRAMATIC THAT I RECENTLY SENT THEM HOME AGAIN. NOT ONLY DIDOUR COURT OFFICIALS MEET TOGETHER, THEY WORKED TOGETHER TOREDUCE THE BACKLOG OF CASES. THE RESULTS WERE PHENOMENAL --FROM JANUARY 1995 - 1996, THE NUMBER OF PENDING FELONIESDECREASED BY 14% AND THE NUMBER OF PENDING MISDEMEANORSDECREASED BY 11%. THIS IS A HISTORIC DECLINE AND DEMONSTRATEDJUST HOW HARD OUR COURT OFFICIALS ARE WORKING AND WHATDRAMATIC RESULTS THEY ARE ACHIEVING. I WILL HAVE NEWSTATISTICS IN JANUARY, BUT AM TOLD THAT THE DECREASE INPENDING CASES AT PRESENT REMAINS VERY STABLE AT THIS TIME. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR COURT OFFICIALS ARE ALMOST AT THE END OFTHEIR ROPE NOW AND WITHOUT ADDITIONAL RESOURCES I AMRETICENT TO ASK THEM TO DO "MORE WITH LESS."

OVER THE PAST YEAR WE HAVE EXPANDED SOME OF OUR MOSTSUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS AND BEGUN IMPLEMENTATION OF NEWINITIATIVES. OUR DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROGRAMS ARE HIGHLYSUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVES TO COURT. THE COURT-ORDERED, NON-BINDING ARBITRATION PROGRAM BEGAN WITH THREE PILOT SITES.

AS OF OCTOBER, ARBITRATION OPERATES IN 25 SUPERIOR COURTDISTRICTS. EXPANSION BUDGET REQUESTS DID NOT PASS DURING THE SHORT SESSION OF THE LEGISLATURE BUT WE WILL BE ASKING FORRESOURCES TO EXPAND THIS PROGRAM STATEWIDE.

CHILD CUSTODY VISITATION AND MEDIATION IS ANOTHER SUCCESSFULPILOT PROGRAM WE CHAMPIONED IN 1983. THE MEDIATION PROCESSPROVIDES FAMILIES WITH A STRUCTURED AND NON-ADVERSARIALENVIRONMENT IN WHICH BOTH PARTIES MAY REACH A COOPERATIVERESOLUTION OF ISSUES. AS OF OCTOBER, THIS PROGRAM OPERATES IN17 JUDICIAL DISTRICTS. AGAIN, EXPANSION BUDGET REQUESTS WERENOT GRANTED DURING THE SHORT SESSION BUT WE WILL PURSUEFUNDING TO EXPAND THE PROGRAM STATEWIDE.

BOTH ARBITRATION AND CHILD CUSTODY VISITATION AND MEDIATIONHAVE LED TO THE SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF SUCH CASES AT REDUCEDCOSTS TO THE PARTIES. BY EXPANDING THESE PROGRAMSSTATEWIDE, WE WILL FURTHER INCREASE OUR EFFICIENCY ANDALLOW CITIZENS ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF SETTLING DISPUTES.

OUR NEW, AUTOMATED CIVIL CASE PROCESSING SYSTEM WASUNVEILED IN JUNE OF THIS YEAR IN NASH COUNTY. THIS SYSTEMAUTOMATES ALL MAJOR ASPECTS OF CIVIL CASE MANAGEMENT --INDEXING, DOCKETING, TRACKING, CALENDARING, JUDGMENTINDEXING AND PROCESSING OF POST-JUDGMENT ACTIVITIES. AND THE

NEW SYSTEM PROVIDES ATTORNEYS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC WITHQUICK, EASY ACCESS TO DETAILED INFORMATION REGARDINGINDIVIDUAL CIVIL CASES. IT ALSO PROVIDES JUDGES AND JUDICIALSTAFF PERSONS WITH A SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED CASEMANAGEMENT CAPACITY. ONCE IMPLEMENTED STATEWIDE, CIVILCASE INFORMATION WILL BE AVAILABLE FROM A TERMINAL IN ANYCLERK'S OFFICE FOR ANY CIVIL ACTION IN THE STATE. TO DATE, WE HAVE IMPLEMENTED THE SYSTEM IN 20 COUNTIES.

IN JANUARY, OUR NEW BUSINESS COURT JUDGE, BEN TENNILLE WASADMINISTERED THE OATH OF OFFICE AS A SPECIAL SUPERIOR COURTJUDGE FOR COMPLEX BUSINESS CASES. WE WILL BEGIN MAKING THEOPINIONS WRITTEN IN THESE CASES AVAILABLE ON OUR WEB PAGEFOR USE BY BUSINESSES AND ATTORNEYS. THIS NEW FAST-TRACKCOURT WILL BE A VALUABLE ASSET TO OUR CORPORATE CITIZENS INNORTH CAROLINA BY ENABLING THEM TO HAVE THEIR CASES HEARDIN A SPECIALIZED COURT.

I KNOW ONE OF THE ISSUES ATTORNEYS ARE CONCERNED WITH IS OURINDIGENT DEFENSE FUND. WE HAVE INSTITUTED A POLICY WHEREBYTHOSE ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING DEFENDANTS CHARGED WITH ACAPITAL CRIME WILL BE COMPENSATED AT THE RATE OF $85 PERHOUR. THIS IS A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN THE COMPENSATION FOR

THESE TYPES OF CASES. WE WERE ABLE TO OBTAIN FUNDING FROMTHE LEGISLATURE AND INSTITUTE THE PRACTICE STATEWIDE.

OUR PAST YEAR HAS BEEN FILLED WITH SOME GREAT SUCCESSES. IAM PROUD OF THE RESPONSE TO MY CALL TO ACTION BY ALL OF OUR COURT OFFICIALS AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS,BUT OUR FOLKS ARE PRESSED TO THEIR LIMITS. IT IS NOW TIME FORME TO RESPOND TO THEIR NEED FOR RESOURCES, RESOURCES WHICHWILL FACILITATE YOUR INTERACTION WITH THE COURTS.

LET ME FIRST SAY TO YOU THAT I AM COMMITTED TO OUTLINING THESPECIFIC NEEDS OF THE COURTS TO THE LEGISLATURE FOR THE LONGSESSION. ONE OF OUR GREATEST OBSTACLES IS THAT OVER THE PASTDECADE, THE COURTS HAVE FALLEN BEHIND IN OUR EFFORTS TOPROVIDE SUFFICIENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TOOLS WHICHENABLE ATTORNEYS AND THE PUBLIC TO MORE EASILY WORK WITHTHE COURTS. I KNOW FROM TRAVELING AROUND THE STATE THISSUMMER UNVEILING THE CIVIL CASE PROCESSING SYSTEM, MANYATTORNEYS ARE CONCERNED WITH HOW THEY WILL DO BUSINESSWITH THE COURTS IN THE FUTURE USING ADVANCED TECHNOLOGYALREADY IN THEIR LAW OFFICES.

BECAUSE THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT HAS RECEIVED

SMALL APPROPRIATIONS FOR TECHNOLOGY OVER THE PAST 5-6 YEARS,WE ARE NOW FACED WITH A CRISIS. EXPERTS TELL US THAT WENEED A $40 MILLION INVESTMENT IN EQUIPMENT AND INFORMATIONINFRASTRUCTURE TO HANDLE OUR INFORMATION PROCESSING NEEDS. SINCE MOST HARDWARE THESE DAYS HAS A LIFE SPAN OF 5 YEARS, WENEED A CONSISTENT AND STABLE TECHNOLOGY BUDGET.

WHEN YOU VISIT THE OFFICE OF ONE OF OUR 100 CLERKS, YOU WILLSEE MONOCHROME MONITORS AND MICROFILM READERS THAT ARE10 - 25 YEARS OLD! WE HAVE OVER 350 COMPUTER WORKSTATIONSSTATEWIDE THAT ARE OBSOLETE! THE AGE OF OUR EQUIPMENT ISNOT JUST EVIDENT IN OUR COMPUTERS. THE NETWORKS, MAINFRAMECAPACITY, AND ROUTERS ARE ALSO OUT-DATED.

YOU ARE PROBABLY WONDERING WHY I AM DWELLING ON THE PITIFULCONDITION OF OUR EQUIPMENT. THE REASON IS THAT I WANT YOU TOUNDERSTAND WHY WE CANNOT DO ALL THE THINGS THAT AREREQUESTED OF US. AS OUR RESOURCES AGE, OUR ABILITY TO PROCESSINFORMATION AND PROVIDE INFORMATION SLOWS DOWN AND BREAKSDOWN. WHEN THIS HAPPENS, WE ARE AGAIN FACED WITH THEPERCEPTION THAT ARE COURTS ARE INEFFICIENT.

OUR PLAN FOR THE LONG SESSION IS TO FOCUS ON OUR NEEDS AND

EXPLAIN TO THE LEGISLATURE THAT WE MUST BE ABLE TO PLAN OURINFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, NOT STAY AFLOAT AND REACT TOFUNDING. WE DESPERATELY NEED A PREDICTABLE FUNDING STREAM WITH WHICH TO PLAN OUR FUTURE. OUR TECHNOLOGY BUDGET MUSTBE BASED ON ENTERPRISING SOLUTIONS AND BUSINESS DECISIONS NOTSPENDING DECISIONS.

WE WILL ALSO OUTLINE OUR NEED TO EXPAND OUR HIGHLYSUCCESSFUL ARBITRATION AND CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATIONMEDIATION PROGRAMS; OUR NEED FOR COURT PERSONNEL -- JUDGES,DEPUTY CLERKS, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDERS, ASSISTANT DISTRICTATTORNEYS, AND VICTIM WITNESS ASSISTANTS.

LAST YEAR I TALKED TO YOU ABOUT STREAMLINING OUR RULES OFCIVIL AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE. LEGISLATION WAS PASSED TOCREATE COMMISSIONS TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE. THIS EFFORT WILLSIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE THE SPEED AND EFFICIENCY OF OUR COURTS.

AS YOU CAN SEE, ACHIEVEMENTS SUCH AS OUR SUCCESSES INMEDIATION AND ARBITRATION, THE BUSINESS COURT, TOGETHER WITHOUR SUCCESS IN REDUCING OUR PENDING CASELOADS ANDIMPLEMENTING A NEW AUTOMATED CIVIL CASE PROCESSING SYSTEM,GIVE US A VERY POSITIVE STORY TO TELL. YOU MUST CONTINUE TO

HELP ME SPREAD THIS STORY THROUGHOUT THE STATE, ESPECIALLYTO OUR LEGISLATORS. ALL OF US MUST UNDERTAKE GENUINE PUBLICEDUCATION EFFORTS. I KNOW THAT THE MEMBERS OF THE BARFREQUENTLY SPEAK TO SCHOOL GROUPS AND CIVIC GROUPS ABOUTTHE RULE OF LAW AND THE ROLE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION. IENCOURAGE YOU TO CONTINUE YOUR EFFORTS IN THAT REGARD, AS IWILL.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE WORK TOGETHER DURING THE UPCOMINGLONG SESSION TO SHOW THE LEGISLATURE THE RESOURCES WE NEEDSO OUR COURTS CAN KEEP STEP WITH TODAY AND BE READY TO WORKTOMORROW. OUR NEED HAS NEVER BEEN GREATER FOR THEFINANCIAL RESOURCES TO CONTINUE TO PROVIDE ENTERPRISINGPROGRAMS AND INCREASE EFFICIENCY.

I LOOK FORWARD TO JOINING WITH YOU TO PRESERVE AND IMPROVE OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE, WHICH IS THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD.