Remarks of

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY MITCHELL, JR.

SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

to the

NC STATE BAR COUNCIL

October 16, 1998

 

 

I AM PLEASED TO BE HERE WITH YOU THIS MORNING TO UPDATE YOU ON SEVERAL ISSUES OF CONCERN TO THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT. IT IS MY HOPE THAT YOU WILL AGREE WITH ME THAT THESE ISSUES ARE OF CONCERN NOT ONLY TO THE COURTS, BUT TO OUR PROFESSION.

AS YOU ARE AWARE I HAVE MADE A CONCERTED EFFORT SINCE BECOMING CHIEF JUSTICE TO BE FORTHCOMING ABOUT WHAT OUR COURT SYSTEM NEEDS AND WHY. I DECIDED EARLY ON THAT WE NEED TO ASK FOR THE RESOURCES WE NEED AND JUSTIFY THE NEED BEFORE WE CAN REASONABLY EXPECT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO RESPOND. I HAVE ALSO FOCUSED ON SERVING AS AN ADVOCATE FOR OUR PROFESSION. WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER TO MAKE OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE MORE ACCESSIBLE AND MORE EFFICIENT. THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT NEEDS YOUR SUGGESTIONS AND YOUR HELP, AS ATTORNEYS, WHEN WE REQUEST RESOURCES AND MAKE OTHER EFFORTS TO IMPROVE THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY HAS NOT YET ADJOURNED FROM ITS SHORT SESSION WHERE IT IS CONSIDERING EXPANSION BUDGET REQUESTS. HOWEVER, WE ARE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC THAT WE WILL RECEIVE MANY OF THE RESOURCES WE NEED. IN MAY, WE PROVIDED A DETAILED LIST OF BUDGET NEEDS. OUR EXPANSION REQUEST THIS SUMMER FOCUSED HEAVILY ON CORE COURT PERSONNEL, AND CRITICAL OFFICE SUPPLY AND TECHNOLOGY NEEDS.

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS "UN-FUNDED" OR "UNDER-FUNDED" MANDATES IN THE FORM OF NEW LAWS WHICH HAVE PLACED NEW DEMANDS ON OUR ALREADY OVER-BURDENED COURT OFFICES STATEWIDE. FOR EXAMPLE, A SERIES OF AMENDMENTS TO THE DWI LAWS REQUIRE MANY NEW PROCESSES IN OUR CLERKS' OFFICES AND MANY ADDITIONAL HEARINGS IN DISTRICT COURT, WITHOUT THE NECESSARY INFUSION OF NEW PERSONNEL. THEREFORE, IN OUR EXPANSION BUDGET, WE SPECIFICALLY FOCUSED ON THE NEED FOR PERSONNEL IN THE CLERKS' OFFICES AND THE NEED FOR MORE DISTRICT COURT JUDGES.

MY STAFF IN THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS WORKED CLOSELY WITH THE CLERKS AND THE JUDGES TO JUSTIFY THIS REQUEST FOR NEW PERSONNEL. THE CLERKS SURVEYED THEMSELVES AND MADE A REQUEST FOR 161 NEW DEPUTY CLERK POSITIONS. THE JUDGES SURVEYED THEMSELVES AND MADE A REQUEST FOR 34 NEW DISTRICT COURT JUDGES. WE NEED THESE POSITIONS JUST TO MAINTAIN OUR CURRENT LEVELS OF CASE PRODUCTIVITY. WE ARE OPTIMISTIC THAT WE WILL BE GIVEN SUBSTANTIAL POSITIONS WHEN THE LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS.

WE ARE ALREADY WORKING ON OUR NEXT BIENNIUM BUDGET REQUEST. WE ARE WORKING WITH THE JUSTICE INSTITUTE AND THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS TO ESTABLISH A SET OF CRITERIA FOR COMPARING WORKLOADS OF OUR COURT OFFICIALS SO WE CAN MAKE FUTURE REQUESTS BASED UPON SOUND DATA THAT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND COURT OFFICIALS ACCEPT AS RELEVANT AND ACCURATE. I AM HOPEFUL THAT OUR HARDWORKING CLERKS AND JUDGES WILL GET MUCH NEEDED ASSISTANCE. OUR JUDGES CONSISTENTLY RANK HIGH IN PRODUCTION AMONG JUDGES FROM ALL OTHER STATES, BUT WE RANK VERY LOW IN TERMS OF THE NUMBER OF JUDGES PER CAPITA.

ANOTHER ISSUE LOOMS ON THE HORIZON. IT IS THE IMPLEMENTING LEGISLATION FOR THE VICTIM RIGHTS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, PASSED BY THE VOTERS IN 1996. CURRENTLY, LEGISLATION IS PENDING IN THE HOUSE RULES COMMITTEE. THE LEGISLATION SEEKS TO EXTEND CERTAIN RIGHTS TO VICTIMS OF VIOLENT FELONIES INCLUDING, AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION ABOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE NOTICES OF ALL UPCOMING COURT PROCEEDINGS, THE RIGHT TO CONFER PERSONALLY WITH THE PROSECUTING TRIAL ATTORNEY, THE RIGHT TO PRESENT EVIDENCE OF THE IMPACT OF THE CRIME, AND THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE A CIVIL JUDGMENT FOR ANY RESTITUTION. THESE RIGHTS DO NOT COME WITHOUT A COST AS THEY WILL IMPOSE MANY NEW AND VERY TIME CONSUMING DUTIES ON DISTRICT ATTORNEYS AND CLERKS OF COURT, AS WELL AS TRIAL JUDGES. IF THE DEFINITION OF "VICTIMS" ENTITLED TO SERVICES ENDS UP INCLUDING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MISDEMEANOR CASES, THE NUMBER OF VICTIMS TO BE SERVED WILL INCREASE BY THE THOUSANDS. THE IMPACT ON THE COURTS WILL BE DRAMATIC.

WE CONTINUE TO HOPE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY WILL RECOGNIZE THAT SIGNIFICANT NEW DUTIES REQUIRE SIGNIFICANT NEW RESOURCES TO GET THE JOB DONE. IF HOLLOW PROMISES ARE MADE TO VICTIMS, AND WE ARE UNABLE TO FULFILL THE PURPOSES OF THE LEGISLATION BECAUSE WE SIMPLY DON'T HAVE THE NECESSARY PEOPLE AND RESOURCES, WE WILL FURTHER DAMAGE THE IMAGE OF THE COURTS AND THE FAITH THE PUBLIC HAS IN THE SYSTEM. WE WILL FRUSTRATE AND OVERBURDEN OUR EMPLOYEES, AND WE WILL DIG EVEN DEEPER THE HOLE WE ARE IN NOW. EVEN WITHOUT THIS LEGISLATION, WE ARE UNDERSTAFFED AND UNDERAUTOMATED. IF WE ARE GIVEN THE JOB OF PROVIDING NEW VICTIMS’ RIGHTS, WE NEED THE RESOURCES TO DO IT.

BEYOND PERSONNEL NEEDS, I REMAIN COMMITTED TO OUTLINING THE SPECIFIC INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE COURTS TO THE LEGISLATURE DURING THE LONG SESSION. ONE OF OUR GREATEST OBSTACLES IS THAT OVER THE PAST DECADE THE COURTS HAVE FALLEN BEHIND IN OUR EFFORTS TO PROVIDE SUFFICIENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TOOLS WHICH COULD ENABLE ATTORNEYS AND THE PUBLIC TO MORE EASILY WORK WITH THE COURTS. I KNOW MANY ATTORNEYS ARE CONCERNED WITH HOW THEY WILL DO BUSINESS WITH THE COURTS IN THE FUTURE USING ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY ALREADY IN THEIR LAW OFFICES.

IT APPEARS THAT A SPECIAL PROVISION WILL BE ENACTED THIS SESSION TO ENABLE THE COURTS TO BRING IN OUTSIDE EXPERTS TO ASSESS OUR INFORMATION RESOURCES AND DEVELOP A STRATEGIC PLAN TO SERVE THE COURTS NOW AND IN THE FUTURE. SPECIFICALLY, THIS PLAN WILL FOCUS ON OUR TECHNOLOGY NEEDS, AND PROVIDE COST ESTIMATES BY PHASES. I PERSONALLY SOUGHT THE SUPPORT OF LEGISLATORS FOR THIS PROVISION BECAUSE I THINK IT IS CRITICAL THAT WE ENLIST THE AID OF EXPERTS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO HELP US DEMONSTRATE HOW TO PUT TOGETHER OUR COMPUTER SYSTEMS AND TO ESTIMATE HOW MUCH THEY WILL COST.

OUR OTHER ISSUE WITH BOTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND BASIC OFFICE EQUIPMENT IS A NEED FOR A CONTINUING BUDGET TO ALLOW US TO REPLACE EQUIPMENT AS IT AGES. WE ARE SIMPLY NOT ABLE TO KEEP PACE WITH NEW COMPUTER APPLICATIONS THAT MAY BENEFIT THE PUBLIC AND ATTORNEYS WITHOUT THE MEANS TO REPLACE OUR EQUIPMENT AS IT AGES. WE HAVE ALMOST $40 MILLION OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY EQUIPMENT STATEWIDE, AND $10 MILLION IN BASIC OFFICE EQUIPMENT (COPIERS, MAIL MACHINES, ETC.) YET OUR CONTINUATION BUDGET IS $12 MILLION FOR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, WITH NO CONTINUATION MONEY FOR BASIC OFFICE EQUIPMENT. WE SIMPLY CANNOT KEEP PACE WITH REPLACING AND UPDATING EQUIPMENT WITH THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY. SINCE MOST HARDWARE THESE DAYS HAS A LIFE SPAN OF 5 YEARS, WE NEED A CONSISTENT AND STABLE CONTINUING BUDGET SO WE CAN PLAN THE REPLACEMENTS AND KEEP UP WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES.

WE HAVE BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL WORKING WITH SENATOR LAUCH FAIRCLOTH, AND CONGRESSMEN CHARLES TAYLOR AND DAVID PRICE FOR FEDERAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR OUR NEW MAGISTRATE SYSTEM. OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS WE HAVE RECEIVED $4.4 MILLION, AND WE HOPE TO RECEIVE AN ADDITIONAL $6 MILLION THIS YEAR. THE MAGISTRATE SYSTEM IS THE FIRST STEP IN THE COURTS’ PLAN TO CREATE A COMPREHENSIVE CASE TRACKING SYSTEM THAT WILL AUTOMATE ALL OF THE TRIAL COURTS IN NORTH CAROLINA AND LINK THE COURTS TO OTHER AGENCIES. AUTOMATING OUR MAGISTRATES' OFFICES WILL BE THE FIRST STEP IN MODERNIZING OUR COURTS AND ENABLING US TO COMMUNICATE WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AND OTHER AGENCIES. BUT AGAIN WE WILL NEED STATE MONEY TO CONTINUE TO RUN THIS SYSTEM SINCE THE FEDERAL MONEY IS ONE-TIME MONEY.

BESIDES FOCUSING ON THE MAGISTRATE SYSTEM AND OUR OTHER AUTOMATED SYSTEMS, WE OFTEN BECOME INVOLVED IN TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES THAT ARE A RESPONSE TO LEGISLATION. FOR EXAMPLE, THE GOVERNOR'S 1997 DWI INITIATIVES, ESPECIALLY CHANGES IN VEHICLE SEIZURE LAWS, HAVE REQUIRED A SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE FROM THE COURTS AND AOC. WE ARE WORKING WITH DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES TO DESIGN AND IMPLEMENT A NEW ELECTRONIC SYSTEM FOR REPORTING INFORMATION ABOUT VEHICLE SEIZURES, DESIGN NEW FORMS, AND TRAIN CLERKS, MAGISTRATES AND JUDGES. ENACTMENT OF ANY OF THE NUMEROUS 1998 PROPOSALS WILL REQUIRE A SIMILARLY SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE.

I WANT YOU TO UNDERSTAND WHY WE CANNOT DO ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE REQUESTED OF US. AS OUR EQUIPMENT AGES, OUR ABILITY TO PROCESS AND PROVIDE INFORMATION SLOWS DOWN AND BREAKS DOWN. WHEN THIS HAPPENS, WE ARE AGAIN FACED WITH THE PERCEPTION THAT OUR COURTS ARE INEFFICIENT.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT WE ALL CONTINUE TO WORK TOGETHER TO ADVOCATE THE RESOURCES THE COURTS NEED SO THAT OUR COURTS CAN KEEP STEP WITH TODAY AND BE READY TO DO THE WORK WHICH WILL BE THRUST UPON US TOMORROW. OUR NEED HAS NEVER BEEN GREATER FOR THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO CONTINUE TO PROVIDE ENTERPRISING PROGRAMS AND INCREASED EFFICIENCY. IT IS ALSO IMPERATIVE THAT WE WORK TOGETHER TO IMPROVE OUR PROFESSION AND THE PERCEPTION OF THE PROFESSION.

AS A FINAL MATTER, I AM PLEASED TO TELL YOU THAT BY ORDER OF THE SUPREME COURT OF 22 SEPTEMBER 1998, THE COURT CREATED THE CHIEF JUSTICE’S COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALISM. THIS COMMISSION IS THE BRAIN CHILD OF THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR, PARTICULARLY YOUR PRESIDENT BILL KING AND FITZGERALD PARNELL. AS YOU KNOW, BILL HAS MADE IMPROVING PROFESSIONALISM AMONG NORTH CAROLINA LAWYERS HIS HIGHEST GOAL DURING ALL OF HIS YEARS WITH THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR, AND MOST PARTICULARLY DURING THIS YEAR IN WHICH HE HAS SERVED AS YOUR PRESIDENT. HE AND GERRY AND OTHERS IN YOUR LEADERSHIP HAVE PERSUADED OUR COURT THAT A COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALISM CHAIRED BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE IS THE BEST WAY TO PULL TOGETHER ALL OF THE VARIOUS EFFORTS OF THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR, THE NORTH CAROLINA BAR ASSOCIATION AND OTHER GROUPS INTERESTED IN PROMOTING PROFESSIONALISM. WE HAVE RESPONDED TO THEIR URGING AND YOURS BY CREATING THIS NEW CHIEF JUSTICE’S COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALISM.

THE COMMISSION WILL BE COMPOSED OF TWO TRIAL JUDGES, AN APPELLATE COURT JUDGE, TWO LAW SCHOOL FACULTY MEMBERS, SEVEN PRACTICING LAWYERS, AND THREE NON-LAWYER CITIZENS ACTIVE IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS. THE COMMISSION’S RESPONSIBILITIES WILL INCLUDE MONITORING AND COORDINATING NORTH CAROLINA’S PROFESSIONALISM EFFORTS IN SUCH INSTITUTIONAL SETTINGS AS THE BAR, THE COURTS, THE LAW SCHOOLS, AND LAW FIRMS. THE COMMISSION WILL EXAMINE WAYS OF MAKING OUR SYSTEM OF JUSTICE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC AND ENCOURAGE EFFORTS BY LAWYERS AND JUDGES TO IMPROVE THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. THE COMMISSION WILL ALSO ADVISE THE BOARD OF CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION AND THE VARIOUS CLE PROVIDERS ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF CLE PROFESSIONALISM REQUIREMENTS. THE COMMISSION WILL ALSO REPORT FROM TIME TO TIME ON THE STATE OF PROFESSIONALISM IN NORTH CAROLINA AND WILL MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR AND THE VOLUNTARY BARS CONCERNING ADDITIONAL EFFORTS BY WHICH PROFESSIONALISM CAN BE ENHANCED AMONG NORTH CAROLINA LAWYERS.

TO PARAPHRASE BILL KING AND GERRY PARNELL, IT IS CRUCIAL AT THIS TIME IN OUR HISTORY THAT LAWYERS DO WHAT THEY OUGHT TO DO WITH THEIR CLIENTS AND EACH OTHER, NOT JUST WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO PURSUANT TO THE FORMAL ETHICS. I AM VERY ENTHUSED ABOUT THIS NEW CHIEF JUSTICE’S COMMISSION ON PROFESSIONALISM AND HOPE THAT IT WILL HELP TO INSURE THAT LAWYERS ARE THOROUGH-GOING PROFESSIONALS AND ARE PERCEIVED TO BE PROFESSIONALS FIRST AND LAST. I COMMEND BILL AND GERRY AND ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR EFFORTS IN ENCOURAGING AND PERSUADING THE COURT TO CREATE THIS COMMISSION AND I AM EXCITED ABOUT ITS WORK AND ITS IMPACT ON THE PROFESSION.

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