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Court Administration

May 30th, 2015 · No Comments

Every state court system has an administrative branch that manages the court system’s internal operations. It is most often named the Administrative Office of the Courts (as in Washington), but may also be called the Office of Judicial Administration (as in Kansas), Office of the State Court Administrator (as in Colorado , the Chief Court Administrator (as in Connecticut), the Division of State Court Administration (as in Indiana), the Director of State Courts (as in Wisconsin), and even the Office of the Executive Secretary (as in Virginia).

These administrative offices are usually under the direct supervision of the state Supreme Court (or whatever court is the highest level state court, such as the New York Court of Appeals). Most of the administrative office’s functions,  concerned with internal court system operations, are not of interest to the general public – but some are. Because these administrative offices oversee many court programs, they may be the best source of information about those programs.

For example, Louisiana’s Office of the Judicial Administrator oversees the state’s Protective Order Registry (which includes information about types of protective orders and procedure) and has links to the state’s Drug Court contacts and program brochure. CourtReference routinely checks state court administration websites for links of interest to the general public; when we find them, we add them to our site. You can find both of the above-mentioned Louisiana resources on our Louisiana Self-Help and Legal Research page. We don’t link to the Office of the Judicial Administrator’s home page; we only link the its included resources that are of use to those of you who are looking for information to help you navigate the court system. One exception is in Kentucky, where the Administrative Office of the Courts has so many useful links to court programs and services that we simply link to its home page (see the “Kentucky Court Administration” link on our Self Help and Legal Research page).

You can count on CourtReference to provide you with links to court information that you can use.

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Complaints About Judges

April 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

We talk about lawyers a lot on this blog, including how to complain about your lawyer. What if you have a beef with the judge? That may seem like a stretch; sure, you can complain about the lawyer you hired, but you didn’t hire the judge. Even so, if a judge takes an action that could be considered to be unethical, misconduct, or evidence of mental or physical incapacity, there are ways to complain.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has adopted a Model Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes general rules for judges to follow. In a nutshell, the judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety, be impartial, and avoid conflicts of interest. The Model Code does not provide for its own enforcement; for that purpose, the ABA  has adopted Model Rules for Judicial Disciplinary Enforcement, which include the establishment of a Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission is empowered to receive complaints, but the mechanism for making a complaint is not addressed.

ABA Model Codes and Rules are guidelines intended to help individual states craft their own versions, and most states have adopted them at least in part. Some states have gone farther; New York’s Rules of Judicial Conduct are much more detailed than the ABA’s Model Code, although they address the same general issues. In New York, as in most states, codes and rules of judicial conduct are part of the state’s general court rules. The ABA provides a comparison of its Model Code of Judicial Conduct to each state’s version.

Since the Model Rules have no complaint mechanism, the individual states all implement their own process for making a complaint. For example, New York’s procedure permits complaints to be filed with an Administrative Judge, the Inspector General, or the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. As in most states, New York’s Commission’s operating rules are not part of the general court rules, because they apply only to the procedures of the Commission and not to judges in general.

Both New York’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and  Washington State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct provide a complaint form but also accept complaints in the form of a brief written statement. Both also provide information about the confidentiality rules that apply to complaints. Similarly, Arkansas’ Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission provides a print and online complaint form, instructions, and information pamphlet and a report of its activities.

Of interest in the 2011 Arkansas report (the most recent published) are the sheer number of complaints: 248. Of those complaints, 178 were filed by litigants, only 11 by court personnel and attorneys, and the rest from various other sources. The Commission dismissed 244 of those, and imposed admonitions, reprimand, or censure for 4 of them.  Statistics are similar in other states; very few complaints about judges are found to valid. For example, in New York – a much larger state – only 12 public disciplinary opinions were issued in 2014.

To find court rules, look in CourtReference’s “Self Help and Legal Research” category of resources for your state. To find information about complaints and disciplinary procedures for both lawyers and judges, look in our “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” category – because we like to keep our lawyer- and judge-related resources together.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arkansas · Court Systems · Courtreference.com · New York · Washington

Case Records Get More Mobile

March 28th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Just a few years ago, some courts started making court records and calendars available via mobile apps; we talked about it here. Those services required an iOS, Android, or BlackBerry app to be downloaded to your mobile device.

Since we last covered this topic, more court systems have offered mobile app access to their case records, calendars, and other information. Examples abound:

In Illinois, the Cook County Clerk of Circuit Court offers downloadable iOS and Android apps that include case record searches, traffic ticket searches, court location information and mapping, a fee schedule, and contact information.

In Ohio, the Toledo Municipal Court court calendar and fine payment app that our previous post said was on the way has arrived. Even better, it also includes a case record search. From the Clerk of Court’s website, you can still run a traditional website search for case records and schedules, or online fine payments, from links in the left column. But you can get the same information via a web app, which you can download from a link in the right column.

The above services require an app download. Some court systems are now offering mobile searches via a web app, which does not require a download and can be used by any device. For example:

In Pennsylvania, Philadephia’s Court of Common Pleas still offers downloadable iOS and Android apps to access upcoming hearing lists and docket entries for civil cases. But it also offers a web app (no download required) to access hearing lists for upcoming criminal cases.

Kansas’s statewide District Court case records search is now optimized for mobile use; no app download is required, and the results are the same for all devices – but the service does require payment per search or by subscription, regardless of device.

Finally, South Carolina’s Charleston County Clerk of Courts now offers case record searches via a no-download web app called Court Plus. Just go to the website on your smartphone, tablet, or PC and run your search. You can search Charleston County Circuit Court and Family Court records by party name, case number, or attorney’s bar number. You don’t even have to register – but if you do, you get access to enhanced services such as notifications or the ability to create a list of “favorite” cases. (I’m not sure how one decides that a case is a “favorite” but at least they don’t ask you to “like” a case!)

Note that you can also search Charleston County Family Court cases using a traditional website. The information provided by the two services is not identical; the traditional website search provides more information about events in the case, while the Court Plus web app provides more information about individual filings. You can also search Charleston County Circuit Court cases on the South Carolina Judicial Department’s statewide public index website.

As you can see, access to court records, calendars, and other court information is expanding and being made available to devices other than your desktop PC. It seems like only a few years ago that the only access was a search of hardcopy documents in file drawers in your local court clerk’s office. To keep up with the latest developments in court information access, keep an eye on CourtReference.

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