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Case for Court Governance Principles

NCJ Number
Christine M. Durham; Daniel J. Becker
Date Published
12 pages
This paper presents a set of principles and approaches for governing State court systems.
This paper is part of a series of papers published as a result of the Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century. Participants in the session discussed the role of State court leaders in the democratic system of government and the future role of State courts. This paper presents a set of principles that are intended to begin a dialogue on how governance of court systems can best be enhanced to meet current and future challenges. The principles are based on what courts can do internally to enhance and meet their responsibilities, as opposed to focusing on how State courts can improve their relationships with other branches of government. The paper begins with a discussion of contemporary models of court organization and the culture of court systems. This is followed by the proposed 11 principles: 1) a well-defined governance structure for policy decisionmaking and administration for the entire court system; 2) meaningful input from all court levels into the decisionmaking process; 3) selection of judicial leadership based on competency, not seniority or rotation; 4) commitment to transparency and accountability; 5) a focus on policy level issues; delegation with clarity to administrative staff; and a commitment to evaluation; 6) open communication on decisions and how they are reached; 7) clear, well-understood and well-respected roles and responsibilities among the governing entity, presiding judges, court administrators, boards of judges, and court committees; 8) a system that speaks with a single voice; 9) authority to allocate resources and spend appropriated funds independent of the legislative and executive branches; 10) positive institutional relationships that foster trust among other branches and constituencies; and 11) the judicial branch should govern and administer operations that are core to the process of adjudication.