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Court Unification and Quality of State Courts

NCJ Number
Justice System Journal Volume: 16 Issue: 3 Dated: (1994) Pages: 33-55
V E Flango
Date Published
23 pages
In assessing the basic premises of State court unification, this study examined whether States that most closely approximate the unification ideal have better quality courts than States that do not.
The basic elements of court unification -- including trial court consolidation, defined jurisdiction, centralized management, State-level financing, merit selection, and centralized rulemaking -- have been endorsed by the American Bar Association and other influential groups as the ideal for courts. In measuring court quality, this study uses the concurrent jurisdiction of State and Federal courts over diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction as the yardstick to test the principles of unification. In "diversity" cases, which sometimes involve disputes between citizens of different States, litigants and their attorneys often have a choice between filing in State court or filing in Federal court. An important consideration in that choice is the overall competence of the judiciary. This research uses that choice as an indirect measure of the quality of State courts. Of the indicators of court unification, this study found that only the trial court consolidation and method of judicial selection were mildly associated with preference for State or Federal court. State courts are preferred slightly in those States where trial courts are consolidated and where judges are selected by either nonpartisan selection or the merit plan. This research poses the question as to whether a hierarchical court management system, portrayed as the goal of court unification, can be reconciled with a coordinate decentralized court process rooted in the adversarial system. It suggests that less effort be spent fitting American courts to the European, hierarchical ideal of unification and that more effort be given to re-engineering courts to improve the coordination of caseflow with agencies over whom courts do not exercise control but with whom they must cooperate. 7 figures, 2 tables, and 48 references