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Procedural Fairness in California: Initiatives, Challenges, and Recommendations

NCJ Number
Rachel Porter
Date Published
May 2011
61 pages
Based on approximately 20 site visits and nearly 50 stakeholder interviews as well as a document and Web site review, this study conducted a needs assessment and analysis of best practices in the promotion of procedural fairness in the processing of civil and traffic cases in California.
As used in this study, "procedural fairness" refers to "the experience that court users have with the court system, whether as litigants, jurors, witnesses, or affected parties." In focusing on court procedures and interpersonal treatment, the concept of procedural fairness differs from "distributive fairness," which refers to the perceived fairness of the case outcome. This report has four sections. Section 1 describes procedural fairness in the courthouse. The analysis focuses on the courtroom where cases are heard, and it also analyzes the entire experience of being in the courthouse and attempting to find assistance there. Attention is given to access to the courts, interaction between court staff and the public, understanding court proceedings, and ensuring individual voice in the courtroom. For each of these topics, this report identifies challenges and initiatives, offers recommendations, and lists sample resources. Section II addresses issues distinctive to each of three high-volume court venues: traffic cases, small claims cases, and cases that involve family and juvenile law. For each of these types of cases, challenges and initiatives are identified, recommendations are offered, and sample resources are listed. Section III describes how procedural fairness affects three critical groups of court users: self-represented litigants; litigants with limited English proficiency; and litigants from culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse backgrounds. For each of these challenges to procedural fairness, initiatives are offered to address them. Section IV presents an assessment tool that court officials can use to examine procedural fairness in local jurisdictions, courthouses, and courtrooms. 24 references and appended list of sites visited and stakeholders interviewed