Archive for the ‘Just Courts’ Tag

The Value of Video   Leave a comment

Golfers, amateur and professional, use video to watch and analyze their golf swing. Many judges who fancy themselves golfers do this (and even some judges who really are good golfers). But it’s the rare judge who uses video to analyze his or her performance as a judge. Yet video can be valuable here too.

A few years ago, Kevin Burke and I did an educational program for the trial judges of New Hampshire. In advance of it, six judges volunteered to be videotaped on the bench for half a day; Kevin and I then reviewed the videotapes and showed some clips to the group. Evaluation forms from the attendees indicated that they learned a lot from watching the videos and then discussing what was done well and what could be improved.

For the volunteer judges in New Hampshire, we had a follow-up assignment: each of them had to note two things they observed that they hadn’t paid enough attention to before seeing the tapes and to identify two things that could be improved in their on-the-bench performance. All of them gained useful insights from this. If you want to see what those judges learned, take a look at Appendix A to this paper (Procedural Fairness in the Courts of Utah), where I’ve set out in full the New Hampshire judges’ responses.

Doing a video self-assessment this way is not difficult. In New Hampshire, each judge advised those in attendance that a video was being made solely for judicial-training purposes, and that only the judge would be shown on the tape. The camera, set up to the side of the courtroom, was turned on and generally ran for about half a day. While the audio in such a setup is not ideal, it’s adequate for this limited purpose. And if a judge wants to go beyond self-assessment, the tape could be viewed by someone else who could give feedback—a communications professor or graduate student, another judge, the judge’s spouse, or someone else whose opinion the judge would respect.

Steve Leben

What’s It All About?   4 comments

So what’s  procedural fairness thing, anyway? Professor Tom Tyler has identified four basic components that comprise procedural fairness and drive public opinion about the courts:

1. Voice:  litigants’ ability to participate in the case by expressing their viewpoint;

2. Neutrality:  consistently applied legal principles, unbiased decision makers, and a transparency about how decisions are made;

3. Respect:  individuals are treated with dignity and their rights are explicitly protected; and

4. Trust:  authorities are benevolent, caring, and sincerely trying to help the litigants—a trust garnered by listening to individuals and by explaining or justifying decisions that address the litigants’ needs.

Now that you know what it is, is it important? It sure seems to be. An extensive 2005 study in the California state courts found that perceptions of procedural fairness were “the strongest predictor by far” of public confidence in the California court system. Simply, if litigants or members of the public perceived that the courts provided fair treatment in the aspects Tyler identified, their overall opinion of the court system was much more positive. This was true across different ethnic groups, across gender, and across income and educational levels.

In addition, procedural fairness plays an important role in improving compliance with court orders. Several studies strongly suggest that when litigants perceive that they’ve been treated fairly, they are more likely to comply with the court orders that follow.

For a useful introduction to procedural-fairness principles, three articles from Court Review, the journal of the American Judges Association, will do the trick:

[Steve Leben]

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