New Bench Card for Trial Judges   Leave a comment

Four national court organizations released a Procedural Fairness Bench card for trial judges today. The bench card can be found under the new “Bench Card” tab on the front page of our website, Or you can just click this link to go directly to the bench card. It’s also being printed as the back cover of the issue of Court Review that’s now in the mail to American Judges Association members.

The bench card is a joint product of the American Judges Association, the Center for Court Innovation, the National Center for State Courts, and the National Judicial College.

The bench card tries to answer the key questions a trial judge might have about procedural fairness (also known as procedural justice):

  • What is it? It’s a set of evidence-based practices that lead to better acceptance of court decisions, a more positive view of individual courts and the justice system, and greater compliance with court orders. The bench card begins by explaining six closely connected elements of procedural fairness.
  • Why is it important? Rigorous studies have shown that both acceptance of court decisions and overall approval of the court system are much more closely connected to perceptions of procedural fairness than to other factors.
  • Can it be measured? Yes, and the bench card provides links to measurement tools that judges and courts can use.
  • How do I do it? One full side of the bench card describes specific things trial judges can do to practice procedural fairness in court.
  • Where can I get more information? The bench card also provides links to websites that provide more in-depth materials and to six specific publications.


Michigan judge provides clinic on showing compassion to crime victims at sentencing   4 comments

Michigan trial judge Rosemarie Aquilina is presiding over the sentencing hearing for Lawrence Nassar, the former doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics. But she’s also running what amounts to a demonstration clinic on how to show compassion to crime victims at sentencing.

The New York Times has a front-page article today on the sentencing hearing, now in its second week. The article is filled with statements Judge Aquilina has made to victims:

  • “Thank you. What would you like me to know?”
  • “Leave your pain here, and go out and do your magnificent things.”
  • “You are so strong and brave.”
  • “The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you.”
  • “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.'” Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”

I’ve taught Tom Tyler’s four elements of procedural fairness now for many years: (1) voice, (2) respect, (3) neutrality, and (4) trust/trustworthy authority. Ultimately, you want court participants to feel that they’ve had the opportunity to speak, were treated with respect, and listened to. You also want them to feel that the person wielding the authority is sincere and caring, genuinely out to do the right thing.

Judge Aquilina seems to have hit it out of the park in making sure that victim voices were heard, giving them every ounce of closure that a sentencing hearing can provide, and conveying the very real sense that she sincerely cares about each of them. None of that is easy to do.

I haven’t had a chance to watch the hearings—I have a full-time “day job” as an appellate judge. So I can’t say whether everything she has done was the right thing or the best practice. Legitimate questions can be raised from media accounts on the neutrality element. After all, she still must sentence Nassar, and she must be careful both to be—and to appear—fair in doing so. I am not suggesting she has failed on that point; I simply haven’t seen enough to know. As Professor Stephen Gillers notes in the New York Times article, though, this is a sentencing hearing, not a trial, and Nassar has already pleaded guilty to serious state and federal crimes. So it’s fair for the judge to take that into account at this hearing and even to comment on it.

Set the neutrality issue aside, though, because the significance of this hearing for other judges and those trying to make courts work better comes in the way Judge Aquilina has dealt with the victims. She has provided a model of procedural justice—providing voice, treating victims with respect, and showing that the judge presiding sincerely cares about each of them. And she has done it all in a public courtroom. Those who train judges should carefully look through transcripts or news accounts of this sentencing hearing. Examples of procedurally fair practices abound.

Posted January 24, 2018 by Steve Leben in Courts, Procedural Fairness, Trial Courts

New Book from CCI: To Be Fair   Leave a comment

The Center for Court Innovation has published a new book with 27 interviews of leaders around the country in procedural justice. The book is called To Be Fair: Voices About Procedural Justice, hot off the presses and also posted on the web. The book has a foreword from Prof. Tom Tyler and CCI deputy director Emily LaGratta.

As part of the book’s launch, CCI is hosting a live-streamed panel discussion on Friday, April 21 (9:30-10:30 a.m. EDT). I’m pleased to be part of that discussion, which will also include:

– Barbara Marcille, Multnomah County (OR) Circuit Court; and

– Melba Pearson, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

If you’d like to join us this Friday morning (9:30-10:30 a.m. EDT) for the procedural-justice panel discussion, here’s the link. Emily LaGratta will be moderating. 

Whether you join us or not, the book may be of interest. Those interviewed include judges, court administrators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judicial-performance evaluators.

Posted April 20, 2017 by Steve Leben in Uncategorized

The Perils of Multitasking: That Oscars Fiasco   1 comment

One of the dangers Kevin Burke and I have talked about with judges around the country is that of multitasking. As we have noted elsewhere, for more than 97% of us, task switching (what really happens when we try to multitask) has a cost in performance. Unfortunately, studies also show that most people think they actually are good at multitasking and more efficient as a result.

On the bench, this can have the negative effect of having a judge less aware of evidence being presented, objections being made, or subtle but important actions by courtroom participants. In a car, we are learning all too frequently that multitasking drivers can cause devastating consequences.

Now it appears that we can add handing out award envelopes at the Oscars to that list.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent article yesterday telling what we know at this point. And it sure looks like multitasking played a key role that has caused embarrassment and potential repetitional damage to a big accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and one of its partners, Brian Cullinan.

Cullinan and another PricewaterhouseCoopers partner had what seems a fairly simple—and enjoyable—job for Oscars night: stand backstage and hand the award envelopes for the 24 major-category awards to the presenter right before that person heads on-stage. So, each time the presenter came up from the opposite side of the stage, Cullinan or his partner would have to put the unused envelope in their possession aside and make the next award’s envelope ready to go.

The multitasking problem appears to have happened between the next-to-last award to be announced—best actress in a leading role—and the final award for best picture.

After Emma Stone won the Best Actress Oscar, she came to Cullinan’s side of the stage. He then tweeted out a picture of her standing nearby with the comments, “Best Actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC.” About three minutes later, Cullinan gave Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope as they headed on-stage.

The Journal reports that Cullinan doesn’t think his tweeting caused the error. But we know that most people don’t think their performance is degraded by multitasking. Like a judge on the bench—or all of us at one time or another—Cullinan had a single, very important task to focus on. We may never know for sure whether his decision to enjoy watching Emma Stone leave the stage, take a photo, and put out a tweet caused him to make an error that he now deeply regrets. But there’s a strong chance it did, and it’s a lesson we all should take in.

[Note: New details from behind the scenes have been published in Variety and the Washington Post, and they seem to add to the case that there were lots of distractions for Cullinan.]

Posted March 1, 2017 by Steve Leben in Uncategorized

Procedural Justice Is for Victims Too   Leave a comment

Over the past year, we’ve been talking with authors of recent studies on procedural fairness, asking them to describe their research. Today, we have an interview with three researchers about three different projects, all on the topic of victims and procedural fairness.

Cortney Fisher, our first guest, has a Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland. She talks about the research she did for her dissertation on victim satisfaction.

Our other two guests are Stacy Haynes (Associate Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University) and Alison Cares (Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Assumption College). Together, they have studied how victims and offenders perceive fairness and view the purpose of punishment. They also worked together on a literature review on restitution and the effect it has on victims’ feelings of satisfaction.

The researchers point out that all victims—regardless of demographic factors—are generally looking for the same things: information about the process, the chance to give input, and the sense that they’ve been heard by the court and the offender. They’re more interested in procedural justice than distributive justice. They do want to make sure that the offender doesn’t commit a crime again, but they aren’t necessarily more satisfied by seeing offenders get harsher sentences. They want to believe that the offender will be deterred from futures crimes for some reason other than being locked up.

Offenders, as it turns out, have some of the same desires. They tend to agree with victims on the purposes of punishment as well as whether the procedures and outcomes in their cases were fair. Offenders also benefit from having things like restitution explained to them and are more likely to pay if they realize that the money is going to the victim to help offset the damage they caused.

Restitution is an important part of helping victims feel restored, but even when victims don’t receive restitution, making sure they feel respected and heard can aid the restoration process. Since police officers and judges might not have much time to sit down with victims, the researchers encouraged more widespread use of victim advocates. A victim advocate can explain the process to victims and talk with them about their experiences, questions, and needs. Especially when victim advocates come from a community organization (rather than the prosecutor’s office or the court), they can independently represent victims and devote more time to them than a judge would be able to.

The researchers offer some practical tips for judges and tackle questions like how to consider input from victims while still making sure offenders receive equal justice.

We hope you find this interview useful and interesting. If you’d like to read more, the three studies the researchers discuss are cited below.

Cortney Fisher, What Matters: An Analysis of Victim Satisfaction in a Procedural Justice Framework (2014) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland),

Stacy H. Haynes & Alison C. Cares, Victims’ and Offenders’ Views About Crime and Justice, 48 Soc. Focus 228 (2015),

Stacy Hoskins Haynes, Alison C. Cares & R. Barry Ruback, Reducing the Harm of Criminal Victimization: The Role of Restitution, 30 Violence & Victims 450 (2015),

Victim Edited Interview (8:23)

Victim Full Interview (33:38)


New Resources on Procedural Fairness!   1 comment

I am genuinely excited to announce some new resources on procedural fairness in courts and beyond. These resources can be found at a companion web page,, and they have been made possible by the National Center for State Courts, the American Judges Association, and the website Let me review what’s now available.

Training Materials. The National Center for State Courts has produced four training videos that can be used to teach judges and court staff about procedural-fairness principles. The situations include an employee at the court clerk’s counter dealing with an upset self-represented litigant, a busy criminal first-appearance docket, and judges on the bench distracted either by paperwork or their computers. Discussion guides are available for trainers who would lead the discussion and train participants. Participant guides offer lists of further resources related to each scenario.

AJA Fairness Interviews. The American Judges Association invited nine national leaders to a meeting on how to improve perceptions of fairness in America’s courts, and we recorded interviews we did with them. Those interviews are now on the web, and they provide a rich background of key procedural-fairness concepts and applications:

  • Start with the interview with Professor Tom Tyler, the leading scholar in the United States on procedural justice in both the court and law-enforcement contexts. He provides an overview of all of the basic concepts along with practical advice for judges in the courtroom. Every new judge should be given a link to this video.
  • Emily Gold LaGratta of the Center for Court Innovation discusses CCI projects to implement procedural-fairness principles in courts around the country as well as specific suggestions individual judges can implement.
  • Professor Terry Maroney discusses how judges can get better at dealing with their own emotional reactions in court, as well as those of other court participants. She also talks about what emotions best enhance–or detract from–perceptions of fair treatment.
  • Utah State Court Administrator Dan Becker talks about the work the Utah courts do on a regular basis to measure the perceived fairness of trial courts throughout the state, as well as how that data can be used to improve court performance.
  • Joanne Slotnik, who headed up Utah’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission at the time of the interview, talks about how that commission used procedural-fairness principles as the basis for citizen observers to evaluate the work of Utah’s state trial judges. She also discusses common problems the observers saw and ways judges might improve their on-the-bench performance.
  • Consultant Dale Lefever explains that better relationships lead to better outcomes, which in court means better compliance with legal orders. Drawing on training programs he has done for decades with both doctors and judges, he explains how a judge can build better fairness skills, including how to use videotape to evaluate one’s own performance.
  • Kent Wagner, who heads the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation and previously directed judicial-education programs in Colorado, talks about the significance of procedural-fairness principles to the evaluation of judicial performance, the types of comments commonly made about judges in evaluation surveys, and areas judges might focus on for improvement.
  • Bert Brandenburg, the Executive Director of Justice at Stake at the time of the interview, provides background about public opinion of the courts, including what people want from courts and judges. He makes specific suggestions about how judges can respond to the public’s concerns.
  • Carl Reynolds, a policy advisor at the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and formerly the Texas State Court Administrator, talks about measurement tools that can be used to assess court performance in fairness as well as how to train judges about procedural-fairness concepts.

There also are two video statements from state supreme court chief justices about the emphasis placed on procedural-fairness principles in the courts of their states. Then-Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe (who recently retired) speaks about the decision to place a poster pledging fairness at the entrance to every courthouse in Alaska. Utah Chief Justice Matthew Durrant talks about the emphasis that Utah has placed on procedural fairness–something that he put front and center in a State of the Judiciary message to the Utah Legislature.

Podcasts. Three audio podcasts are now available synthesizing the AJA procedural-fairness interviews. Prepared by Justine Greve (M.A., American Studies), a staff member with the Kansas Court of Appeals, these podcasts (running 8 to 10 minutes each) provide an easy way to hear the themes from all of the interviews, with clips from several of the interviews in each podcast:

  • Improving Judicial Behavior. Listen to this podcast for tips about how to improve a judge’s communication from the bench.
  • Procedural Fairness in Judicial Training and Evaluation. This podcast focuses on how the principles of procedural fairness can be used to evaluate judges and help them become better at what they do.
  • Procedural Fairness as a Model for Modern Authority. In this podcast, we consider changing ideas about what leads the public to accept an authority figure’s legitimacy. The interviewees argue that procedural fairness is the modern model for the proper exercise of authority, leading those involved to view the judge as worthy of their trust.

In addition to these podcasts made from the AJA fairness interviews, Justine Greve has also done several other podcasts for our website, They have been published here on this blog as they have been done, but they will soon be reposted on the Podcast page at as well.

I’m very pleased that these materials–generated through the collective efforts of the National Center for State Courts, the American Judges Association, and the contributors to–are now available. We’ll still be doing some spruce-up to the website where they’re located, but we think the resources you’ll find there will be helpful in advancing the cause of procedural fairness in America’s courts.–Steve Leben


Posted October 28, 2016 by Steve Leben in Uncategorized

Procedural Fairness from the Police Perspective   Leave a comment

When researchers talk about police legitimacy, they’re usually talking about what the public thinks about the police. What makes people treat officers as authority figures? What makes people think the police will help them solve their problems? The subject of our latest interview, Justin Nix, turns the topic around to focus on what the police think.

Nix describes legitimacy as a dialogue between police and the public: the police make a claim to legitimacy, the public responds to that claim, officers adjust their behavior or views of themselves accordingly, and so on. In his dissertation and several recent articles, Nix picks apart that dialogue, looking for what police feel makes them legitimate in the eyes of the public and what influences how officers feel about themselves.

Nix says police officers know that procedural fairness is important to people, but they may not be as clear on its practical effects or whether it’s equally important to all groups. While they know procedural fairness bolsters their claim to legitimacy, for example, they don’t always see it as the best way to gain cooperation.

The next piece of the dialogue—how officers feel about their own legitimacy and react to public perceptions—is especially interesting in light of the scrutiny surrounding policing over the last two years. Negative portrayals of police do affect officers’ confidence in their authority, Nix says. That can make them not only more reluctant to do their jobs but also more likely to handle situations by using force. Nix says the negative publicity has made some officers less willing to partner with the community to solve problems. But he found that wasn’t the case for officers who viewed themselves and their agencies as legitimate and procedurally fair, demonstrating the importance of self-legitimacy for keeping up the dialogue between police and the public.

Listen to our interview with Nix below, or access the articles he discusses here. As usual, our interviewer is Justine Greve (M.A., American Studies), a staff member with the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Nix Edited Interview (5:36)

Nix Full Interview (24:00)

Posted August 26, 2016 by grevej in Policing

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