Looking Forward to the Next Generation of Georgia Courts

What will courts in Georgia look like in 2022?  A group of judges, lawyers, court administrators, and judicial stakeholders spent some time recently to imagine how courts will work in 20 years.  The Next Generation Courts Commission was the brainchild of Mr. Ken Shigley, former President of the State Bar of Georgia, and former Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, Supreme Court of Georgia, who recognized that the perception of the judicial system isn’t seen as taking up the banner of technology and trends as rapidly as private industry or other government institutions.
 
altJudge Lawton E. Stephens, Superior Courts, Western Judicial Circuit, was named the chair of the 45-member Commission.  Five committees were formed to research and report on several areas of specific interest: Education & Outreach (Chair, Judge Ben Studdard, State Court of Henry County); Program Improvements (Chair, Judge Charles Auslander, State Court of Clarke County); Technology (Chair, Judge David Emerson, Superior Court, Douglas Judicial Circuit); Business Process (Chair, Ms. Marla S. Moore, AOC Director); and Funding of the Courts (Chair, Judge John Ellington, Court of Appeals).
 
During 2012 and 2013, the Commission and its committees met several times to review state and national trends, a survey was developed to solicit input on how to improve the courts, and recommendations were drafted.  The report was then submitted to the State Bar of Georgia and Judicial Council for review.
 
Survey
A survey was created and distributed statewide to gather thoughts and issues facing the courts. The survey questions were focused on the committee subject areas to solicit the level of agreement respondents had with specific scenarios.   The survey results echoed trends and needs in the judicial community.
 
Research
The Commission studied both state and national trends including the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Judiciary (2001), recent work of the court governing councils, local issues, the work of the State Bar of Georgia, the Future Trends in State Courts report from the National Center for State Courts, and the work of the National Association for Court Management.
 
Recommendations
The Next Generation Courts Commission Final Report: Embracing the Courts of the Future was presented to the Judicial Council of Georgia on September 13, 2013.  Some of the recommendations are listed below.
 
• Education recommendations: seek to fully-fund the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education through state funds; improve training programs for judges, both on-site and remotely; provide training for new and experienced judges, as well as clerks, court administrators, and court support personnel; support efforts to make court procedures more transparent and navigable for self-represented litigants.
 
• Program Improvement recommendations: Create centers within each judicial circuit for the use of low-income and self-represented litigants; use of standard forms throughout the state; expand Alternative Dispute Resolution programs; support the establishment of accountability courts.
 
• Technology recommendations: establish a statewide e-filing portal for electronic filing of civil case documents across all levels of court; promote electronic access to civil and criminal court records; create a web-based central registry of attorney conflicts and leaves of absence.
 
• Business Process Improvement recommendations:  outline a uniform approach for the clerk of court to maintain trial evidence; encourage collaboration between the Judicial Council and Board of Court Reporting and clerks of courts when developing rules and regulations; promote use of technology for interpretation and capture of the court record; promote increased availability of interpretation services.
 
• Funding recommendations:  increase state-based funding to provide statewide improvement; encourage legislative changes that allow for the currently established self-funded programs and user fees to be used for their intended purpose rather than going into the general revenue funds of state and local governments.

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