Date March 28, 2001 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Public Information Officer
271-2646 x359

NEWS RELEASE

 

CONCORD-- The first independent review of New Hampshire Supreme Court operations, aimed at improving the court’s management of its caseload, will begin on April 24, Chief Justice David A. Brock said today.

The Chief Justice said he anticipates this unprecedented analysis, to be conducted by the National Center for State Courts, will help the court achieve the highest level of appellate case processing within the limits of its fiscal resources.

"I am committed to leading this court toward improvement of constituent services," Brock said. "All of us here, the justices and the staff, support an independent assessment of how we do our work. We want to make sure that we are doing the best job that we can for the people of New Hampshire."

The review follows an intense effort by the entire court staff to clear the docket of the backlog of cases that developed during last year’s House investigation and Senate trial. In the past five months, Brock said, the court has issued 121 written opinions and cleared from its docket a total of 173 cases that had been fully briefed by the parties and, in most cases, heard in oral argument before the court.

"We have focused enormous energy on elimination of the backlog, and we have achieved that goal," Brock said. He noted that only six of the approximately 138 cases heard before April 2000, when the House investigation began, remain to be decided. Seven cases had to be scheduled for reargument.

"I can’t say enough about the really Herculean effort everyone here has made," Brock said. "I personally want to thank them for everything they have done to help us move forward."

The New Hampshire Supreme Court is the only forum for appeal in the state and its caseload has increased dramatically in the last 30 years. In the early 1970s, about 100 appeals were filed annually: in 1997, there were more than 900 filings. The average time for disposing of a case doubled from one year to two years between 1990 and 1996 and the court’s workload shows no significant sign of slowing down, the Chief Justice said. There are now approximately 70 cases briefed, argued and waiting to be decided by the court; about 110 additional cases are ready to be scheduled for oral argument. There have been 180 new appeals filed so far this year, which is the same pace as last year.

The review of the court’s workload will be supervised by Penelope J. Wentland, a senior court management consultant with the National Center for State Courts, the nation’s leading resource for state courts seeking to improve the administration of justice. Wentland has conducted and participated in similar projects for the Wisconsin and Nevada Supreme Courts and for the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

Wentland said the review is a good opportunity for the New Hampshire Supreme Court to take a look at its operations and decide how it can be more responsive to the litigants who use the court. "Everyone is stepping back and saying ‘We’ve been at this a long time. How can we do it better?’" Wentland said.

Wentland made a preliminary visit to the Supreme Court in November and interviewed the justices and members of the court staff. She said the upcoming review is an opportunity for the newest members of the court to offer their input on the court’s operations.

The project is expected to be funded by a $30,000 grant from the State Justice Institute, a non-profit organization established by the federal government to help improve the quality of justice in the state courts. An additional $6,000 for technical assistance will be made available by the National Center. A final report and recommendations will be submitted to the Supreme Court in October.

"The consultant’s report should provide the Supreme Court with a blueprint for improvements," the Chief Justice said.

In other action to improve communication between the court system and the public, work has begun on reconstruction of the judicial branch website. Brock said the court also plans to issue a judicial branch annual report at the close of the year which, in conjunction with the court website, will summarize judicial branch activity during the fiscal year, provide information about the divisions of the court system and discuss plans for the upcoming year.

"We look forward to our work at the court with renewed strength and enthusiasm," Brock said.