Date: April 23, 2002
Contact: Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
CONCORDóAn independent review of operations at the New Hampshire Supreme Court, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, concluded that the justices and staff have made "tremendous strides" in the past year, improving institutional processes, management of cases and use of staff resources.
"The court has clearly moved ahead in its resolve to implement solutions to address some of the criticisms it has faced," according to a 24-page report on the operational review released today.
The report noted that during the course of the review, which began in April 2001, the Supreme Court initiated numerous changes including a major restructuring of key staff positions and increased use of an expedited docket to help reduce the then existing case backlog. The court disposed of a record 1,014 cases during 2001, reducing the courtís pending caseload to its lowest level in 10 years.
Chief Justice David A. Brock, speaking for the full court, said that the changes have strengthened court operations and set a course for continued improvement of services for New Hampshire citizens who come to the Supreme Court.
"Our goal has always been to do the best job we can with the resources we have," Brock said. "The independent review of our work, and what we learned from that analysis, made a very important contribution to that effort," Brock said. "We want to thank the National Center for State Courts for guidance and encouragement as we focus on the future," the Chief Justice added.
Senior court management consultant Penelope J. Wentland, who supervised the review for the National Center, said "nothing was off limits" during the review process and she commended Chief Justice Brock and the associate justices for "candid and open communication" about court operations, which set an example of openness that the court staff followed.
"Itís a very difficult thing to do and most institutions would shy away from it," Wentland said about the internal review process. "This institution said Ďwe want to take a hard look at what we do and we want some help doing that,í " she added.
The changes at the Supreme Court cited in the report include:
*Restructuring and re-assignment of key personnel, including establishing an "Office of General Counsel" headed by the courtís longtime clerk Howard J. Zibel. In October 2001, the court also named its legal counsel, Eileen Fox, to be court clerk and David Peck was named Reporter of Decisions.
*Institution of the "3JX" docket which is designed to provide a faster resolution of cases that do not require a hearing and written opinion by the full court. The report said this change, initiated in December 2000, resulted in a "dramatic reduction" in the then existing backlog of cases awaiting oral argument.
*Adoption of time standards for the movement of cases through the appellate process (180 days between completion of briefing by both sides and oral argument; 180 days between completion of oral argument and opinion).
*Implementation in January 2002, with funds provided by the legislature, of a modern case management system that will allow for efficient collection of Supreme Court statistics and monitor progress of cases through the appellate process.
*Enhanced communication with constituencies outside the court, including hiring of a "Court Information Officer" to help educate the public about the appellate process and the court system.
*Ongoing publication of articles about the courtís operating procedure to help broaden perspective on the Courtís workload and "remove some of the mystery about its operations."
The report included a list of recommendations to improve internal operations, many of which are already underway at the Supreme Court.
The National Center for State Courts is the nationís leading resource for state courtís seeking to improve the administration of justice. The review was 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. Another $6,000 for technical assistance was provided by the NCSC.
Click here to read the report on-line. Review copies are also available at the Supreme Court clerkís office and at the New Hampshire Law Library, both located at One Noble Drive, Concord, New Hampshire.