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Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire

Laura Kiernan
Communications Director
603-271-2646 ext 2359



Report due to the Supreme Court in December

CONCORD, September 22 - The Judicial Branch Innovation Commission, established last March to identify potential additional cost-saving changes in state court operations, met today to consider various "strategic initiatives" that its working groups believe will reduce operational expenses, produce long term efficiencies and enhance services. Investments in technology will be necessary to reduce expenses long term.

The Commission is considering one proposal that would unify the administration of the District Court, the Family Division and the Probate Court. This reorganization would centralize services, such as case docketing, fine collections, file management, mailing, and customer services, thereby eliminating duplication of work at numerous sites and streamline the workforce over time. Proposals also have been made to improve court service by enhancing technology. For example, the commission is considering whether all documents should be sent to one location where they could be electronically scanned. Some system changes might also be made using basic technology, such as assembling a centralized telephone bank to receive all calls related to any case in the state courts. The Commission is considering a recommendation for direct electronic filing of court documents for those who have the internet capacity to do so. The long-term goal is to create a near-paperless court, which will enhance efficiency, lower operational costs and make the courts more accessible.

"New Hampshire is approaching their court redesign project with no limits.  They are looking at every aspect of court structure and operations," said Commission member Thomas Clarke, Vice President for Research and Technology at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) in Williamsburg, Va., the nation's leading resource center for state courts. "In some areas, New Hampshire is going further and making bigger changes than states that have previously worked on court system redesign," Clarke said. The NCSC has worked with 10 states to help "re-engineer" court operations in the face of budget deficits, including changing court structure and jurisdiction and using technology to save costs, improve efficiencies and maintain needed public services.

In the Superior Court, proposals before the Innovation Commission include consolidation or regionalization of some functions now carried out by staff at each of the 11 Superior Court locations around the state, including jury management, court administration and case processing. A proposal has also been made to remove felony jurisdiction from the District Court, where the early stages of felony cases are now heard, into the Superior Court, eliminating duplication of clerical work and saving valuable staff and judge time. Also under consideration is a proposal to begin electronic filing in the Superior Court which would provide the opportunity to increase service to the public and produce savings. An investment in technology would be needed in order to implement the proposal for electronic case filing.

The Commission is also considering a recommendation to have the Judicial Branch request the legislature to transfer all speeding and other minor motor vehicle cases out of the court system and into the state Department of Motor Vehicles, where administrative hearings procedures are already in place.

"We are testing some concepts and developing new ideas," the Commission's chair, Eric Herr, said. "But we need to finish the financial analysis and review our proposals with court users, including lawyers, lawmakers and the public, before we make any final recommendations on how to improve the delivery of judicial services in our state."

Herr, a business executive who also serves as the first non-lawyer chair of the state's Judicial Council, commended the commission members for their commitment to the project.

"I believe they see a real opportunity to craft a better future--one that protects the critical constitutional mission of the Judicial Branch while also ensuring that the Judicial Branch becomes a more efficient steward of the citizens' resources and trust," Herr said.

The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr., made the unprecedented move to form the commission last March as the Judicial Branch and state agencies and departments were faced with dramatic budget cuts following the severe downturn in state revenues. The goal of the commission is to make recommendations to the Supreme Court for changes that will revamp and modernize court operations while also controlling costs.

"In short we have no choice," Broderick wrote in a letter recruiting commission members. "The Judicial Branch can either continue down the path of incremental reductions in service or we can seek those innovations that will permit the courts to meet the needs of our twenty-first century constituents," he said.

Members of the commission are fashioning recommendations and evaluating the potential cost savings as well as needed capital investments in technology to secure those savings. They are also exploring the time required to implement necessary change. Some short-term changes, such as centralized call centers, would improve efficiency in customer service but, would not significantly reduce the cost of judicial branch operations in the FY 12-13 biennium.

In addition to judges, court administrators and experts from the National Center for State Courts, Commission members include leaders in state government, business and the legislature, including Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon, Sen. President Sylvia Larsen, House Speaker Terie Norelli, Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, Sen. Deborah R. Reynolds, State Rep. David E. Cote, State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile and State Rep. Neal Kurk.

"The Innovation Commission has done great work and I find their ideas refreshing," Commissioner Hodgdon said. "The cross section of people involved has provided for a healthy dialogue and I think everyone at the table realizes the present way of delivering services to our state citizens is not sustainable," Hodgdon said.

Since the Commission was established last March, the Judicial Branch has taken a number of steps to cut spending in the FY10-11 budget cycle. Judges and staff agreed to take up to 14 unpaid furlough days; judge time in the busy District and Family courts has been reduced by 20 percent; Superior Court jury trials have been cut by one-third. The Judicial Branch workforce is down by 10 percent and there are 9 judicial vacancies.

All state government agencies and the Judicial Branch are expected to submit budget proposals by October 1 for the FY 12-13 biennium. State officials have strongly indicated that they expect even more difficult economic constraints on government revenues and operations.

All of the proposals under consideration by the Commission will be reviewed in depth by the Supreme Court and the Judicial Branch Administrative Council prior to any requests for legislative action, where necessary.