UTAH COURTS AND PROCEDURAL FAIRNESS

posted by Judge_Burke @ 17:54 PM
September 13, 2011

Utah’s independent Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission now sends trained observers to see how well the judges are doing in carrying out the basic tenets of procedural fairness as part of its judicial-performance evaluations. The Utah Legislature’s 2008 statute establishing the commission directed that it consider information obtained from courtroom observation, and last October the commission adopted a formal rule adopting the four generally recognized criteria for procedural fairness as the principles and standards that would be used to evaluate judicial behavior in the courtroom:  neutrality, respect, voice, and trustworthiness. Utah has thus become the first state in the nation to require by law (here, a regulation promulgated under statutory authority) that each of its judges be evaluated for adherence to procedural-fairness principles.

Former AJA President  Steve Leben presented  an educational program on procedural fairness at Utah’s state judicial conference on September 14. He prepared a useful paper for that presentation. It expands upon the AJA’s 2007 white paper on procedural fairness, while also discussing in detail how judicial adherence to procedural-fairness principles might be evaluated at both trial and appellate levels. The forms now being used by courtroom observers in Utah are attached as an appendix.

Another useful item in the paper is an appendix providing the comments a group of six New Hampshire judges made after Steve and I had each of them videotape themselves on the bench for half a day as part of a judicial-training program. We asked each of the judges to review his or her own videotape and to answer questions about what they’d noticed that might be improved. Take a look at their comments and give some thought to whether the same thing might apply to you. Better yet, have one of your staff members videotape you on the bench for half a day and watch the tape yourself. Any camera will do–just have it focused on you at the bench. At the beginning of the session (or each hearing), get permission from those participating for you to film yourself on the bench for training purposes. And if you want even better feedback about your tape, consider getting a local communications professor or graduate student to review both it and the attached paper on procedural fairness, and then to give you some objective feedback.

Leben’s paper is posted here.


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