National Agenda

NACM 2010 – 2015 NATIONAL AGENDA: SIX PRIORITIES

Looking Back and Thinking Ahead1

» Download reproducible National Agenda brochure here (updated 8.26.13)

In 2005, NACM presented a National Agenda for the years 2005 – 2010. The 2005 – 2010 agenda was based on a multi - year data gathering exercise to collect data, gather impressions and explore directions.2 This 2010 – 2015 Agenda involved three primary activities: discussion among the NACM officers3 prior to and after the 2009 Mid Year and Annual Conferences; out- reach to state associations and their presidents by NACM Vice President Jude Del Preore; and, work by the NACM Planning Committee led by Committee Chair David Slayton toward a strategic plan built in part on an environmental scan. The Planning Committee4 delivered the results of their scan to the NACM Officers and Board in June 2009. The 2010 – 2015 National Agenda presented here built upon these three data collection efforts.

The NACM National Agenda is designed to drive NACM program priorities and improvements in the court management profession over the next five years. As the principal spokes group for the court management profession, NACM has a duty to help chart a course for judicial systems, trial courts and their leadership judges and court managers.

Many conclude that modern court management was “certified” as a critical profession in 1969 when U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger gave a historic speech to the American Bar Association.5 Burger lamented, “We have more trained astronauts than trained court administrators in this country today.” His call to arms led to the Denver-based Institute for Court Management (ICM), and, a few years later, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the establishment of three court management focused graduate programs. Sixteen years later, in 1985, the National Association for Court Management surfaced out of a merger of two smaller groups: The National Association of Trial Court Administrators (NATCA) and the National Association of Court Administrators(NACA). As a leading voice of a still maturing profession, NACM is now a force for court performance excellence.

The first question considered by the NACM officers in 2009 was the substance and continuing relevance of the 2005 - 2010 agenda. While recognizing that there are new challenges, the officers confirmed the past agenda in significant respects. NACM Officers conclude that work on the past agenda is not finished and that once updated, tightened and reformulated the issues and relationships identified in the past Agenda are critical and relevant. Work with state association presidents and the NACM Planning Committee reinforced this conclusion. Adjustments to the 2005 - 2010 agenda included merger of one past priority (Judicial, Executive and Legislative Relationships) into the other five and the addition of one new priority: Preparing for and Responding to Trends.


The six 2010 – 2015 NACM National Agenda priorities are:

  • Emphasizing Caseflow Management Improvements;
  • Sustaining Excellence in Difficult Budget Times;
  • Enhancing Public Perceptions of the Courts and Increasing Community Collaboration;
  • Promoting Improved Court Leadership and Governance;
  • Preparing For and Responding to Trends;
  • Supporting Professional Court Management Education: Two Levels:
    -In-service education targeting the NACM Core Competencies
    -University and college-level programs conferring a certificate or degree.

To set the context and illustrate our challenge we begin here by tracing the history of key court management ideas and practices that began almost unnoticed, became highly controversial as they surfaced; reached a tipping point6 and were then implemented throughout the country and the world.


Pushing the Boundaries7

Critical court management issues are not solely within the purview of either academic research or even judicial decision-making, but find their resolution when they become imbedded in everyday court operations. However, academic and practical realms naturally merge as issues progress from controversial and somewhat academic concerns to experimental study and judicial review, and then, eventually, every day practices and procedures. Consider for example, court assistance for self-represented litigants in divorce, child support/custody, guardianships and conservatorships litigation. Like problem solving courts that also were once unthinkable, court assistance to the self - represented is now common and expected.8 Over 30 years ago pretrial service staffs who advised judges on release decisions and 15 years ago problem solving courts were novel and controversial. Traditionalists saw these now common practices as unfair incursions into the world of bail-bonding, the adversarial process, due process and judicial decision making. After needed debate the angst subsided, and these approaches mutated into operational concerns and were widely implemented.9

New approaches to jury reform traveled the same way from research to judicial review and rule changes to operational issues. Courts throughout the country now routinely allow jurors to take notes and increasingly to ask questions of the witnesses during trial, postpone jury duty over the Internet, and, in some instances, privately discuss the evidence during trial as long as all jurors are together and no one makes up their mind about the case until it is in final deliberation.10 The ABA endorsed these directions and court managers are increasingly facilitating such changes.11

Court managers have been invited into the courtroom in more pervasive ways, too, to introduce new technology for evidence presentation, to maintain the court record electronically via video transcripts and digital recordings, and to speed the trial while increasing juror comprehension through sophisticated visual and computer displays. Some research suggests that e-courtrooms cause lawyers to be better prepared, permit jurors to more easily comprehend the evidence and competing theories of the case, and shorten the trial process by as much as 20 percent.12 All of these advances are deeply integrated with the traditional role and function of court managers to streamline, enhance and demystify justice.

Another issue that has moved to an operational concern is wrongful convictions (and its corollary wrongful acquittals) prompted by more sophisticated and reliable DNA science to aid the truth-finding process. A few years ago, before the perfection of DNA evidence and the exoneration of over 150 death row inmates in the United States with its use, there was little chance of even engaging others in a dialog about this issue. Since then the Conferences of Chief Justices and State Court Administrators issued policy recommendations on the subject,13 many law enforcement agencies have improved protocols for investigative processes, lawyers and judges continued to learn more about scientific evidence, and courts updated criminal trial procedures, especially regarding death penalty cases.

All of these advances and others such as immigration, elders and interpretation issues affect the management of trial courts and expand the role and function of court managers. NACM is challenged to better prepare the profession for the future.

NACM must be responsive and far-sighted with initiatives that are consistent with the purposes of courts and public service as well as the mission embraced by NACM when it was founded almost 25 years ago. It remains true today. Only the issues change.


Why Is This New Five-Year National Agenda Important?

Response to NACM’s six priorities requires personal growth and competence, economic viability, leadership, inter-branch relationships, trial court access, efficiency, and community partnerships. The priorities are interwoven in ways that present countless educational possibilities, which can help ensure the relevance of court management. They touch all trial court jurisdictions and affect every leadership judge and court manager, whether they are the leadership judge, staff a specific program, are a judicial member of the court leadership team or are the chief executive officer. And, they are inclusive, permitting us to involve leadership judges, technical and administrative staff, legislative and executive branch officials, the bar, educators, researchers, academics, court improvement organizations, and the public.

The priorities also open the door to NACM encouragement of expanded research and policy-making. A key indicator of a maturing public benefit corporation such as NACM – is ability to stimulate new learning and promote strategies to advance knowledge and enhance judicial administration. NACM has great potential to explore innovative directions in court management and help practitioners address problems in fresh, productive ways. Likewise, we can be more influential as an organization in proposing policies and directions to the national community of courts and court leaders based on that research.

Lastly, this and the past five-year agenda are significant since they were generated through widespread discussion over many years with the leaders, members and friends of NACM. NACM’s leaders for the next five years, now formally embrace these priorities as guiding principles. Through a consistent, multi-year direction, NACM expects its Agenda to focus its activities and have lasting impacts.

NACM, as arguably the nation’s leading organization of court management professionals has an obligation to its members, to the profession, to the judiciary and to the public to call attention to important issues facing courts. It must identify and discuss such issues and provide means through education, publications, and conferences and partnerships through which court mangers and leadership judges may address them in their trial courts, states and the nation.


Emphasizing Caseflow Management Improvements

To quote from the NACM Caseflow Management Core Competency: Properly understood, caseflow management is the absolute heart of court management.” Every other core competency supports the movement of cases from filing to disposition. Increasingly court responsibility extends to case management following adjudication and disposition. At each and every step, case management is inexorably linked to justice. The aim is not more and more and faster and faster, it is justice. The minimum requirements are well known, easy to articulate and difficult to implement. Leadership judges and court managers must work together and with others to lead the court and the justice system. To succeed resources must be coordinated and time to disposition standards for all case types and reliable information organized around the standards is mandatory. While these principles are proven and well known relatively few courts and justice systems meet acceptable standards. Why? There is still much to do. The issues associated with expedition and timeliness must remain front and center. Proven practices across case types and small, mid size and large courts need to be disseminated. Caseflow management is not solely the province of judges. Court managers must be involved if they are to be more than high priced functionaries who merely survive.14

Sustaining Excellent Performance in Difficult Budget Times

Funding is important but adequate funding does not guarantee excellent court and caseflow performance. Focus on funding must be on more than more. So as NACM seeks to help courts and their leaders cope with recent (2009) court budget short falls in all but four states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota)15 we must be mindful of the substantive goals and programs that court budgets support. What are the practical lessons learned from experience and research concerning the past and emerging short and long term funding trends, strategies and techniques and their impacts? The consequences of current shortfalls are not fixed either now or in the future. Courts can maximize appropriations through high quality court governance, internal and external accountability, wise use of tax dollars and ingenuity in doing business in new, cost effective ways. The NACM Budget, Resources and Finance Core Competency does not stand for the need to obtain new or, even, to maintain existing resources. Because spending in one area necessarily precludes expenditure in others, effective court performance requires skillful allocation of available resources. Like other organizations, both public and private, courts can cut some budgets and reallocate funds to their top priorities and performance goals even in the face of budget short falls.
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Enhancing Public Perceptions of the Courts and Increasing Community Collaboration

Public Trust and Confidence is a critical area of court performance and can be improved throughout the nation. To quote the first sentence of the NACM Court Community Communication Core Competency: People do not trust what they cannot understand.” To raise generally low public understanding of and satisfaction with courts, community collaboration is required. Courts need to inform and educate the public but they also must connect with, listen to, learn from, and be well informed about the citizens they serve. Through community collaboration we can demystify the judicial branch, build understanding, and receive deserved Public Trust and Confidence. Focus includes customer service, accountability, transparency and the use of proven tools such as the NCSC CourTools. The past work of the Justice at Stake project has continuing relevance. The next NACM Mini Guide will be a front to back rewrite of the now outdated Media Guide.

Promoting Improved Court Leadership and Governance

NACM should promote skillful leadership of courts and justice systems, well -functioning team environments, and smooth, healthy operations. Issues include the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between state chief justices and state level central offices and trial courts regarding such things as the authority, selection and oversight of trial court leadership judges and court managers, whether elected or appointed. Demographics dictate attention to succession planning and ensuring the succession to the next generation of court managers and their competence. Retaining and recruiting talented junior managers to ensure continuity as the baby boomers retire requires attention to new issues such as flexible workplaces that reflect diverse life styles. The benefits of adjustments such as flexible hours extend to court users. With respect to the bench, the reality is that while trial courts are companies of equals they must also be cohesive, disciplined and accountable organizations. Alternative governance structures abound and, to date, no one best proven way has emerged. NACM acknowledges the need to increase understanding of varied governance schemes, structures and outcomes. Regardless of governance structures, the goal is excellent court performance. As reviewed in the NACM Leadership Core Competency court systems and very importantly, their constituent trial courts need to be well led, continually evaluated and improved.

Preparing for and Responding to Trends

Court responses to new and obvious demographics and other trends have lagged with respect to many issues including until recently interpreters, elder issues and self -represented litigants. Pre trial release, problem solving courts, jurors, technology including court room presentations, and use of DNA evidence are among many examples where courts and their leaders too often were uninformed and unaware until after a tipping point was reached. NACM must lead in visioning and strategic planning. See the NACM Visioning and Strategic Planning Core Competency for the relevance of sensing of what is happening for every day court policies, practices and operations. While everything on the horizon will not always mature into a practical court concern or implementation issue, court leaders have too often been behind the curve. There is a need to keep current and be aware.

Supporting Professional Court Management Education: Two Levels

The NACM Core Competency Curriculum Guidelines recognize the importance of Education, Training and Development by its identification as one of ten core competencies. Effective court leaders understand that little can be accomplished without education, based on self assessment and self improvement. Because personal and professional development is critical, judicial branch education is a crucial court management competency. Two levels of need are apparent.

Level I: Support professional adult court management education delivered by national, regional, state and trial court providers for leadership judges, court managers and senior staff focused by the ten NACM Core Competencies. See again the NACM Education, Training and Development Core Competency.

Level II: Assist colleges and universities, which are considering and offering bachelors or masters degrees and other certifications that focus on the art and science of managing courts; confer on graduates a recognized certificate or degree of distinction; and prepare them for court management and other judicial administration related careers. State level and trial court programs to educate students and their teachers about the courts and their role and functions should and will be encouraged and supported by NACM.

Attention to Level 1 and Level 2 Education requires effective work force management and development practices and coordination with and support of universities and their students as well as attention to early professionals who are joining or considering the court management profession. The need is obvious. As of the latest membership roster, NACM had only one student member. Administrative Offices of the Courts and state associations should target “early career” court management professionals. They are the future. Job fairs and recruitment of university students to court careers and exposure of promising early professionals to programs such as the NCSC/ICM Court Management Program (CMP), the ICM Court Executive Development Program (CEDP) and NACM are important targets. Down the line these groups could be structured much like the Young Lawyers’ Associations.


1 Bureau of Justice Assistance funding from the NACM Excellence IV Grant (2007-DD-BX-K026) helped offset the cost of preparing this paper.

2 The past agenda emerged from data gathering and discussion in a number of forums, including brainstorming sessions led by NACM past presidents beginning at the 2003 Annual Conference, various state association presidents and leaders, the NACM Officers and Board of Directors, and the membership itself prior to, at and after the 2004 Annual Conference in Grapevine, Texas; at the 2005 Mid-Year Meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi; and at the 2005 Annual Conference in San Francisco, California., and an extensive literature search including trends analysis, and review of the objectives and goals of other national court improvement organizations. For a review see a paper drafted by Geoff Gallas and Gordon Griller for later publication by the NACM Officers and Board Top Six Priorities, National Agenda for the Court Management Profession, NACM unpublished, 2005.

3 Then President Marcus Reinkensmeyer, President Elect Suzanne Stinson, Vice President Jude Del Preore, Secretary Treasurer Kevin Bowling and Past President Paul Burke.

4 Planning Committee members Kent Batty of Arizona, Monica Florentini of California and Paul DeLosh of Virginia provided especially helpful comments on earliers draft of this paper.

5 Warren Burger, Court Administrators – Where Do We Find Them? 53 Judicature 109. Most trace the founding of American judicial administration to Roscoe Pound’s speech, “The Causes of the Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice” at the ABA Conference in 1906. Pound’s speech was published as the lead article in the founding issue of Judicature in 1913, the principal publication of the American Judicature Society.

6 Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, Little Brown and Company, 2000 is informative about how diverse ideas traveled in the world of court management.

7 This section of the 2010- 2015 Agenda has been updated from an earlier unpublished briefing paper about the 2005 – 2010 National Agenda, see note 1 supra. This section of the past paper, which is refined and expanded here was prepared mostly by Gordon Griller.

8 Goldschmidt, Jona, Barry Mahoney, Harvey Solomon and Joan Green., Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers. Chicago: American Judicature Society, 1998. A well versed argument for now widely accepted use of problem solving courts is available in Greg Berman and John Feinblatt, Good Courts: The Case for Problem Solving Justice, The New Press, 2005.

9 Various articles and research on the history and background of pretrial services and release can be found by contacting the Pretrial Justice Institute, Executive Director, 927 Fifteenth Street NW, Third Floor, Washington D.C. 20005. For background on problem solving courts see Berman and Feinblatt.

10 Administrative, Structural and Procedural Reforms of the American Jury in the Past Thirty-Five Years, Paula Hannaford, Thomas Munsterman and Michael Dann, pp 145-163 in The Improvement of the Administration of Justice, Seventh Edition, Griller, Stott and Fallahay, editors. American Bar Association, 2002.

11 The ABA House of Delegates unanimously approved new principles designed to improve jurors’ experiences while serving on February 14, 2004.

12 Remarks by Arizona Superior Court Judge Gary Danahoe, faculty, Workshop on Court Technology for Judges at the National Center for State Courts’ Ninth Court Technology Workshop, Seattle, September 2005

13 See Resolution 18, In Support of Increasing Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System by Reducing the Risk of Wrongful Convictions, adopted by CCJ and COSCA on August 3, 2005.

14 At both the first (1981) and third (2000) NACM sponsored National Symposiums on Court Management the founding director of the Institute for Court Management, Ernest Friesen, challenged court managers to be more than survivors. See Friesen Court Managers: Magnificently Successful or Merely Surviving? in Gallas and Rausch editors , First National Symposium in Court Management, NCSC, 1982, pages 45 – 53 and Court Leaders, Survivors or Agents of Change?, 15 Court Manager 3, pages 54 – 60.

15 This is based on a summary of information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities as presented by NCSC Vice President Dan Hall at the Conference of State Court Administrators Board of Directors Business Meeting on July 30, 2009.