What should Georgia’s court system look like in 20 years?
In 2011, as I prepared to take office as president of the State Bar of Georgia, this was the topic of brainstorming with lawyers and judges. After discussing it with then Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, we decided to form the Next Generation Courts Commission. I appointed judges, court clerks, court administrators and practicing lawyers from each class of court and all parts of Georgia. As chair, I picked Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens, a former legislator from Athens and major wit.
The Next Generation Courts Commission was was given a broad mission to develop recommendations for future improvement in the Georgia judicial system and to turn those into concrete proposals for legislation, budget proposals and court rules. We were determined that it not just issue a report that would be filed away. That is why we included legislators and judges who would be able to put recommendations into action.
Judge Stephens quipped that in 20 years, he and I may be going to Piccadilly Cafeteria at 5 PM for blue plate special suppers, and roaming a beach with metal detectors while wearing shorts with knee high black support socks with sandals. Jeff Foxworthy should be thankful that Judge Stephens did not choose to become a professional comedian.
Under Judge Stephens’ leadership, the commission divided into task forces charged with studying emerging technology and trends related to court systems involved with improved education, program improvement, business process, and funding for the courts.
After more than two years of hard work, The Next Generation Courts Commission has released its final report, listing recommendations to be used by collectively by the judicial branch in collaboration with the legislature and State Bar of Georgia. Here is a brief summary of the lengthy report:
To establish a statewide e-filing portal for electronic filing of civil case documents across all levels of court; promote electronic access to civil and criminal court records; create a web-based central registry of attorney conflicts and leaved of absence.
Program Improvement Recommendations:
To create centers within each judicial circuit for the use of low-income and self-represented litigants; use of standard forms throughout the state; expand Alternative Dispute Resolution programs; support the establishment of accountability courts.
Business Process Improvement Recommendations:
To outline a uniform approach for the clerk of court to maintain trial evidence; encourage collaboration between the Judicial Council and Board of Court Reporting and clerks of courts when developing rules and regulations; promote use of technology for interpretation and capture of the cort record; promote increased availability for interpretation services.
To seek to fully-fund the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education through state funds; improve programs for judges, both on-site and remotely; provide training for new and experienced judges, as well as clerks, court administrators, and court support personnel; support efforts to make court procedures more transparent and navigable for self-represented litigants.
To increase state-based funding to provide statewide improvement; encourage legislative changes that allow for the currently established self-funded programs and user fees to be used for their intended purpose rather than going into the general revenue funds of state and local governments.
Judge Stephens who chaired the Commission noted, “We hope that the insight and recommendations presented will be met with not only understanding but also a healthy dose of skepticism. We do not have the solutions. Rather the solutions will come by working collaboratively towards a common vision for the future of the judicial system of Georgia.”
Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice. His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death.