Transparency in Practice

Leaders of the Utah state courts are practicing what they preach. Utah’s Administrative Office of the Courts decided to go entirely transparent last month posting all of the courts’ performance measures on its Utah CourTools Measures website.

Most courts mention openness, transparency and accountability in pronouncements of missions or strategic goals. Few put these concepts into practice as have the Utah courts.

In Full View

Consistent with the mission of the Utah courts “to provide the people an open, fair, efficient, and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law,” the Utah Judicial Council in 2003 began developing a court performance measurement system modeled on the National Center for State Courts’ CourTools. That in itself is not noteworthy. A dozen states and many more courts are developing and implementing court performance measurement systems. What is remarkable about Utah’s effort is that its performance measurement system is in full view of everyone with access to a web browser. This means that anyone can view state-wide results, as well as results by individual judicial districts.

Key Success Factors

Six key success factors addressed by the Utah CourTools Measures:
· Court Users’ Satisfaction with Access and Fairness
· Public Trust and Confidence in the Court System
· Case Processing and Management including:
Clearance Rate (cases disposed as a % of cases filed)
Time to Disposition (the number of days cases disposed were active before disposition)
Age of Active Pending Cases (the number of days active cases have been pending)
· Integrity of Court Records
· Collection of Restitution, Fines and Fees
· Employee Satisfaction

Information is provided by court type -- district court, juvenile court, or justice court as it is available. Information provided is typically presented for all courts statewide, by each judicial district and at the local court level. All measures are updated periodically as appropriate.

Model of State Government

Openness, transparency, and accountability are hallmarks of good government. Far from being antagonistic, these principles and judicial independence are necessarily interdependent. Accountability fosters an environment where legislators, executive agencies, and the public understand the judiciary’s role and are less likely to interfere with the judiciary’s ability to govern itself.

The road to judicial independence goes through accountability. This is apparently not lost on Utah’s legislators. In January, representatives of the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts gave a live demonstration of the CourTools Measures to a state legislative appropriations committee. According to Utah State Court Administrator Daniel J. Becker, it received rave reviews and was held up as the model that the rest of state government ought to be emulating.

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