CHIEF JUSTICE STEELE PRESENTS STATE OF THE JUDICIARY MESSAGE TO THE BENCH AND BAR
Addressing the over 600 judges and lawyers in attendance at the Annual Bench and Bar Conference on June 6th, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele focused on both the current state of the Judiciary and future opportunities and challenges. With regard to the current state of the Judiciary, he expressed concern over the continuing erosion of judicial independence – as demonstrated by such issues as the passage of numerous statutes governing the admission of evidence. In addressing this concern, he noted that cooperation with the other Branches of government is crucial and highlighted new efforts to work cooperatively. These include forming a legislative team to present a cohesive judicial legislative plan to the General Assembly; working cooperatively with the Attorney General and Public Defender as partners in managing available resources rather than as competitors; and creating one set of unified budget priorities within the Judicial Branch that is focused on mission essential needs.
Emphasizing that legal services are part of a global economy, one of the opportunities highlighted by the Chief Justice was the chance for Delaware to become a leader in the multi-national practice of law. In addition, he mentioned opportunities to continually improve the delivery of services by reviewing the roles of some of our courts as well as how we provide legal services to indigents. For example, the Judiciary may begin to explore advantages in adopting the non-adversarial, community-based approaches used in other countries for some Family Court cases, as well as ways to create greater flexibility in the use of the judicial resources of the Court of Common Pleas, if the General Assembly decriminalizes motor vehicle offenses. He also suggested that the time is ripe to ensure that Delaware is using the best possible approach to addressing the legal needs of indigent defendants by examining whether the establishment of a Defender General, who would manage all services provided to indigent defendants, would be a more effective and efficient alternative to our present system.
However, the future will also bring a number of challenges for the judicial system according to Chief Justice Steele. These include finding ways to serve the increasing numbers of self-represented litigants and those litigants who do not speak English. Another challenge he described was maintaining a pool of excellent candidates for the bench in the face of the increasing inability of the judiciary to remain competitive as salary increases do not meet the increasing cost of benefits.
Chief Justice Steele also spoke to the important challenge of actively encouraging greater minority membership in the Delaware Bar. He closed by entreating the members of the Delaware Bar to “Work with us, the Delaware Judiciary, and we will meet and overcome these obstacles, reject the unacceptable, banish the unthinkable, and shun the intolerable. We will as we have always managed to do – surpass all expectations and succeed.”