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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Summer 2008


On June 10th, the Administrative Office of the Courts once again welcomed court participants from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, including judges, court administrators and staff, to the New Castle County Courthouse for the Second Annual COSCA (Council of State Court Administrators) Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. Co-sponsored by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the topic of this year’s conference was “Procedural Fairness.” Chief Justice Myron T. Steele welcomed participants and Dick Van Duizend (NCSC) introduced this year’s keynote speaker, Judge Kevin S. Burke (Minnesota). Judge Burke has won a number of awards, including the William H. Rehnquist Award from the National Center for State Courts, presented annually to a state judge who exemplifies the highest level of judicial excellence, integrity, fairness and professional ethics. He is an expert on procedural fairness and has been a speaker in many states as well as in Canada, Mexico, China, India, and Ireland, regarding improvement in judicial administration. Judge Burke is the co-author of the American Judges Association “white paper” entitled “Procedural Fairness: A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction.”

At the day-long conference, participants explored the key elements of procedural fairness and engaged in exercises designed to help them see how users view the courts and how their courts can apply procedural fairness concepts. Judge Burke highlighted that, while litigants do not have a right to win their case, they do have a right to be treated fairly and with respect. He noted that studies have shown that “most people care more about how they are treated in court than they do about winning or losing a particular case. People might not be happy if they lose their case, but they are more likely to view an outcome as fair if they feel that the decision in the case was arrived at fairly.” Furthermore, he provided statistics indicating that compliance with court judgments is enhanced with heightened attention to procedural fairness – “as litigants they are more willing to accept decisions and follow orders.”

Judges and court staff play a critical role in shaping how the public views not only the outcome in an individual case but the judicial system as a whole. Procedural fairness plays a role not just in the courtroom, but throughout the entire courthouse. For most people, the courts and our judicial system are unfamiliar, and it is easy for them to feel overwhelmed. From the moment people enter the courthouse, it is important that they feel that they have a voice, that legal principles are consistently applied, that they are treated with respect, and that authorities are trustworthy.

Procedural fairness can be especially critical to how self-represented litigants view our courts. As part of the Delaware Judiciary’s ongoing commitment to promoting access and fairness, the Delaware Supreme Court has issued Administrative Directive 168, establishing a task force to study perceptions of fairness and the needs of self-represented civil litigants in the Delaware courts. The task force will focus on limited jurisdiction courts which have the highest proportion of self-represented litigants and will be co-chaired by the Honorable Alan G. Davis, Chief Magistrate of the Justice of the Peace Court, and Patricia W. Griffin, State Court Administrator. The task force’s work will complement an existing initiative that is already underway to study and promote racial and ethnic fairness in the Delaware courts.

If you would like to learn more about procedural fairness, the American Judges Association white paper, Procedural Fairness: A Key Ingredient in Public Satisfaction is available online at: http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/AJAWhitePaper9-26-07.pdf