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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Summer 2014

Justice of the Peace Court Holds Enhancing Procedural Fairness Training

On March 26, 2014, the Justice of the Peace Court held a training for judges, managers, and police officer liaisons on the topic of procedural justice. Entitled "Enhancing Procedural Fairness," the program consisted of a one-day training including curriculum developed as a part of the Bureau of Justice Assistance's (BJA) Improving Courtroom Communication Project (the "Project"). As a part of the Project, the BJA, the Center for Court Innovation, and the National Judicial College sought proposals from courts interested in receiving the training to help judges and court personnel enhance communication practices in order to improve perceptions of fairness by litigants. Three sites were selected nationally for the training, including the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court.

In conjunction with being selected as a site, the Justice of the Peace Court participated in several pre-training meetings with faculty in order to craft a program designed to meet the specific needs of the Justice of the Peace Court. In addition, all participants viewed a brief online training regarding the basics of procedural fairness prior to the full day program. The faculty included the Honorable Alex Calabrese, an acting Supreme Court Justice of the State of New York and the Presiding Judge of the Red Hook Community Justice Center; the Honorable Jeffrey Kremers, Chief Judge of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court; Kelly Tait, a judicial branch communication consultant; and the Honorable Chad Schmucker, President of the National Judicial College. Emily Gold and Aubrey Fox from the Center for Court Innovation assisted in coordination, planning, and presentation.

The curriculum included training on both verbal and non-verbal communication, considering special populations, first-hand experiences from the bench and the development of an action plan moving forward. Participants engaged in group exercises as well as lively discussions as they were encouraged to look at their physical court buildings and their interaction with the public in new and different ways. Jody Huber, Justice of the Peace Court staff attorney and coordinator of the training, noted: "One of the most powerful exercises was making a video recording of one of our judges conducting an arraignment and then critiquing that judge's performance based upon what we had learned throughout the day. Our judges conduct hundreds of arraignments every week and the process can become very routine, which is dangerous from a procedural justice perspective. This was intended to be a starting point in an ongoing series of training in the area of procedural fairness. It is a subject that impacts every single case we have and touches every litigant that walks through our doors. These skills have the potential to impact not just the way people perceive the court, but compliance and recidivism as well."

Participants took a survey both before and several weeks after the training to gather data about the effect of the training upon their knowledge base and interactions with the public. In addition, the Justice of the Peace Court continues to work with the Center for Court Innovation on critiquing the training and making improvements for the other two sites that will receive the same curriculum. The Justice of the Peace Court is committed to having a procedural fairness component in every training for both judges and court staff so that work in this area continues.