Superior Court Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2011
The grand opening ceremony of the Kent County Courthouse was held on June 14, 2011. It was a ceremony filled with speeches, emotions, and music. Governor Jack Markell, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele and President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. were present on the grandstand, along with other state officials, friends of the Court and the National Guard Band. Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr., acted as Master of Ceremonies for the sizable crowd that gathered to witness this moment in Delaware history.
Superior Court continues its dedication to its vision, mission and core values through the collaborative efforts of its judges and staff from across Delaware. With its key objectives in sight, Superior Court partnered or piloted Problem-Solving Courts with other criminal justice agencies in FY 11. On the civil side this year, the Court continued to work to better meet the needs of its customers and its workload.
With assistance provided by federal money awarded through grants this year, the Court was able to enhance its Problem-Solving Courts. The mission of these courts is to divert defendants, who meet strict requirements, from the criminal justice system and provide them with the tools to lead a productive and law abiding life. By treating people with dignity and respect, the problem-solving Courts help reduce recidivism, improve community safety and enhance confidence in justice. Our Problem-Solving Courts are Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Reentry Court, and Veteran's Court.
Now in its 17th year, our Drug Court's statewide compliance rate is 64%, a figure that compares favorably with similar programs nationwide. This year, the New Castle Mental Health Court team received the prestigious Governor's Team Excellence Award. This annual award recognizes the team work demonstrated in finding efficiencies and providing better customer service to our citizens in need. The Reentry Court works with offenders while they are still in custody to provide the means and the support necessary to help these people when it is time to reenter society. Veteran's Court held its first session on February 18, 2011 in Kent County. This Court will eventually serve veterans throughout the state, including both those charged with new offenses and those charged with violation of probation. It is the first statewide Veterans Court in the nation.
Through Administrative Directive 2011-3, effective May 1, 2011, President Judge Vaughn assigned Judge Mary M. Johnson to the Complex Commercial Litigation Division (CCLD) Panel. The purpose of the CCLD is to improve the handling of complex commercial and business cases. Cases may be assigned to the CCLD when the controversy is one million dollars or greater, or involves an exclusive choice of court agreement, or is designated by the President Judge.
Superior Court's Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program and Operation Rightful Owner initiative are still active in assisting citizens who are, or have been, victims of mortgage foreclosure. Mortgage foreclosure mediations are conducted by attorneys who are qualified through Superior Court's mediation training. The mediator's job is to negotiate an alternative to foreclosure between homeowners, their housing counselors, and the banks without affecting the substantial rights of lenders. Launched in May 2007, Operation Rightful Owner has disbursed nearly $5 million in excess proceeds from houses sold at Sheriff's sale.
Statewide, FY 11 case statistics report slight increases in civil filings and a larger increase in dispositions. Criminal filings numbers reflected slight increases in both filings and dispositions. There were 15,085 civil filings this year, up .2% from last year. Civil dispositions numbered 15,736, a 16.2% increase from last year. Criminal filings totaled 8,180, a 1.4% increase from last year. Criminal dispositions came in at 8,016, a 1.6% increase from last year. Pending civil cases were down by 7%, and pending criminal cases were up 3%.
At the end of June, there were 36 murder first degree cases pending in this court. Violation of Probation (VOP) cases numbered 5,271 for filings and 4,340 for dispositions. These numbers represent a 5% decrease from FY10 in VOP filings and a 4% decrease from FY 10 in VOP dispositions.
On our website this year, we followed up on the judiciary-wide complete redesign and major functionality changes. The Superior Court segments were updated and redesigned for eLitigation, Drug Court, About Us, and History. New segments were added for the Problem-Solving Courts and Bench and Bar Liaisons.
Additionally, more direct links to Court databases and systems were added. On the Court's Intranet, court information was maintained and updated. Our iCourtClerk™, an initiative to assist our users with a Web-based Answer Desk, responded to over 1,668 public queries - 642 more than last year. Our Listserv information service continues to grow, with 404 new members added this year. Nineteen separate Listservs are maintained, with 2,378 members.
The vision of the Superior Court is to have the most superior service in the nation among courts of general jurisdiction by providing superior service to the public in pursuit of justice. The Court has agreed its core values as an organization are UNITED, which stands for Unity, Neutrality, Integrity, Timeliness, Equality and Dedication. The Court is committed to building on the quality of justice and public service for which it is well known both in Delaware and throughout the nation.
— President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. —