A mother who has just received a court order taking away her children comes to the Clerk’s front counter for information. The Clerk may—or may not—be able to help.
- How would you describe the court clerk’s attitude? Is he helpful and friendly?
- What attitude do you expect your court staff dealing with the public to display?
- Have you explained to your court staff what your overall goals are for interactions with the public? Have any of these discussions included principles of procedural fairness, such as making sure that people feel that they have been listened to and their concerns have been taken seriously?
- What additional training might be helpful for court staff who deal with the public?
- However one might describe his attitude, helpful and friendly would not be the first adjectives that would come to mind.
- From a procedural-fairness standpoint, you want people to come away from the courthouse feeling that they were listened to, were treated fairly and with respect, and that decisions were made based on a sincere desire to do the right thing for all involved. A person coming to the courthouse deals with many people in addition to the judge. Their takeaway impression of fair treatment is likely to be based on how all court personnel treated them, not just on how the judge treated them.
- When judges and court staff begin careers in the justice system, they often are motivated by the broad goals of doing justice and serving others. Over time—and on stressful days like the one both people in the video are experiencing—those broad goals often get lost. Engaging court staff about the desire of their judge or court to focus on procedural fairness can serve to refocus both judges and staff on the reasons their jobs can be valuable and enjoyable. This can help both in improving staff cohesion/morale and in better meeting public expectations for procedural fairness.
- Several states have put together training programs for staff on how to deal with self-represented litigants. References are provided in the next section (which is in the participants’ materials).
For Further Information:
- Some states have put together training programs for staff on how to deal with self-represented litigants. The Maryland Access to Justice Commission has excellent resources, including an 18-minute training video and specific advice (including a bench card and a poster) on what topics staff can—and cannot—address, available at http://goo.gl/xN6MNH. For more information about resources for helping self-represented litigants, check out the National Center for State Courts’ Self-Representation Resource Guide, available at http://goo.gl/UQ9t0b, or the National Center for State Courts’ web-based Center on Court Access to Justice for All, available at http://www.ncsc.org/atj.