Conference of Chief Justices

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Conference of Chief Justices

Improving the state judicial system is the mission of the Conference of Chief Justices. Founded in 1949 as an association of chief justices of state supreme courts, the conference tackles organizational, administrative, and procedural issues at its biannual meetings and through standing and special committees. It is governed by a board of directors. Long regarded as an austere group with narrow concerns, the conference emerged in a broader role in the 1990s. Pressing concerns about a logjam of cases in state courts led it to open a new partnership with federal courts, resulting in the first-ever meeting between the highest judicial officers of both court systems in 1990. More dramatically, the conference broke its long-standing silence on politics: it entered a heated battle with the Justice Department over ethics rules, made outspoken attacks on federal health care and crime legislation, and began earnestly Lobbying Congress. This bolder identity caused ripples in the legal community as the conference announced its willingness to be a political player with the help of its research and lobbying arm, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Traditionally, the Conference of Chief Justices tended to looked inward. Its membership includes, besides state supreme court justices, the highest judicial officers of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories, and each jurisdiction has long faced similar concerns. State court systems are simple only in appearance: every system of trial, appellate, and supreme courts requires vast organizational resources. The conference was founded to share ideas, compare methods, and brainstorm new solutions to managing these behemoths. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, meetings addressed matters ranging from the expanding role of the court administrator to the problems of caseload management and rules and methods of procedure. Not all these concerns were limited to the courts. The conference reacted in dismay to the ruling in the 1984 case of Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 104 S. Ct. 1970, 80 L. Ed. 2d 565 (1984), which overturned the historic doctrine of Judicial Immunity and permitted attorneys to collect awards against state judges, and it began an ongoing lobbying effort aimed at having Congress restore judicial immunity.

The conference's horizons started to broaden in the 1980s, as changes in federal policy began overloading state courts. The states have always handled the vast majority of civil and criminal cases, but the so-called war on drugs filled state court dockets with more cases than they could reasonably handle. By 1990, the conference's president, Chief Justice Vincent L. McKusick, of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, noted that Arizona's trial courts processed more drug cases annually than did all federal trial courts combined. The conference's response was to open a dialogue with the Judicial Conference of the United States, its federal partner. In September 1990, the highest officials of both systems met for the first time at the national level to address mutual concerns about drug and tort cases. They formed the Federal-State Judicial Council to continue to seek solutions.

By 1994, the conference was taking bolder steps in a long-running dispute with the Justice Department. As far back as 1989, then attorney general richard thornburgh had suggested changing the Justice Department's code of ethics to stop following Rule 4.2 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Upheld by the states and most federal courts, this rule governs the communication of lawyers in disputes: it specifically bars lawyers from communicating with a party who is represented by another lawyer, without that lawyer's consent. The Justice Department believed that the rule hampered federal prosecutors in their investigations, and in early 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno said the U.S. Constitution exempted federal prosecutors from the ethics rules of state bar associations. In August 1994, the conference passed a resolution blasting the Justice Department's position and advising state bars and supreme courts to enforce Rule 4.2. Conference members accused the department of blatant illegality, and legal observers expected the matter ultimately to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the conference had traditionally refrained from taking overtly political positions, members decided in 1994 to enter the fray. Two issues troubled them: health care reform and the crime bill, both put forward by the administration of President bill clinton. Using the research facilities of the NCSC, the conference claimed that health care reform would fill state courts with 90 million new claims. And in a strongly worded resolution, it lashed out at the original text of the crime bill for "indiscriminate federalization of crimes, the needless disruption of effective state and local law enforcement efforts, and the inefficient use of the special but limited resources of the federal courts." Going beyond harsh criticism, the conference directed the NCSC to lobby members of Congress in what became a partially successful effort at trimming the bill.

This departure from tradition excited the legal community. The National Law Journal spotted "new-found muscle and aggression" in the conference's activities, and other observers saw potential for the conference to become a major player in political debate. Not wishing to be viewed as a partisan organization, the conference itself vowed to limit its lobbying to issues that affected Judicial Administration.

The conference maintained a lower profile since the mid-1990s and reaffirmed its commitment to improving the administration of justice. In 2002, it passed a resolution endorsing a report on public access to court information that seeks to bring uniform practices to the judiciary. In addition, the conference endorsed a resolution that seeks to make the system more accessible to self-represented litigants. With the precipitous decline in state government budgets in 2002 and 2003, the conference began to explore how far the judicial branch must go in sharing the financial burden with the other two branches of government.

Further readings

"Chief Justices Meet, Grouse about Crime Bill." 1994. National Law Journal (February 28).

Conference of Chief Justices. Resolution 33. Endorsing and Supporting Public Access to Court Records: Guidelines for Policy Development by State Courts (2002). Available online at < CourtRecords.html> (accessed May 21, 2003).

"Feds, State Judges in Showdown." 1994. National Law Journal (August 15).

National Center for State Courts. Available online at <> (accessed May 21, 2003).

"Podium: Combining Resources." 1990. National Law Journal (November 19).

"State Court Chiefs Flex New Muscle—Chief Justices Conference Sheds Benign Image and Challenges Washington." 1994. National Law Journal (October 17).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"This is about leadership, which requires picking up the Conference of Chief Justice's recommendations and putting them to action," said Judge Jennifer Bailey, of the Circuit Civil Division in Miami.
1998),[43] holding that the department lacked the authority to issue the regulation and as such the regulation does not preempt or supersede local rules.[44] Acting as amicus curiae, the Conference of Chief Justices also seized the opportunity to voice its concerns over the department's actions.
I remembered this incident when I read reports that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) has chosen Good Friday and Holy Saturday to hold the conference of chief justices. The CJI alone can clarify whether the two consecutive days were chosen deliberately or not.
(17) Over the years, the conferences had become shorter and were packed with business sessions, the women chiefs often attending without their "significant others." Last I checked, in 2011, twenty-one of the chiefs that make up the fifty-six-state Conference of Chief Justices (including the District of Columbia, as well as territories and commonwealths that make up the United States) were women, still significantly better odds than the daunting partnership statistics in law firms.
The Conference of Chief Justices, which consists of the highest-ranking judge or justice in each state, believes that federal review of state convictions duplicates the work of state courts, prolongs state proceedings, and causes unnecessary tension between state and federal courts.
The national Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution in 2010 citing the "remarkable results" achieved by access to justice commissions, which the conferences said "have been recognized as one of the most important justice-related developments in the past decade." The conferences also established the aspirational goal "that every state and United States territory have an active access to justice commission or comparable body."
Jones, Jr., and the pleasure of travel to New Orleans the weekend before last for a meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices, including, most especially, our three illustrious panelists--my dear friends, Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham, and Arkansas Chief Justice James Hannah.
"Receiving this award is well-deserved recognition for the vital role he has played with the help of Annette Pitts." Retired Justice O'Connor, center, presented the award given by the National Center for State Courts at the annual meeting in West Virginia of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators.
That statement of recognition was followed by a "Last Call for Membership Dues." But the dues are owed to Chief Justice Abrahamson, and it is fitting that the dedication in this issue recognizes her outstanding achievements as a justice, as a chief justice, as a member of the Conference of Chief Justices (where I had the pleasure of serving with her for a few years), and as one of the finest legal minds in the state court system.
While chief justice, he was elected to a one-year term (1979-1980) as deputy chair of the Conference of Chief Justices. He resigned from the court on August 9, 1981, and returned to private practice in Miami.
Abrahamson of Wisconsin will succeed me as President of the Conference of Chief Justices ("CCJ") and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts ("NCSC").
Coxe said the National Conference of Chief Justices two years ago also adopted a resolution expressing concern about the erosion of the attorney-client privilege, which the NCCJ called one the bedrocks of the profession and system of justice.

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