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In a Nutshell: Chief Justice’s Annual Report 1/223/17  01/23/17 10:49:06 AM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

In a Nutshell: Chief Justice’s Annual Report
Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican recently reported that the news of the Judiciary this year is both good and bad. First, the good news.
AccessNebraska has seen an increasing number of people trying to represent themselves in court, which puts a burden on the court system to offer assistance. Our Access to Justice Committee is tackling that on several fronts. Another problem is the lack of lawyers – and judicial candidates – for the rural areas of the state. Solutions are being enacted.
Access also includes the growing need for interpreters. Our certified interpreter program is one of our brightest accomplishments.
Technological advances have made the courts far more accessible to the public. Webcasting and teleconferencing have made access simpler and more affordable. And as of March 1, all of the trial courts will allow expanded television, radio and electronic coverage of court proceedings. Electronic filing is becoming routine, including now in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
The public guardianship program (as the last state in the country to implement one) was authorized by the Legislature and put together by Michelle Chaffee, head public guardian.
The Supreme Court’s Office of Probation Administration took over supervision of all those in the juvenile justice system, putting the program together from scratch. An initial deficit of $7 million was completely erased. At the same time, the emphasis has shifted toward leaving children in their homes with their families whenever possible, with progress being made there. Recidivism statistics on adults and juveniles will be released soon.
The Court embarked on Justice Reinvestment upon passage of LB 605 some 18 months ago. The program’s purpose is find ways to handle the growing number of convicted criminals without building an expensive new prison. The joint effort of all three branches of state government had turned to Probation as the bill’s primary solution.
But now the bad news: adequate funding was assured, but the economic downturn has resulted in cuts. Chief Justice Heavican said the cuts they have been forced to make narrow the choices for judges handling adult criminal cases. It is much less expensive to supervise probationers than to incarcerate them, so much has been done to set up the Justice Reinvestment plan; however, unless the Legislature lives up to its part of the bargain, the Court “will be left holding the bag,” he said.
As it stands now, the Court will continue making cuts that undermine the effectiveness of the program. He asked the Legislature to assure that these programs won’t suffer because they “save lives and money.”
– By Lorraine Boyd

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