Across the country, schools are back in session. No matter your connection to the schools – whether it is as a parent, student, employee or just as a concerned citizen – you probably know a lot more about school operations this fall than ever before. The pros and cons of in-person vs. virtual learning have been analyzed, debated and, in many cases, protested on virtually every media platform.
The intensity of the scrutiny is appropriate: not only is the safety of our children and teachers at stake, a functioning, equitable education system is fundamental to democracy. So are the courts. For most, our court system may not have the daily impact of schools, but its mission and impact are every bit as fundamental to a functioning democratic system. In addition to their more visible jurisdiction over criminal matters, our state courts determine whether renters get to stay in their homes, with which parent a child will live, and whether survivors of gender-based violence will be protected.
Yet how much do you know about how the courts are functioning now? Are you aware that the courts (which have historically struggled to implement new technology
) took over three months to set up Zoom accounts for judges (causing most court business to be delayed during that time)? That efforts to inform the public of how the court is currently working are mainly limited to the publication of a series of (technical) court orders
? Could you guess that the phone numbers and email addresses designed to inform the public about court operations often go unattended? Or that the court has limited access for people seeking Orders of Protection, and done so without making the limitations clear to the public? Have you followed our colleagues’ lawsuit
against the Clerk’s Office for failing to perform one of their most basic responsibilities – providing litigants with their court orders?
As with our schools, some of the most significant risks are the ones we don’t see: like students who cannot access e-learning, litigants who cannot access courts are literally unseen and unheard. And the impact of these barriers extends beyond their impact on individuals. The failings of courts have implications that won’t be apparent for years if trust in the competence and integrity of systems continues to erode.