County judges work to coordinate education efforts

first_imgCounty judges work to coordinate education effortsAmy K. Brown Assistant Editor Increasing public trust and confidence in the courts has long been a focus of the judiciary, and now the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida is taking steps to coordinate the public education efforts of county judges throughout the state. At a March 8 meeting of the Conference, representatives from each of the state’s 20 circuits met as part of the Public Education of the Court Teams (PECTs) project. PECT representatives discussed what county court judges in their respective circuits are doing in terms of public outreach and education. The meeting allowed county judges in each circuit to exchange ideas and information in order to encourage active participation by all county judges. The campaign to educate the public about the role of the courts is one of the judges’ most important functions, according to co-chairs Miami-Dade County Judge Beth Bloom and Pinellas County Judge Patrick Caddell. “The county judges have had a long-standing tradition of reaching out to educate the community,” said Bloom. “The purpose of PECT is to share ideas, resources and creativity so that we can continue to reach out to the community to educate them about the court system, the independence of the judiciary, and the workings of the courts.” “We have been reaching out to educate the community for some time now, and this is an opportunity to place under one umbrella all the programs county judges have been doing with other groups,” she said. Second Circuit: Judge Augustus Aikens said the circuit currently has two components to its PECT program: school/civic speakers and communications. Judges in the circuit provide instruction to schoolchildren and civic organizations on the basic concepts and values of the legal system, and the PECT has taken steps to provide wider distribution of the circuit’s newsletter to schools and civic organizations. Third Circuit: One of the most unusual initiatives in the circuit is the Citizens’ Police Academy in Suwannee County, reported Judge William Slaughter II. He also hosts a live radio show broadcast once a month from his chambers. “I’ve discovered the public has a real thirst for knowledge about the court system,” he noted. The circuit, like the other reporting circuits, schedules judges to speak at schools and civic organizations. In addition, the circuit runs a teen court, a twice per year family law lecture at a local high school, and the Suwannee County Courthouse hosts classes of fourth and fifth grade students each year. Fourth Circuit: Judge Pauline Drayton-Harris reported that although the PECT program isn’t formally initiated in Duval County yet, the judges actively participate in public education through speaking engagements. The program proposal was “well-received and the judges were excited about it,” she commented. Sixth Circuit: The circuit has aid from the well-established local bar associations, making media and public relations much easier, said Judge Robert Morris. The courts are very active with the Law Day and Great American Teach-In programs, sending judges to area schools during the events to speak about the judiciary. Each school in Pinellas County has a volunteer coordinator, according to Morris, who regularly calls on the judges for assistance. In addition, a local law firm has its own public access television show that involves the judges as guests. Plans are also in the works to provide joint presentations with area legislators to discuss the relationship between the judiciary and the legislature. As several other circuit representatives noted, Morris expressed a reticence to get involved with the media in his circuit, noting “it’s like shoving your head in the mouth of a lion.” Eighth Circuit: Judge Phyllis Kotey has received direct help from the Court Administrator’s Public Information Officer and local bar associations in organizing speaking engagements for area judges. The courts regularly host fifth grade students for mock trials, which has become a tradition in the circuit, as well as running a teen court for older students. Kotey also hosts a television show in conjunction with PBS and the University of Florida called “Law Matters,” which features judges, lawyers, and litigants discussing current cases and issues. One of the most successful public outreach initiatives in the circuit is the production of videos to show to pro se litigants before trials. The videos, covering topics such as small claims and divorce, are available to schools and legal professionals throughout the state. Ninth Circuit: As in the eighth circuit, the ninth circuit PECT program has help from the Court Administrator’s Public Information Officer, who sends out news releases and deals directly with the media, noted Judge C. Jeffery Arnold, which “makes the media people more comfortable.” Ninth Circuit judges regularly speak to Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops and at schools for Law Day, and Arnold said that their focus is “primarily at the elementary school level.” The court also has two open forum programs that are videotaped and regularly appear on the local PBS television station. The programs discuss what’s going on in the courthouse and popular issues such as jury service, collection court, and the guardian ad litem program. They were established about a year and a half ago. Contrary to what many other circuit representatives said, certain judges in the ninth circuit have welcomed the media into their courtrooms. One judge holds an “adoption day” in which the judge presides over several adoptions and encourages members of print and TV media to cover the event. Another judge invites a media representative to sit on the bench with him while he sentences felons, to give the public a better understanding of the process. Tenth Circuit: Judge Olin Shinholser reported that judges in his circuit have worked diligently to establish a rapport with the media during noncontroversial times, so when a controversial situation arises, members of the media are less likely to “attack” the judges. He also noted that several judges have been profiled in area newspapers. In Highlands County, where Shinholser presides, all fourth grade students come to the courthouse as part of their curriculum. Shinholser said he personally answers all of the students’ questions, either during their visit to the courthouse or afterwards by personal letter. Judges in the circuit also speak at schools and civic organizations. Eleventh Circuit: The Office of Government Liaison and Public Information has provided a full-time public information director to assist county court judges in the circuit with media relations. Judge Carroll Kelly noted that over 40 judges have volunteered for the circuit’s speakers counsel, which has sent letters to civic groups and schools offering their services. The judges also regularly participate in Law Week activities. The circuit has a plethora of plans in the works, including increasing the amount of court information available online, starting self-help centers for pro se litigants, and preparing for a “media day.” Thirteenth Circuit: Judge Walter Heinrich said that Hillsborough County utilizes its public information officer to send out press releases and handle information requests from the media. The judges themselves have assembled a cadre of informational and educational outlets, including an educational video of a day in Heinrich’s courtroom and law day speeches. Fourteenth Circuit: The clerk of court’s office is a valuable resource for judges in the circuit with regard to media contacts, said Judge Robert Brown. The clerk’s office contacts the media every time a judge has a speaking engagement. He noted that the circuit has programs in place similar to the other circuits, but Bay County is lagging in their public outreach programs. This stems from the resignation of one county judge, leaving an unusual amount of work for the remaining two judges until a replacement can be named. Fifteenth Circuit: Palm Beach County has one of the most well-established public outreach programs in the state, according to Judge Krista Marx. The courthouse boasts a fully-staffed pro se self-help center that provides “do-it-yourself” legal documents for a nominal fee. The county also holds several mock trials per year, offers a two-hour tour of the courthouse for kids which follows the entire system from arrest to the Juvenile Detention Center. The circuit has also produced a small claims video and several public service announcements. The latter is shown regularly on local television stations. Marx noted that local judges focus primarily on educating students, though keeping everyone informed is an ongoing issue. Sixteenth Circuit: Judge Ruth Becker has set up a meeting with the superintendent of schools, county mayors, the public defender’s office, and the local bar president to discuss and plan how the court can best act as a resource to the community. Becker noted that many of the programs in the circuit mirror those found in other circuits, such as Law Day activities, tours of the courthouse for fourth grade students, and a pro se self-help center. The judges also receive help from a public information officer and are looking into setting up a speakers bureau in the circuit. One unusual aspect of the circuit’s campaign is Becker’s involvement with “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” For the past few years, she has had high school girls come and sit on the bench with her, and she has organized a luncheon for all the mentors and girls. Eighteenth Circuit: Judge David Silverman commented that the circuit has many of the same programs found in other circuits (speakers bureau, mock trials, teen court) and employs the assistance of a public information officer to handle media inquiries. The most innovative approach Silverman has taken was his idea for “court on the road” in which he held a trial at a local community college. Three television stations were present at the event. Silverman is also working with the court technology officer to put judges’ schedules online for public viewing. He noted the PECT program in his circuit is informal and still in the planning stages, but the judges are interested in becoming more involved. Twentieth Circuit: Unlike many of the other circuits, judges in the twentieth circuit have made it a point to become very active in their local bar association. County judges serve on several committees within the bar, including the Law Week Committee and the Education Committee, said Judge Edward Voltz. Local judges speak to community groups on a regular basis and participate in teen court and moot court programs. The court provides an informative website, publications on domestic violence and small claims, and tours of the courthouse for students. A program directed at seniors in high school is one of the circuit’s most widely-publicized initiatives, along with several TV spots that appear on local networks. Judge Caddell, the PECT co-chair, noted that Florida county judges take pride in their work to increase public confidence in the judiciary. “I would call the enthusiasm of the county judges remarkable were it not for the fact that remarkable enthusiasm seems to be common among county judges,” he said. “As we have undertaken the task of formally establishing the PECT model statewide, one of the most striking things I have learned is how many of our fellow county judges are already devoting thousands of hours to various community programs that fit the PECT concept.” “All of these activities help to educate the public and increase public confidence in our justice system, and that is what PECT is all about,” Caddell said. “After all, we should all always bear in mind two things: we serve the public; and knowledge is power. The more knowledge people have about our system, the more empowered they become. The more empowered people are, the more likely they are to have confidence that the justice system works for them instead of the other way around.” County judges work to coordinate education efforts April 1, 2001 Assistant Editor Regular Newslast_img read more

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Concerns raised over fudged police figures

first_imgOneNews 13 July 2014A report has emerged outing fudged burglary statistics has Police Minister Anne Tolley assuring the public that it’s an isolated case.The report shows the statistics were manipulated over three years in Counties Manukau.Labour’s Police spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says the situation warrants more than a verbal assurance from the Minister.“We are absolutely reliant on crime statistics to give us an accurate picture of the level of crime in New Zealand, and whether progress has been made in certain areas,” she said.“To find that these statistics were deliberately manipulated undermines the entire system, not to mention the work of other police districts who have recorded their crimes accurately.”http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/concerns-raised-over-fudged-police-figures-6026306last_img read more

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