Thursday, June 15, 2000

View of courts called a concern

Ky. bar's forum addresses fairness

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Judges who provide people with a fair, speedy and comprehensible “day in court” are more likely to increase the public's trust in America's court system, said Roger Warren of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va.

        He said some people might win legal battles but still have embittered feelings if they faced high legal fees, their case dragged on, they were unnecessarily badgered on the witness stand or the judge made a decision without explaining why.

        “The public does have deep concerns ... with the American court system,” he said.

        Mr. Warren was a speaker Wednesday at “The Chief Justice's Conference on the Judiciary,” a forum led by Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

        The event was part of the Kentucky Bar Association's annual convention, taking place through Friday at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.

        “We're here today to talk about the views of citizens toward the judiciary,” Justice Lambert said, “and what can be done to understand the problem better.”

        Mr. Warren shared some statistics that the National Center for State Courts gathered while conducting a survey underwritten by the Hearst Corp.

        The survey indicated that more than half of the respondents think that:

        „It's not affordable to take cases to court.

        „Lawyers are an obstacle to justice.

        „Cases aren't resolved in a timely manner.

        „The wealthy are better treated in court.

        „English-speaking people are treated better.

        „Judges are influenced by political concerns and the need to raise campaign funds.

        The survey found about 47 percent think African-Americans and Hispanics are treated worse than others.

        Mr. Warren noted the tenuous relationship between judicial independence, or the need to remain impartial and neutral, and public trust.

        The more judges cannot be swayed, he said, the more the public's trust is likely to grow.

        Trust in the courts also will rise if judges veer from “legalese” and explain their decisions so that most people can understand the reasoning behind their rulings, he said.

        Panelist Donald Stepner, president of the Northern Kentucky Bar Association, stated his concern about campaigning for some judicial seats.

        Too often, he said, those seats become available only to those who have the support of doctors, businessman and other powerful people.


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