Vol. 30, No. 8
CBA President's Message to Members
Citizen’s Justice Conference
by Laird T. Milburn
In the July issue of The Colorado Lawyer,1 I outlined my thoughts regarding the need to consider whether professional reform is something we should adopt in Colorado to increase the public’s respect for lawyers. A related concern of mine involves the question of whether we should be equally concerned with efforts to improve public trust and confidence in our courts and the justice system. Obviously, such confidence is essential, if for no other reason than to preserve a strong, independent, and effective judiciary.
Last summer, Governor Owens’s Task Force on Civil Justice Reform issued its report regarding needed reforms of the civil justice system in Colorado. The Task Force was convened in the summer of 1999, and its membership consisted primarily of prominent and respected attorneys and judges from around the state. It suggested several specific measures that were expected to improve both the quality and speed of civil dispute resolution in Colorado.2 As a result, twenty-four additional district court judges were added to the bench, a clear benefit to the people of this state. About the same time that the Task Force issued its report in Colorado, a Citizen’s Justice Conference was being held in the state of Oregon, sponsored by the Oregon Bar Association, Oregon Supreme Court, League of Women Voters of Portland, and a local community college. The Conference had as its theme "Building Trust and Confidence in the Justice System Through Citizen Involvement." The purpose of the Conference was to solicit the non-legal community, from as wide a variety of constituencies as possible, to participate in a process that would, first, frame the issues the public thinks most important regarding the justice system, and then to engage the participants in a day-long conference, with minimal involvement from attorneys and judges, designed to identify the public’s perception of needed changes or improvements.
After reviewing the results of the Oregon Conference, which were published in a report issued this past September,3 and engaging in discussions with leaders and organizers involved in the Oregon Conference, I have asked CBA staff to initiate the planning process to hold a Colorado Citizen’s Justice Conference, to take place in Denver sometime next spring or early summer. John Moye, CBA President-Elect, has agreed to chair the planning and organizational effort that will be necessary to make the Conference a success. It is my expectation that the Colorado Citizen’s Justice Conference will be sponsored by the CBA, Colorado Supreme Court (Justice Mullarkey has already indicated her agreement), Colorado Justice Institute, Colorado League of Women Voters, Colorado Chamber of Commerce, and the state’s two law schools.
If the Oregon experience with their conference is indicative of what we can expect, the prospects are exciting. The reported benefits include (1) successfully portraying the willingness of the bench and bar to listen to the public regarding their views of needed justice system improvements; (2) reinforcing the public’s willingness to accept the concept that the justice system belongs to them and not just lawyers and judges; and (3) the identification of potential allies when and if justice system issues become involved in the political process, such as term-limiting judges. It is my expectation that the Colorado Conference also will provide an opportunity to educate the public on some of the issues about which the CBA has been active during the past few years, such as access to justice and the independence of the judiciary. Most important, however, we will be sending a significant message to the citizens of this state that, because they are the customers of the justice system, we want to hear from them as to how we are doing and what we could be doing better.
Hopefully, many of you will be equally as excited as I am about a Colorado Citizen’s Justice Conference. If you would like to participate in the organization, planning, or conducting of the Conference, please do not hesitate to contact me, John Moye, or Chuck Turner through the CBA office, 1900 Grant Street, Suite 900, Denver, CO 80203-4336; (303) 860-1115.
1. Milburn, "Professional Reform," 30 The Colorado Lawyer 51 (July 2001).
2. Specifically, the Task Force recommended establishing a specialized business court system in the state; increasing the number of district court judges; reforming Colorado’s administrative law system; strengthening the resources available to pro se litigants; and expanding the use of alternative dispute resolution. See Governor’s Task Force on Civil Justice Reform, final report (July 2000).
3. Moore, Citizen’s Justice Conference, External Evaluation (Sept. 2000).
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