Texas Judiciary Embarks on Long-Range Planning Project
Imagining the future of the Texas judiciary and ensuring that it reflects a high-level vision and mission were the topics of a group of lawyers and judges who met on Thursday in Austin.
Members of the strategic vision committee of the Texas Judicial Council, which is the policymaking body of the state’s judiciary, met and brainstormed a list of topics to cover in a new strategic planning document.
“The nature of a document like this would be the judiciary’s statement of where it wants to be over a five-year time period,” said committee chairman Bill Boyce, a former appellate court justice who now practices as an attorney in Houston.
Committee member Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said the first step should be developing a high-level vision, mission and core values for the Texas judiciary. Next, the committee should develop specific goals and lay out a time line to reach them, she said.
One of the Texas committee’s first activities will be conducting a short online survey of judicial stakeholders to collect their input on the strategic plan. For example, the committee might reach out to legal associations that represent different types of attorneys, seek input from civil legal aid organizations and the Texas Access to Justice Commission, and try to survey litigants and jurors.
During Thursday’s meeting, to spark a discussion and brainstorming of the plan, the committee examined similar strategic plans from the federal judiciary and the state courts in Arizona. Although the final plan that Texas creates will be different and unique, the committee members did embrace aspects of the other courts’ plans.
For example, the federal judiciary’s core values include promoting the rule of law, giving equal justice to all, and ensuring that the judiciary remains independent from other government branches. The federal courts’ values also include remaining accountable to the public, adhering to excellence in staffing and administration, and dedicating itself to service to the law, court users and the public.
The Arizona judiciary’s strategic plan lays out five goals for that state’s courts and organizes a range of court programs under those goals. The overarching goals are: promoting access to justice; protecting children, families and communities; promoting judicial branch excellence and innovation; enhancing professionalism; and promoting public trust and confidence.
While expressing support for the Arizona plan’s goals, the committee also addressed tweaking the plan to fit Texas.
Some of the Texas programs that committee members want to see added to the plan are specialty courts for drugs, veterans and mental health. The committee discussed the importance of including ongoing efforts to reform bond and bail practices and reform court fines and fees. Part of the discussion centered on how key it is to educate and train judges, court staff, and even provide civics courses about the courts for the public.
Because Texas is larger, with 254 counties that differ based on geography and urban or rural characteristics, this could mean the Texas judiciary’s plan has more goals than its Arizona counterparts.
Boyce said, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”