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Harvard Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century, 2008-2011


The Executive Sessions at the Harvard Kennedy School bring together individuals of independent standing who take joint responsibility for rethinking and improving society's responses to an issue.

Members of the Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century explored a broad array of themes, including

  • the use of budget crises as adaptive challenges to court leaders,
  • identification of essential principles for effective court governance,
  • the tension between problem solving and decision making,
  • the challenges social media pose to court legitimacy,
  • how courts defend themselves from political attack,
  • and the notion of chief justices as civic leaders.

Many topics were developed by members into papers that will be published in a series by NCSC and posted on this page.

Through its six meetings over three years, the Executive Session set out to both develop and answer questions that U.S. state courts will face in the foreseeable future, attempting to clarify what leaders of state courts can and should do to distinguish their role in our system of democratic governance.

The Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century was funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the State Justice Institute, and the National Center for State Courts.

Member Papers

Juror and Jury Use of New Media: A Baseline Exploration
In Juror and Jury Use of New Media: A Baseline Exploration, NCSC staff members Paula Hannaford-Agor, David Rottman, and Nicole Waters offer insights into the current and likely future use of new media by jurors at all stages of the process. The members of the Executive Session on State Court Leadership in the 21st Century requested the design of a research project that could explore the impact of the new media on jurors and jury decision-making as a basis for recommending steps to reconcile new media use with the adversarial process.

Courts Are Conversations: An Argument for Increased Engagement by Court Leaders
In Courts Are Conversations: An Argument for Increased Engagement by Court Leaders, social media expert Garrett Graff explains the true significance of the arrival of social media as it alters the expectations and habits of American society. He advises state court leaders that they “must not only learn how to communicate with new tools; they must also envision new means of judicial engagement with the public through the new social media that can further advance the legitimacy of courts in a democratic society.”

A Case for Court Governance Principles
During the 1970s and 1980s, the structure of state courts changed from being essentially locally organized to being more centralized at the state level. The change, however, was incomplete. In this report, Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham and Utah State Court Administrator Dan Becker describe the limits to what structural changes like centralization can accomplish. Recognizing that court culture inherently stresses independence and self-interest, the authors propose eleven unifying principles to guide states as they seek to improve court performance.

Herding Lions: Shared Leadership of State Trial Courts
State court reformers in most states achieved greater standardization and centralization of court governance but in the process left behind significant tensions between local courts and the state-wide court administration. In Herding Lions, retired Arizona Judge Barbara Mundell and Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson put forward an approach based on recognition of the collective responsibility of all courts within a state for the quality of justice administered. They urge that leadership be shared across the different levels of court structure and that local innovation be encouraged and, where effective, replicated statewide.

Opinions as the Voice of the Court: How State Supreme Courts Can Communicate Effectively and Promote Procedural Fairness
This paper discusses the nature of and trends in the formation of state supreme court opinions and the methods by which opinions are communicated to the press, the public, members of the bar, and online communities. It considers current practice in light of a field in social psychology called procedural fairness, a helpful and practical theory that explains what makes it likely that people are satisfied with and comply with decisions by authorities, such as judges. The paper goes on to highlight current state court trends, including the use of plain language and summarization, the use of websites for improved communication and dissemination of opinions, and the increase in educational opportunities for appellate bench officers to make opinions clearer and more effective.

Forthcoming Papers

Forthcoming papers include the following:

  • "The Politics of Restraint: State Court Leaders in the 21st Century"
  • "Keeping Courts Funded: Recommendations on How Courts can Avoid the Budget Axe"
  • "Cross-Branch Collaboration: What Can we Learn from the Collaboration Between Courts and the Division of Youth Services in Missouri?"
  • "Governance: The Final Frontier"
  • "Strategic Planning and Management in the D.C. Courts: A Tool for Understanding the Courts’ Mission and Addressing Governance Challenges"

Other papers are under development.

Members of the Executive Session

Jeff Amestoy
Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School; Chief Justice, Vermont Supreme Court, Retired

David Barron
Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Daniel Becker
State Court Administrator, Utah Administrative Office of the Courts

Michael Bridenback
Trial Court Administrator, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Tampa, FL)

Russell Brown
Court Administrator, Cleveland Municipal Court

John Cleland
Judge, Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Paul DeMuniz
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Oregon

Christine Durham
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Utah

Ted Eisenberg
Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law, Cornell Law School

Rosalyn Frierson
State Court Administrator, South Carolina Judicial Department

Thomas Gottschalk
Of Counsel at Kirkland & Ellis

Garrett Graff
Editor-in-Chief, Washingtonian Magazine

James Hannah
Chief Justice, Arkansas Supreme Court

Vicki Jackson
Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Wallace Jefferson
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas

Margaret Marshall
Chief Justice, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Retired

Mary McQueen
President, National Center for State Courts

Mee Moua
Vice President for Strategic Impact Initiatives, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF); Senator, Minnesota Senate, Retired

Barbara Rodriguez Mundell
Presiding Judge, Superior Court of AZ, Maricopa County, Retired

Judith Resnik
Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School

Greg Rowe
Chief of Legislation and Policy Unit, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

Randall Shepard
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Indiana

Jed Shugerman
Assistant Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Christopher Stone
Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice, Harvard Kennedy School

Michael Trickey
Judge, King County Superior Court

William Vickrey
Administrative Director, California Administrative Office of the Courts

Eric Washington
Chief Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals

Julie Boatright Wilson
Harry Kahn Senior Lecturer in Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School