My regular job duties provide me an opportunity to visit courthouses throughout my state. Some are looming and opulent. Some are quaint and unassuming. My favorite sites are those with beautiful stained-glass rotundas and grand staircases. When I visit clerks’ offices and see old record books from the 1800s, I imagine all the people who have used the building to conduct business. I envision a horse and buggy parked outside while a young couple eagerly obtains a marriage license, or the media frenzy that filled the halls of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court during the 1954 trial of Dr. Sam Shepherd, whose murder conviction was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Recently, I visited a court located in a facility built in the 1980s. The building was nothing to look at, but once I entered, I immediately thought, “I love these faux driftwood floors, and this color pallet would look great in my house!” It felt clean and neat, not imposing, but like people took time to plan a comfortable space and keep it in great condition. Until that time, I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that courthouses could be designed to be inviting, comfortable, even artfully appointed spaces. In this issue of Court Manager, Kenneth Jandura, AIA, shares his expertise in planning and designing a trauma-informed courthouse that helps to lessen the anxiety and fear some individuals may feel when doing business in a court. Dovetailing on this topic, Tiffany Hammill explores the effects of working closely with trauma survivors on court employees. Whether in a professional, clerical, or administrative capacity, our court employees are often exposed to details of traumatic events surrounding a court user’s life. She highlights what court managers can do to prepare employees for this exposure.
This issue continues its focus on the court user’s experience in articles by Janet Cornell and Erika Rickard. Janet outlines how courts can create a kinder and gentler experience for the people they serve, while Erika gives us a blueprint for designing written materials in plain language that will improve the court user’s ability to understand and meaningfully participate in court procedures. As Janet acknowledges, “those who have worked in courts for some years may find it distasteful to reframe court practices to satisfy court users.” However, as Cherie Garofalo, deputy court executive officer in the Superior Court of California, states in this issue’s “Courtside Conversation” with Matt Kleiman, “In this century, access to justice is not simply about keeping the physical courthouse doors open, it’s going to be about opening other virtual portals to justice.”
Last week I ordered my groceries online for the first time. With less effort than it takes to order a pound of pastrami at the deli, I had selected a pickup time, cashed in a $10-off coupon, and had a trunk full of food. The experience was delightful—a much “kinder and gentler” process than playing Supermarket Sweep at the big box store on a Sunday afternoon. As other businesses turn to alternative approaches for serving customers, I hope the articles in this Court Manager will give readers some new ideas to improve our court users’ experiences.