By Kevin Walling, JD, MPA
Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
When Americans consider the traditional branches of government (the executive, legislative and judiciary), the courts usually enjoy a more consistent perception of professionalism than the executive or legislative branches.
This may be due in part to the fact that the courts usually do not stir the passions of the people as the executive or legislative branch tend to do. Still, the widespread ambivalence toward the courts is often fueled by misconceptions of the role of the judiciary.
How does the public learn about our court systems? Direct interaction with the courts is a preferable way to gain knowledge about the courts. Unfortunately, most people probably do not want direct interaction because that would likely imply they are involved in something unpleasant. Few people want to go to court as a litigant or as a defendant.
Today, people likely gain knowledge of the courts through entertainment outlets. Surprisingly, research has shown that people feel less familiar with the workings of the court system after watching entertainment-based court television.
Regardless of the public’s understanding of the courts, polls indicate that the public desires primarily three things:
- Protection of societal interests
- Equality and fairness
- Quality performance
The question is: How can the court systems meet these societal interests in a professional manner? One method is community outreach, so the community can feel involved in court activities in a positive and proactive manner.
In Maricopa County (home of Grand Canyon University’s campus), the Maricopa County Superior Court has done outstanding work in community outreach programs. Those programs have included a business leader’s forum, a religious leader’s forum and community open forum meetings held at schools and community centers.
When Maricopa County created the new Criminal Court Tower, a new building for court-related functions in Maricopa County, victim advocate groups, media representatives, persons with disabilities (ADA) and law enforcement officials were involved and offered input on the programming and design.
The Maricopa County Superior Court also provides community outreach through extensive web-based public information and court services, as well as increasing use of social media, such as issuing daily announcements and high-profile-case updates via Facebook. Public information videos are also posted on YouTube.
The idea is the greater the community involvement, the more likely the community will feel that the courts are protecting the interests of the community, providing equality and fairness in the courtroom, and delivering quality service.
Other methods to increase the public’s satisfaction with our courts should include the following:
- Courts should consider the perception of the public from the moment they enter the courthouse door.
- Court professionals must engage in discussions about public perceptions of professionalism in the court and the ‘fairness’ of the court.
- Courts should consider physical improvements that can be provided to improve the public perception of professionalism.
- Courts should provide opportunities for visitors to evaluate their experience before they leave the courthouse. Are surveys available?
The courts are filled with personnel that provide professional service to the public. Court personnel are required to attend many hours of professional development coursework and hold important positions with the courtroom, including, but not limited to, court administrators, mediators, arbitrators and interpreters schedulers.
The courts have the professional staff. The challenge is public perception.
Are you interested in learning more about our public court system? Consider a degree in legal studies! Get more information by visiting Grand Canyon University’s website.
Rottman, David B., Trust and Confidence in the California Courts, Administrative Office of the Courts, 10. (2005).
Jason Sunshine & Tom R. Tyler, The Role of Procedural Justice and Legitimacy in Shaping Public Support for Policing, 37 LAW & SOC’Y REV. 513 (2003).
Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc. “Public Image of Courts—Highlights of a National Survey of the General Public, Judges, Lawyers and Community Leaders.” U.S. Dept. of Justice, National Institute of Justice, Washington, D.C. (1978).
Reinkensmeyer, Marcus W. & Jennifer Murray, Court-Community Connections Strategies for Effective Collaboration. National Center for State Courts (2012).
Gould, Jonathan, Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools, The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania (2011).
Wadsworth, Jennifer, Civics Education for Court Staff, National Association of State Judicial Educators (2013).
Greenberg, J., Looking Fair Versus Being Fair: Managing Impressions of Organizational Justice, 12 Research in Organizational Behavior 111-157 (B. Staw & L. Cummings eds. 1990).
More about Kevin:
Kevin Walling was born in Eugene, OR. He spent the first half of his childhood on a cattle ranch in Myrtle Creek, OR and the other half in the suburban town of Tigard, OR. Following graduation from Tigard High School, Kevin attended Portland Community College and obtained an Associate of Arts from that institution. Following graduation, he enrolled at University of Oregon and completed a Bachelor of Science in political science. He decided to attend law school and was accepted at Willamette University, located in Salem, OR. His goal in law school was to become a lobbyist, and he achieved that goal, working for a lobbying firm as his first employment opportunity following law school. He found that lobbying was not what I expected it to be, so he sat for and passed the Washington state bar and transitioned from lobbying to working for a public housing authority in Washington. Eventually he accepted an opportunity to become an administrative law judge for the State of Arizona. Since moving to Arizona, he also obtained a Master of Public Administration from Webster University and, most importantly, met his wife, with whom he enjoys the pleasure of having twin daughters. Kevin enjoys hiking, archery, fencing, camping, bicycling and reading. He also enjoys traveling, and cannot resist visiting every roadside kitsch attraction he can find. He is in his second year as a full-time instructor at Grand Canyon University.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.