In the December 5, 2011 edition of the National Law Journal, David Udell, the Center’s Director, and Cara Anna, the Center’s summer 2011 fellow, have co-authored an op ed calling for a national Justice Index. As explained in the piece, “A national Justice Index would be a high-profile annual ranking of each state’s approach to legal assistance and the way each handles civil and criminal cases. That ranking would be supported by published data that could be mined by policymakers, the media and the courts themselves.” The Center is working on developing a model of the Justice Index that would “add state-specific information to this portrait of our legal system, using objective criteria. For example, do courts have sufficient resources for translators and to hold jury trials? For criminal cases, how many days are people held without counsel? How many clients does a lawyer represent at one time? How much does it cost to be caught up in a civil or criminal case? Are communities providing the resources needed by the justice system?” Of course, there are many challenges to creating the Justice Index, including the fact that the data-handling infrastructure within America’s state courts is, in many jurisdictions, thin. Thus, as explained in the op ed, “Part of the Justice Index can be created from published reports that reveal the need for reform (for example, reports showing state-to-state disparities in funding for legal representation of the poor). Part can be created by building a unified Justice Index Web site that will raise the profile of touchstones that communities aspire to achieve with their justice systems. And part can be created by encouraging courts and other institutions to publish more data within their reach, such as the number of people proceeding pro se in cases in which the opposing side has lawyers.” The Justice Index will be developed during 2012.
(originally published Dec. 3, 2011 by David Udell)