The Family Court Judges are implementing a 12-point plan that will meet the Eighth Judicial District Court goal of achieving timely permanency for children in the foster care system. That plan includes taking one Judge who hears a domestic caseload and assigning that judge to an abuse and neglect caseload. Now three judges hear abuse and neglect calendars fulltime. The departments that handle domestic cases are shouldering an average six percent heavier caseload to provide dedicated judges for foster care cases.
Late last year, Chief Judge Jennifer P. Togliatti issued an administrative order which established a special committee to examine access to justice in the dependency court by looking at court rules, court case management, case assignment, whether case processing delays are related to hearing master resources and duties as defined in EDCR 1.46, timeliness of trials and hearings, judicial resources, statistics and their definitions, statutory timeliness, trial stacks and other related matters. After a three-month review of the court’s approach to permanency for children and their families, the committee submitted a comprehensive report with 12 recommendations. Most critical was the examination of case assignment and judicial resources. The committee exhaustively reviewed the number and types of hearings in 2012.
The committee sought input from community partners. Three main issues were identified: the lack of use of bench cards for consistency; barriers to notification of appointment of counsel; and the slow, outdated method of sharing discovery (which contributed to frequent requests for continuances). The committee took immediate action and addressed barriers to information sharing for dependency cases.
The caseload and case assignment of juvenile dependency matters were examined. The protective custody hearing was noted as an extremely important hearing. It was determined that protective custody hearings associated with foster care, should only be heard by the dependency judges and one hearing master should be assigned to one judge. The judge should assign certain hearings to their designated masters to facilitate the case management of the case.
Several case processing delays were identified, the two most prominent: appointment of counsel and delay in receiving discovery. Case processing was re-engineered to use automation whenever possible.
One of the critical issues facing this committee was the development of accurate statistics so they could make sound recommendations. The Eighth Judicial District Court Information Technology Division provided accurate, verifiable statistics. In addition, the IT division created a caseload report to assist in measuring statutory timelines. Scanners were installed in all the dependency courtrooms. Other new procedures were implemented including: preliminary protective hearing initiating process, case plan procedures, reasonable efforts procedures, and case initiation from petition procedures. These changes enable the tracking of timeliness. “The Family Court judges have unanimously agreed and rallied together to make this 12-point plan work to help children who need a stable, loving and permanent home, said Presiding Family Court Judge Gloria O’ Malley. “Streamlining case processing will improve outcomes for some of our community’s most vulnerable children and the case reassignment will enable the “one family – one judge” model for juvenile dependency cases.
“I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work accomplished by the committee chaired by Judge Arthur Ritchie and included Justice Nancy Saitta, Judge Charles Hoskin, Judge Frank Sullivan, Judge Robert Teuton, court executive officer Steve Grierson; assistant county manager Jeff Wells and the executive director of Legal Aid of Southern Nevada Barbara Buckley,” said Chief Judge Togliatti. “I would also like to acknowledge the cooperative spirit demonstrated by the Family Court Judges who worked together in order to make the needed case reassignment work.”
The foster care improvement demonstrates how the Eighth Judicial District Court is using technology and alternative, more efficient methods to improve the delivery of justice. District Court continuously works to develop innovative ideas, improve efficiencies, address issues and improve access to justice. For more information about the courts, please visit our website at clarkcountycourts.us.