In 2017, the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law entered into an agreement with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), creating the State Courts Partnership, the only such partnership in the United States.
The NCSC was created in 1971 with the mission “to improve the administration of justice through leadership and service to the state courts and to courts around the world.” Its headquarters are located in Williamsburg, Virginia with additional offices in Arlington, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and Denver, Colorado.
The State Courts Partnership, while participating in NCSC initiatives, is housed at the law school and also works on projects directly affecting Arkansas courts and the state’s legal community. Its director, J.D. Gingerich, previously served for twenty-eight years as the Director of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts.
“The projects undertaken by this one-of-a-kind partnership benefit the NCSC, the law school, and the local, national, and international legal community,” said Bowen Dean John DiPippa. “It is exciting to see J.D.’s work directly affect the administration of justice and to see how the NCSC and the State Courts Partnership impact Bowen’s core values of public service, access to justice, and professionalism.”
In a recent report, Gingerich outlined the scope of his work with the Partnership during its first year of operation.
Conference of Chief Justices
The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), comprised of the chief justices from all 50 states and 7 U.S. territories, is provided research and support services through the NCSC. The CCJ President also serves as the president of the NCSC Board of Directors. Gingerich currently serves as the primary staff for two committees of CCJ.
Following the rise in the number of incidents and arrests by federal immigration officials inside state court facilities, the CCJ created a special committee to represent the conference in conversations and negotiations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The effort is chaired by Nebraska Chief Justice Mike Heavican and includes the chief justices of New York, Texas, Arizona, Iowa and New Jersey.
Gingerich has prepared legal memoranda and policy documents and participated in multiple meetings between the committee members and officials from DHS and ICE. He developed a website and resource materials made available through the NCSC. Information about courthouse arrest incidents is reported to the Partnership, which also serves as the central point of contact regarding the issue for all members of CCJ. As a result of these activities, ICE released a revised policy on courthouse enforcement in January.
Currently Gingerich is facilitating meetings in each state between the chief justice and DHS/ICE representatives to discuss the implementation of the new policy. He has published two journal articles on the topic of courthouse immigration arrests and conducted a workshop during the Annual Conference of the National Association for Court Management.
In the fall of 2017, CCJ and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) created the National Judicial Opioid Task Force. Gingerich serves as Senior Counsel to the Task Force. It is chaired by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush. He provides research and assistance to the Executive Committee and is working closely with a work group responsible for education and collaboration issues. Meetings of the Task Force have taken place in Washington D.C., and Hendersonville, Nevada, and the next meeting will take place in June in Indianapolis. The collaboration efforts involve outreach to state, federal, and tribal courts throughout the U.S. to examine those programs and resources already in place and to develop resources which respond to the specific needs of the state courts.
Part of his work involves the creation of a comprehensive survey of opioid litigation and legislation in each state. For that work, the NCSC, through the State Courts Partnership, has hired Bowen student Austin Watters.
“Austin’s work has been invaluable in this project,” Gingerich said. “Her national survey on opioid litigation will be published on the Judicial Opioid Task Force website, and she’s now gathering the information for the legislation survey.”
Gingerich has also developed a new course, “Therapeutic Justice” which he is teaching this summer at Bowen. The class uses the opioid crisis and judicial responses, including specialty courts, as the topic.
Institute for Court Management
Gingerich is also part of the national faculty of the Institute for Court Management (ICM), which is the education arm of the NCSC. During the past year he has taught courses in California, Nevada and Ohio, with upcoming commitments to teach in Florida, Michigan and Virginia. ICM provides the training as a part of the national certification of court managers and court executives.
Gingerich was recently offered a contract for the Partnership and is developing the curriculum and materials for a new ICM course on Judicial Branch Leadership, which will be used as a part of the national certification program to improve the leadership skills of court administrators and managers across the country.
“I greatly enjoy the opportunities to serve as an ICM faculty member and to take advantage of many years of experience working with courts in Arkansas,” he said. “I am currently exploring the possibility of offering one or more of these courses for students at Bowen sometime in the future, both for the purpose of educational enrichment as well as offering potential new avenues for professional employment.”
State Court Consulting Division
Through its office in Denver, Colorado, the NCSC provides consulting services for state and local courts across the U.S. During the past year Gingerich has provided consulting services for three court improvement projects. The first, in Lansing, Michigan, involved an evaluation of the judicial education programs and offices of the Michigan Supreme Court. More recently, he traveled on several occasions to Dakota County, Minnesota, working with the District’s 19 trial judges to review and implement a new case assignment and calendaring system designed to make their court system more efficient.
He has also worked with the judges, prosecutors and public defenders in Washoe County (Reno), Nevada, to examine a number of case management and calendaring issues.
NCSC International Services Division
The International Division of the NCSC offers a similar array of research, consulting, education, and information services to strengthen the rule of law in countries around the world. Currently, Gingerich and the State Courts Partnership have been involved in the Justice System Strengthening Project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, in Kosovo.
Gingerich traveled to Kosovo in November for the first part of the project, where he worked with the Kosovo Supreme Court and the Kosovo Judicial Council to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the process by which the judicial branch prepares and submits the annual judiciary budget to the Kosovo Parliament. He then prepared and submitted recommendations for the establishment of a revised process, with greater inclusion and participation by local courts and utilizing the techniques and goals of “performance-informed budgeting.”
In March the Kosovo Judicial Council adopted the recommendations and invited Gingerich to return to Kosovo to conduct workshops at each court location to assist in the development of budget requests and to further implementing the plan.
Evaluation of Arkansas Specialty Courts
The State Courts Partnership was also included as a part of the NCSC’s successful bid to conduct a statewide evaluation of all specialty courts in Arkansas. Requested and funded by the Arkansas Specialty Court Commission, the evaluators are collecting and examining data about participants and their outcomes in each of the state’s specialty court programs.
As a part of the project, two Bowen students were employed to administer, review and tabulate the results of surveys provided to judges and officials at each court. The surveys included all aspects of each court’s criteria for accepting cases, their methods and operations, and administration. The result of their efforts will be Arkansas’s first comprehensive directory of specialty court programs.
“I have been impressed by the quality of work provided by our students during this project,” Gingerich said. “They can take great pride that their work product will soon be in the hands of judges and program directors across the state to assist them in the operation of their courts and will be used by Arkansas executive and legislative branch officials as they evaluate the programs and develop policy and programs for the future.”