New Year Brings Continued Commitment to the Constitution

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A new year provides the opportunity to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. Each year, a central theme emerges in my New Year’s resolution: be present. Show up; assume the best of each other; focus on where you are; remember the dignity of every person.

This mantra naturally translates from my personal to professional life at the Justice Programs Office (JPO) and working on the Right to Counsel (R2C) National Campaign. We all must work together to make sure human dignity and justice are central to our justice system—something that, unfortunately, is not always present. To restore it—and our faith in the justice system—requires focus, active and constant attention, dedication, and leadership.

I was thrilled when I read about the actions taken by Missouri’s Supreme Court chief justice, Judge George Draper III, who delivered his first State of the Judiciary address on January 22, 2020. Draper highlighted the essential role of public defenders—critical to operating an efficient justice system that effectively administers justice. Speaking to the state legislature, Chief Justice Draper said, “speaking from the perspective of both a former prosecutor and a former trial judge, I can tell you the system simply does not work without a sufficiently funded and staffed public defender system.”

This statement is monumental; not only did Chief Justice Draper use his platform to highlight the essential role of public defenders and the fragile state of Missouri’s public defender system, but he did so in the judiciary’s annual address, which historically, nationwide, has not been used to bring attention to public defense. His remarks send a signal to Missouri and the country and promotes the work of the R2C National Campaign, raising awareness and changing actions. Draper’s public statement highlights the essential roles of public defense providers in ensuring a just system and to protect, the humanity for those involved in it, including the accused and public defenders.

In his address, Chief Justice Draper emphasized the critical role public defense professionals play in running an efficient justice system, reinforcing the purpose of the justice system and the reason we do the work we do. This statement rings true to our JPO team as we release a new white paper, Enhancing Caseflow Management to Ensure Effective Assistance of Counsel. This paper highlights that caseflow management and the effective assistance of counsel are values not designed to be in conflict but are required to be in balance to ensure a fair and just adjudication system. Contrary to what sometimes may occur, caseflow management and ensuring effective assistance of counsel are complementa­ry and not conflicting goals of our courts and justice system. Reconciling these two things requires reframing and restructuring the use of caseflow management, recognizing that quick resolution of cases does not necessarily mean efficient resolution.

As we embark on a new year, it is important to remain focused, remember the purpose of our justice system is to administer justice equitably and that human dignity must be at the center of it, and speak out to ensure this is occurring. This requires vigilance and a recognition that current practices most likely will need to change to accommodate our goals and values. We must welcome such changes.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy, healthy, and just new year.