Equal Access to Justice in Indiana
In his State of the Judiciary address in 2007, Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard remarked that out of the 1.6 million new cases filed in the prior year, more than 99% of them began and ended in front of a judge or jury in a trial court. He also reported that about 40% of Indiana’s adult population comes through the courts in a twelve month period. While countless other statistics demonstrate the increased use of our courts, what is clear is that Indiana residents are using our courts in staggering numbers; therefore, the Indiana Supreme Court has a heightened priority to ensure that our courts actually are accessible.
To that end, the Indiana Supreme Court has a variety of programs, projects, and initiatives that promote access to justice for the variety of individuals seeking to utilize our court system. There are several services for the public at large where the Court’s efforts are far reaching.
The Civil Legal Aid Fund was created in 1997 to solidify the continuity of services by legal service providers. The Fund was established to not only provide more revenue for these providers, but also to support the “private, nonprofit organization[s] incorporated and operated exclusively in Indiana, [whose] primary function and purpose of which is to provide civil legal services without charge to the indigent.” The legislature currently provides $1.5 million dollars per year (up from $1 million dollars in prior years) to be divided among the qualified legal service providers. The 2007 data is still being compiled, but the 2006 figures show that our qualified legal service providers offered legal assistance in more than 22,000 cases. The existence of the Fund is a clear demonstration that Indiana is committed to providing legal assistance to our indigent citizens in need. courts.IN.gov/admin/claf
The Citizens Self Service Center is a tool on the Supreme Court’s website that allows self represented individuals to access information and resources, including how to prepare for court and locate the names of certified mediators. Spanish speaking individuals will also find that several forms have been translated into Spanish. courts.IN.gov/selfservice
The Supreme Court provides free Online Access to Indiana Laws and Research Tools through the Supreme Court website at: courts.IN.gov. Hoosiers can access the Indiana Code, the Administrative Code, and various state, local, and administrative rules. There are also guides for Small Claims Court practice, Appellate practice, and Tax Court practice. Users can also access public records at mycase.IN.gov. The statewide Case Management System (courts.IN.gov/jtac) gives individuals easier access to court information in a growing number of counties.
Several counties have virtual courthouse tours on line to help those coming to court find courtrooms more easily and perhaps reduce the anxiety of those called to testify. courts.IN.gov/citc/museum/virtual-tours
The Supreme Court has also committed legal staff to several Supreme Court Committees, Commissions and projects. The Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness was formed in 1999. The mission is to study and make recommendations on race and gender issues in Indiana’s justice system, and to investigate ways to improve race and gender fairness in the courts, legal system, state and local government, among legal service providers, and among public organizations. The Commission hosted a Diversity Summit in 2005, as an open forum to discuss race and gender issues in the legal system, conducted a survey on women in the law, the results of which were published in a law review article written in 2008 by Professor María Pabón López of the Indiana University School of Law, and maintains the Court Interpreter Certification Program. The members of the 25-seat Commission represent the judiciary, bar, academia, community and civic partners, law enforcement, and other community individuals. courts.IN.gov/fairness
The Committee on Self Represented Litigants is tasked with studying and recommending improvement of the practices, procedures and systems for litigants in Indiana who come to court without lawyers. The Committee members will include the Indiana judiciary, academia, bar, legal library staff, legal service representatives, county clerks, and other members of the community. courts.IN.gov/committees/prose.html
Many Indiana attorneys are committed to pro bono work to help individuals who are unable to afford an attorney. Indiana is committed to supporting the efforts of pro bono service through its collaboration with the Indiana Bar Foundation and the formation of the Pro Bono Commission.
Chief Justice Shepard has been a visionary and trailblazer for pro bono efforts in the State and he regularly dedicates his time to address bar associations on the topic of pro bono. Such is his commitment that the pro bono service award is named in his honor. courts.IN.gov/probono
The Indiana Judicial Center is responsible for judicial education and it has a long-standing commitment to educating our State’s judges on topics of access. In past years, the Judicial Center has offered courses including “Diversity Issues in Traffic Court”, “Techniques for Dealing with Self-Represented Litigants”, “Strategies for Dealing with Pro Se Litigants”, “Use of Court Interpreters”, “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Litigants”, “Latino Litigants”, and “Unconscious Racism-Does it Effect the Judicial System in Indiana?” This year, the Judicial Center hosted a day long program entitled “Courtroom Best Practices in Self-Represented Litigation.” courts.IN.gov/center
The Court is proud to support efforts to provide access to our courts to individuals for whom Spanish is their primary language. The Court Interpreter Certification Program was born through the support of the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness. The Interpreter Program is housed in the Division of State Court Administration and at the Supreme Court’s urging the Division joined the National Center for State Courts Court Interpreter Certification Consortium, which utilizes national testing guidelines, promotes national standards for certifying interpreters, and facilitates communication with other Consortium states. Indiana has certified more than 49 interpreters, mostly in Spanish, but also in Arabic and French. Spanish speaking individuals in our courts now have the opportunity to participate in the legal process with greater understanding, whether as witnesses, victims, civil litigants or criminal defendants. The Court also maintains a contract with Language Line, and through this service all Indiana trial courts have access to immediate over-the-phone interpreting services in over 140 languages. courts.IN.gov/interpreter
A few years ago, Vigo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Brugnaux contacted the Court about ideas to enable the courts and court personnel to communicate with Spanish speaking individuals. As a result, Workplace Spanish courses have been made available in cooperation with the Court, the Indiana Judicial Center, the Division of State Court Administration and Ivy Tech Community College. The Workplace Spanish curriculum is presented in 24 hours of classroom instruction, and the participants learn introductory Spanish and basic terminology so that they can provide general assistance to Spanish-speaking individuals who come to the court. Since 2006, over 640 court employees have taken the classes. It is worthy to note that our court employees have made a personal investment in helping the courts move forward in making our courts more accessible. courts.IN.gov/center/spanish-course
Portions of the Indiana Code have been translated into Spanish and are available on the State’s website. There is also a glossary of terms available and now victims of crimes, defendants and their counsel have access to vital information that will assist them in navigating the criminal court system.
The Indiana Supreme Court has made great strides in making the trial courts more accessible to all people and continue to develop further initiatives. Even now the Court, through the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness, is preparing to redistribute English and Spanish versions of a poster to the trial courts that explains to the public “what the courts can and cannot do.” Additionally, the Parenting Time Guidelines and the Child Support Guidelines are available in Spanish on the Indiana Courts website (courts.IN.gov). Now more parents can fully access this pertinent information and better understand court orders relating to the visitation and support of their minor children. The Indiana Supreme Court has demonstrated its commitment to access to justice for years and has a history of notable success. Our future is even brighter.