Brilliant Idea — Sonoma County Court Strategic Plan Highlights Litigant Assistance Network and Triage

With funding from SJI, Sonoma Court, California has completed an excellent Strategic Planning Document.

While it includes many valuable ideas, and is focused at least initially somewhat on the huge challenges of providing culturally competent services, I particularly want to highlight three ideas;  it introduces the (new and useful) concept of a “Litigant Assistance Network”, is explicit about the importance of triage into this Network; and, discuses the need for governance of this Network.

The elements of the Action Plan to Implement A Uniform Litigant Assistance Triage Process are as follows:

1.Establish effective triage tools and processes that can be used by judges and court personnel to determine assistance needs and link litigants to appropriate services.
2.Clarify to all court personnel preferred services and the appropriate uses of particular types of litigant assistance services.
3.Establish evaluation processes for monitoring the affects of litigant assistance on case outcomes and court operations, and making program improvements.
4.Clarify to litigant assistance service providers how the triage process will be used and the implications for their work.

I also find highly suggestive the concept of Litigant Assistance Network Governance — in other words the idea that the currently fragmented components of assistance need to be thought of as one system that is, at least in some way, actually governed and managed.  Again, the plan components for this:

1. Specify the roles of court litigant assistance personnel, other court staff, and judges in identifying needs, providing assistance, and linking litigant to other assistance providers.
2.    Clarify among the court, justice partners, and services providers preferred services and the appropriate uses of particular types of litigant assistance services.
3. Establish evaluation processes for monitoring the affects of litigant assistance on case outcomes and court operations.

It sounds to me that regardless of whether the focus is only on culturally-focused services or all services,  this is like a local Access to Justice Commission — but one with some actual management bite — what an idea!

I’d also like to highlight this planning process as an excellent use of the SJI Technical Assistance grant stream.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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3 Responses to Brilliant Idea — Sonoma County Court Strategic Plan Highlights Litigant Assistance Network and Triage

  1. Pingback: Innovation Ideas Based on SJI Priority Investment Areas | Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

  2. Brandon says:

    Sonoma has a history of creating nice-sounding policy and then completely ignoring it:
    Even though they have an LEP plan that says they utilize … “Court interpreters, to the extent permitted under the active memorandum of understanding or independent interpreter contract;” they stopped providing language access to court users outside the courtroom at a juvenile facility despite an MOU that specifically allows it, lying about the costs, and refusing to bargain or arbitrate with the interpreter union.
    This is the worst court in the state for treatment of interpreters and providing language access.

    Click to access LEPfinal.pdf

    • Jose Octavio says:

      Dear Richard,
      This coming from you means a lot to our Court. Your insight and vision continues to transform the courts throughout the United States in becoming more responsive to the needs to our stakeholders and the challenges being faced by the Courts. Our Self-Represented Litigant Assistance Strategic Plan builds on and strengthens earlier initiatives in this area. The key components, as you so ably noted, are creating a viable governance structure, development of a network of traditional and non-traditional partners with the Court serving as the hub, and institutionalizing a triage process for assisting court users access court services and navigate easier throughout the justice system. Our Court started this planning process 18 months ago and now we are ready to test the various ideas, evaluate them and refine them in the process. Our Court is looking forward to your continued support and input as this program evolves.
      Jose Octavio Guillen
      Court Executive Officer

      p.s. Regarding the posting from Mr. Brandon Scovill, the Northern Field Representative for the California Federation of Interpreters and Media Workers Guild, he is certaintly entitled to his own opinion,but the Court disagrees and stands by its decision. As you know, I am committed to enhancing access to justice not just in the United States, but in other Third World countries. I have been a strong advocate for enhancing services for our LEP community. I have walked in those shoes as a first generation immigrant. I have the highest respect and admiration for the profession of court interpreters. Our entire Court shares that opinon. The Court’s decision to terminate court interpreting services for non-mandated functions at a remote Juvenile Courthouse was a prudent and fiscally sound decision. Prior to the termination of services, the Court was providing services for the benefit of county funded programs without any reimbursement. These County programs (defense counsel, probation, district attorney) simply relied on court funded interpreters instead of paying the court for those services or recruiting bilingual staff to carry out their responsibilities. I am glad we have made this change. The County now is allocating additional funds to pay for interpreting services for their county agencies. The other item worth mentioning is that, the Court has not reduced the number of court interpreter employees, to the contrary, that number has increased since that change.
      Richard, my friend continue your visionary and passionate work.

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