In addition to the Access Committee's work monitoring racial and ethnic issues, in 1998 Chief Justice Wallace P. Carson, Jr., charged the Access Committee with monitoring the implementation of the recommendations published in the May 1998 report of the Oregon Supreme Court/Oregon State Bar Task Force on Gender Fairness. Unique to the Oregon Gender Fairness Task Force was the commitment to study intersectionality -- the concept that negative gender experiences are sometimes compounded by other factors such as race, age, sexual orientation, and poverty. Because of this commitment to intersectionality, the Gender Fairness Task Force recommended that the Oregon Judicial Department's Access Committee be charged with overseeing the implementation of the recommendations identified in their report.
The Access Committee has been involved in a number of efforts over the past year: the development and recommendation of educational programs for judges, activities related to the over-representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, and advocating for policies, programs, and legislation related to access to justice issues.
The Access Committee has taken an active role in the 1999 legislative session. The Access Committee developed and implemented a coordinated legislative strategy to propose legislative concepts, review proposed legislation on Access Committee issues, determine Access Committee support/opposition, and organize testimony/advocacy on Access Committee issues. The Access Committee has monitored more than 50 bills with access-related issues and provided written or oral testimony in support or opposition to a dozen or more bills.
In addition, the Access Committee proposed five bills this session and is actively pursuing and advocating the passage of four of these bills. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard these bills in early March and responded positively:
SB 38 recommends that the OJD Court Interpreter Certification testing program be continued for executive branch agency users. This includes a statutory change that requires interpreters and requires appointment of a certified over noncertified interpreter. Recommends an increase in agency budgets for the provision of certified interpreters.
SB 71 would provide interpreters in all juvenile delinquency proceedings for the non-English speaking parents/ guardians of youth before the court. (Currently interpreters are provided only to the parent/guardians of youth at the dispositional phase.)
SB 62 would increase the juror per diem rate after the first two days to a minimum hourly rate: third and subsequent days of service reimbursed at current minimum-wage rate based on an eight-hour day. Allows juror to waive payment and elect that the funds be distributed to OJD programs identified by the Chief Justice.
SB 17 would allow the State Court Administrator to establish the reimbursement rate for juror mileage and makes reimbursement of juror expenses more flexible. By increasing the flexibility to reimburse the legitimate costs that a potential juror might incur during service, the bill would broaden access rather than limit it. The State Court Administrator would develop a policy to implement statewide.
Education has also been an important goal of the Access Committee. We are encouraging and assisting with development of educational programs for judges, OJD employees, and lawyers. Committee members and staff have been involved in a number of educational programs and have advocated that topics related to racial and ethnic minorities be included in all educational programs. Access Committee members and staff developed and served as faculty for the new judges' seminar segment on Access & Fairness in the Courts and a seminar at the juvenile judges conference on Judicial Responses to Over-Representation of Minorities in the Juvenile Justice System. In addition, committee members and staff are actively involved in Judicial Department and Oregon State Bar committees that develop and encourage education programs, providing a consistent statewide voice for including topics related to racial, ethnic, and gender issues in all substantive courses.
Finally, one subcommittee is beginning to develop an evaluation model to determine the impact of implemented reforms. The Monitoring and Evaluation Subcommittee is designing an evaluation of the impact of using certified interpreters in the courts.
The work of this Committee has been accomplished with part-time staff support provided with money from Supreme Court vacancy savings. Included in the OJD 1999-2001 budget package are funds for the Office of the State Court Administrator to hire a full-time, professional staff person and a part-time support staff person to provide staff support and leadership to the Access to Justice for All Committee. Funding for these positions is top priority for the Access Committee. Only with adequate funding can the Access Committee begin to measure the impact of OJD's implementation efforts and assist with new recommendations. The Access Committee is seeking the commitment of the Oregon Legislature to enable us to continue and expand efforts to ensure that all people who are affected by Oregon's courts receive equal and just treatment.
This progress report was prepared for and presented at the May 1999 meeting of the National Consortium of Task Forces on Racial & Ethnic Bias in the Courts.