Strategic Goal #3 – Public Trust

Instagram

The Minnesota Judicial Branch also joined Instagram in 2018, and is currently showcasing one court each week. The @mncourts account has been steadily gaining followers on the youngest, most diverse, and fastest-growing social medium. The account has featured staff and judges hard at work; local outreach events, including visitors to the Minnesota State Fair booth; historic photos and memorabilia; unique artwork and architectural features;, and a courthouse mascot. The most-liked post of 2018 was the image of Steve the fish, Cass County District Court’s courthouse pet. The most-watched video of 2018 is a summary of State Fair booth visitors posing at the Minnesota Judicial Branch booth’s You Be the Judge selfie station.
 

Access and Fairness Survey

In December 2018, the Minnesota Judicial Branch launched a four-month effort to survey court participants and stakeholders in each of the state's district courthouses. In addition to the in-courthouse surveys, the Judicial Branch surveyed Court Payment Center users, both over the phone and online, and visitors to the Judicial Branch website. The goal of this Access and Fairness Survey is to ensure accountability of the Judicial Branch, improve overall operations of the court, and enhance the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary.

The results from the Access and Fairness Survey will be used to measure the Branch’s success in meeting Strategic Plan Goals. The Survey was also conducted in 2008 and 2013. Survey-takers at that time also rated the court’s accessibility and its treatment of them in terms of fairness, equality, and respect. Participants in legal matters and their friends and family, victims, witnesses, attorneys, service counter users, jurors or potential jurors, and all other users of the court system—were encouraged to complete the Survey.

The Access and Fairness Survey was implemented on a rolling basis throughout Minnesota’s courthouses from December 2018 through the end of March 2019. State Court Administration staff worked with local court administration in all 87 counties to implement the Survey.
 

State Fair

For the first time ever, the Minnesota Judicial Branch joined the Great Minnesota Get-Together in 2018. The booth was located in the southeast corner of the Education Building. Judicial officers and Judicial Branch staff were on hand each day to connect with the public and provide information about Minnesota’s court system. The effort received public kudos from the Pioneer Press Editorial Board, neighboring state judicial systems, and visitors.

In total, 40 judicial officers and 83 staff members volunteered their time to educate Minnesotans about their nation-leading court system. The volunteers were supervised by 16 shift leaders, court staff from around the state who had also served on the workgroup that helped plan and coordinate the Judicial Branch’s involvement in the State Fair.

Visitors were able to collect an informational magnet, a hand fan, or a gavel-shaped pencil at the booth. The gavel-shaped pencils proved to be very popular and were featured in the State Fair’s promotion of new vendors and booths. The booth featured interactive opportunities for Fairgoers: a judicial district map where visitors could place a sticker and learn what district they live in, and a selfie station where visitors were be able to get a photo of themselves robed as a judge.
 

Improving the Pretrial Release Process

As part of the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s Strategic Plan, the Minnesota Judicial Council launched a Pretrial Release Initiative in 2018 aimed at studying and implementing evidence-based tools for use by judges making pretrial release decisions. For several years, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has been working with state and local justice partners and other stakeholders to improve the processes and tools judges tap to make pretrial assessment decisions. These decisions include whether individuals arrested and detained are released before trial on their own recognizance, on bail or bond, or with conditions.  In Minnesota, all defendants have a right to release on bail while their criminal case is pending.

Under Minn. Stat. § 629.74, the Minnesota Judicial Council approved pretrial evaluation forms to be used in each county.  Minnesota Judicial Council policy 524: Pretrial Release Evaluation, requires that each county use a validated risk assessment tool as part of the pretrial evaluation process, and provides a statewide pretrial evaluation form and Minnesota Pretrial Assessment Tool (MNPAT) that will be continuously validated to ensure effectiveness and fairness in release decisions.

MNPAT is meant to ensure that judges have the most predictive and least biased information about a defendant, providing accurate, objective, and useful information for pretrial release decisions. Information not supported by research is not part of the risk assessment tool score provided to judges.  MNPAT was rolled out to 82 counties in the state in December 2018. Five counties in the state have fully implemented, and will independently validate, their own customized risk assessment tools in the coming years. As a part of improving the pretrial release process, local bail schedule use has been discontinued and substantial MNPAT training has been made available for judges and staff.
 

Additional outreach and engagement work is highlighted in subsequent District and Appellate Court sections.