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News Item
Minnesota Judicial Branch clears pandemic-era backlog, receives highest-ever satisfaction rating

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2024

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The Minnesota Judicial Branch has officially reduced its major criminal caseload to pre-pandemic levels. This comes on the heels of new survey results that show the public is extremely satisfied with Minnesota courts.

"Eliminating the pandemic backlog was a vital step toward ensuring our courts can continue to deliver timely access to justice to the people of Minnesota," said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Natalie Hudson. "Our success in reaching our backlog reduction goal is a testament to the hard work of our district court judges and staff, the ambitious leadership undertaken by the Minnesota Judicial Council, and the strategic support provided by State Court Administration."

Minnesota’s major criminal pending caseload, which includes felony and gross misdemeanor cases, increased by 40% when the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to in-person hearings. In an effort to reduce the backlog and ensure access to justice, the Minnesota Judicial Council adopted a multi-pronged strategy for reduction. This not only ushered in the use of remote hearings, it also included the hiring of senior judges, referees, and extra support staff, and the hosting of special criminal backlog events, to reduce the number of open criminal cases.

The Branch’s efforts to reduce the backlog coincided with exceptional feedback from the public on their satisfaction with the courts.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch Access & Fairness Survey queried court users from August to November 2023 about their experience with the court system. Nearly 15,000 people responded to the survey—twice as many than previous surveys—and reported the highest level of satisfaction since 2008.

“We’re incredibly happy with these results,” said State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba. “We’ve worked very hard to make access to justice easier for Minnesotans and it seems people like the changes.”

Notable findings include:
  • Access ratings increased: The average survey score for questions regarding access to the court was 4.3 (out of 5), the highest average access rating recorded since the survey began in 2008. The highest access ratings were from attorneys and justice partners appearing remotely, and participants in child protection and treatment court hearings.
  • Fairness rating high among remote respondents: Survey respondents gave district courts their highest-ever rating for overall fairness, with an average score of 4.2. Fairness ratings for remote respondents (4.3) were significantly higher than for in-person respondents (4.0).
  • Wait-time dissatisfaction down: Just 28% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with court wait times. This is down from 47% in 2019.
The survey did point out some areas for improvement, including making the court’s website more easy to navigate—something the Minnesota Judicial Branch already is addressing.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch conducts the Access & Fairness Survey every three years. The results inform how the Minnesota Judicial Branch sets its strategic and operational plans.

The complete Access and Fairness Survey report is available on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website, mncourts.org.