Legal Educators Say Courts Need Demystifying

Article excerpt

PUBLIC ignorance of the courts is a continuing cause for frustration among judges, lawyers, and other law enforcement professionals, say legal education specialists.

"People are fairly uninformed about the court system and they are fairly intimidated by it," says Cynthia Canary, who works on the Commission on Public Understanding of the Law for the American Bar Association (ABA) in Chicago.

"We need educational programs to demystify the judicial branch," says Kathleen Sampson, director of information and program services of the American Judicature Society in Chicago.

"It's just not as visible a branch of government as the other two. So unless you're a juror or litigant, you may know very little about what a courtroom looks like or what goes on in a courtroom."

Surveys on both the national and state level have revealed a significant lack of understanding of the courts, says Ms. Sampson. A national survey conducted by the ABA last December, for example, found that only one third of American adults are aware that the Bill of Rights makes up the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution.

Ortrie Smith, president of the Missouri Bar of Jefferson City, Miss., feels the public needs to have more information on courts, judges, and judicial elections. His organization commissioned a statewide survey to examine voters' knowledge of the judicial system last December. …