The National Conference of State Trial Judges: Celebrating 50 Golden Years, Planning for the Next 50

Article excerpt

Established in 1958 to inform and assist state trial judges on problems relating to their daily work and the organization of their courts, the National Conference of State Trial Judges (NCSTJ) is, as Judge Herbert Dixon, one of its past chairs, aptly and proudly states, "the oldest, largest and most prestigious organization of general jurisdiction trial judges in the world." The NCSTJ has undertaken many efforts to optimize the work of the trial courts. In the last 50 years, it has successfully fulfilled its mission "to improve the administration of justice; promote judicial independence; increase public understanding of die judicial system; provide a national forum to exchange information on common issues; and represent the interests of the nation's general jurisdiction trial judges in building a stronger, more effective system to resolve disputes."

The NCSTJ has endeavored to orient the public and the judiciary alike toward modernization of America's trial courts. Tribunals in this country are now presided over by 21st Century judges, who are active participants in their communities through outreach projects and public education. Judges collaborate with other community stakeholders to provide, for instance, therapeutic justice in the form of problem-solving courts, which save money and deal directly with root causes of legal problems. The NCSTJ shares these innovations among its members by providing cutting-edge, low-cost continuing education courses.

The NCSTJ has formulated best practices and evidence-based procedures to equip judges with tools for effective and efficient court management. It has primed judges' awareness of new technology and enhanced methods of delivering judicial services. The NCSTJ uses electronic forums, such as a listserv, enabling state trial judges across the nation to network, offer support to one another, and communicate regarding emerging legal issues, pilot projects, and techniques developed to improve court work in small rural as well as large metropolitan areas. With the NCSTJ's encouragement and technological support, judges are able to communicate in real time regarding proposed laws and resolutions that affect their dayto-day work. An additional benefit is that trial judges are empowered to contribute seasoned perspectives to the drafters of proposed legislation, making it more responsive to modern court dynamics.

The continued success and strength of die NCSTJ comes from the vast experience of its members; many have been active in other prominent national organizations, such as the American Judicature Society (AJS). The NCSTJ and AJS have shared many leaders and a common mission over the past five decades, with nine former NCSTJ chairs serving on die AJS Board of Directors, and countless other state trial judges maintaining active memberships in both organizations.1

With the strong leadership of the NCSTJ, trial judges from across the nation have developed methods to resolve a wide range of issues affecting the public. Therapeutic justice models for issue-specific courts such as drug and mental health, community or neighborhood focused, and truancy have been nurtured as concepts in the NCSTJ, and then been implemented by judges.

The NCSTJ has been an incubator for visionary specialty tribunals, such as commercial courts and die unified family courts. As just one example, die NCSTJ convened the Unified Family Court Coordinating Council (UFCCC) in order to coordinate and reconcile all ABA activities relating to unified family courts.* A national symposium was held in 2006 with judges, experts, scholars, social workers, and others to share their experiences and compare and evaluate various models from across the nation.

As early as 1964, the NCSTJ sponsored 20 active committees of state trial judges to address vital concerns such as fair trial and free press, sociopath ic offenders, and a Code of Judicial Decorum. The NCSTJ also began publishing a quarterly Trial Judges Journal as well as a. …