In July of 2004, Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson of Wisconsin will succeed me as President of the Conference of Chief Justices ("CCJ") and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts ("NCSC"). The Conference of Chief Justices endeavors to promote reforms in state court administration and works closely with the NCSC in providing education and service to the courts. My colleagues and I have elected Chief Justice Abrahamson to this post because of our abiding confidence in her leadership and her judicial acumen. I am honored to be able to participate in this dedication.
Shirley Abrahamson has been nothing short of an inspiration to students, jurists, and legal scholars worldwide. She was the only woman in her Indiana law school class, and in 1976 she became the first female appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Since then, she has made an extraordinary impact on Wisconsin's justice system. Chief Justice Abrahamson is a thoughtful and progressive jurist who is concerned about a spectrum of issues ranging from the rights of the individual to the impact of technology in the courts, and she has lent her intellect and expertise to instituting reforms in all of those areas.
In 1996, for example, Chief Justice Abrahamson established a series of conferences and workshops in her state to examine the use of volunteers in the court system, especially in the state's Children in Need of Protection or Services ("CHIPS") program. She is a strong advocate of volunteerism and is keenly interested in the ways in which the courts and the community can work together. That principle, coupled with her unwavering commitment to children and families, led her to direct this pioneering project. "When members of the community work side-by-side with judges and court staff, we increase the range and scope of programs the courts are able to offer and we give the community a tangible stake in its court system. Volunteers enable the courts to provide services not currently available," (1) she notes. Her efforts resulted in innovations such as the Wisconsin Families, Children and Justice Initiative, which educates people working with families in the courts and identifies projects for federal funding. (2)
As part of her mission of providing equal access to justice for all citizens, Chief Justice Abrahamson has been the driving force behind an effort to provide pro se assistance services to self-represented litigants and the legal community. Mindful of the challenges that self-representation poses to the court community, she has also been concerned with providing citizens with adequate resources. "How we deal with these problems will positively or negatively affect public trust and confidence in the legal community," she states. "One of my biggest hopes in addressing the issue of self-representation in Wisconsin is to inspire the legal and volunteer communities to work locally to provide innovative assistance at all levels to those affected by the challenges presented by the state's self-represented litigants population." (3)
On a national level, Chief Justice Abrahamson has contributed immensely to the work of the Conference of Chief Justices/NCSC by lending her scholarship and perspective to a number of committees. Among other activities, she has served for many years as Chair of CCJ's Tribal Relations Committee, a position that underscores her advocacy of advancing justice and equality through relationships among federal, state, and tribal courts. "Wisconsin's commitment to respecting Indian law is older than the state itself," she recently noted. "It will be important over the next few years to build on the work of our State/Federal/Tribal Court Forum by promoting cooperation, respect, and communication among the tribal and state judges who share jurisdiction in increasing numbers of cases." (4)
A forward-thinking jurist, Chief Justice Abrahamson is also technologically astute and has long been dedicated to studying the ramifications of DNA science on the judiciary. …